Bill Gates predicts A.I. will change the world more and faster than his personal computing revolution

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Bill Gates, long the world’s richest person, earned his fortune by predicting the advent of personal computing in the 1980s. Now the Microsoft co-founder believes A.I. will be a bigger and above all faster force for technological change.

The near 40-year march of progress since his Windows operating system enabled everyday people to easily navigate a PC will pale in comparison to the speed at which artificial intelligence transforms society, he wrote on Tuesday.

“Soon the pre-AI period will seem as distant as the days when using a computer meant typing at a C:> prompt rather than tapping on a screen,” Gates predicted.

The centibillionaire entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist argued advances in A.I. will far exceed those achieved in computing power because an entire global software industry is beginning to shift wholesale its research efforts into developing applications for the burgeoning field.

“Since a huge portion of it is now turning its attention to AI, the innovations are going to come much faster than what we experienced after the microprocessor breakthrough,” he wrote.

For example, Gates believes that areas where artificial intelligence struggles to compete with humans, such as in abstract reasoning, are not as big of an obstacle as they may seem at present.

“I think we’re going to see them largely fixed in less than two years and possibly much faster,” he wrote.

OpenAI's ChatGPT created a gold rush in the tech sector

However, Gates tempered enthusiasm that mankind was on the cusp of creating artificial general intelligence. Developing software capable of learning any task or subject, without any practical limits on the size of its memory or the speed at which it operates, could be anywhere from a decade or even “a century" away, he wrote.

Multi-tasking CEO Elon Musk has been hot on the hunt of developing AGI as a means to finally deliver on his eternal promise to transform today’s Tesla cars on the road into intelligent robotaxis at the push of a button.

“AGI doesn’t exist yet—there is a robust debate going on in the computing industry about how to create it, and whether it can even be created at all,” Gates wrote.

There has been a veritable A.I. gold rush ever since OpenAI revealed ChatGPT at the end of November, becoming the fastest application ever to hit one million users.

In January, the $2 trillion software company Gates co-founded (from which he stepped down as director in 2020) then made a multi-billion dollar investment in OpenAI.

Analysts at ARK Invest believed the deal was a two-pronged assault on Google, challenging its dominance in the highly lucrative search engine business while forcing Google to cut back on cloud computing investments that rival Microsoft’s own Azure service.

Now Google is fighting back, unveiling on Tuesday plans to open up its own chatbot Bard for broader testing by the public.

Market will not fairly distribute the benefits of A.I.

Gates, who said in July he will give away virtually all of his fortune, voiced concerns that A.I. would further widen the gap between rich and poor.

At least that is the most likely scenario, as long as authorities do not take action to ensure the greatest number of people benefit, he argued.

“Market forces won’t naturally produce AI products and services that help the poorest,” Gates cautioned. “The opposite is more likely.”

His pessimistic view contrasts sharply with that of Musk, who wants to create a new humanoid robotics division at Tesla that he believes will one day eclipse its core activity of selling cars as its largest business.

The Tesla boss argues A.I.-powered robots will usher in a new “age of abundance”, where there is no longer any scarcity beyond those goods and services that humanity deems necessary to protect. Literature or art created by a human, for example, would be valued at a premium over works generated by an A.I. algorithm.

In a bid to steer the debate away from which skilled jobs A.I. will eliminate en masse, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman simply appealed to one of the most basic human instincts of all. “A lot of people getting rich” proved to be the alluring vision for artificial intelligence held up last month by the former Y Combinator venture capitalist.

Gates appears concerned that A.I. pioneers like Altman might be more concerned about dollar signs than progress of mankind as a whole.

“The world needs to establish the rules of the road so that any downsides of artificial intelligence are far outweighed by its benefits," he argued, "so that everyone can enjoy those benefits no matter where they live or how much money they have."

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