Microsoft founder Bill Gates (pictured) says that artificial intelligence is on the way to completely changing how we use computers. Gates wrote in a blog post that although software has improved over the past few years, he acknowledged that, “In many ways, software is still pretty dumb.”
“You can use Microsoft Word and Google Docs to draft a business proposal, but they can’t help you send an email, share a selfie, analyse data, schedule a party, or buy movie tickets,” said Gates. Adding that having another human being, a personal assistant, will pave the way towards better understanding of life and work.
“In the near future, anyone who’s online will be able to have a personal assistant powered by artificial intelligence that’s far beyond today’s technology,” said Gates. The billionaire envisions a future where people have an AI agent, a specialised software capable of processing and responding to natural language while performing various tasks.
With this AI agent, users can simply make requests, and it will execute actions based on the information shared about their work, personal life, interests, and preferences. “In the next few years, they will utterly change how we live our lives, online and off,” he says.
Gates illustrates the concept with trip planning. Traditionally, individuals would handle tasks like booking hotels, flights, restaurants and other activities themselves. However, an AI agent with knowledge of an individual’s preferences could handle the booking and purchasing of these things on their behalf.
“When asked, it will recommend things to do based on your interests and propensity for adventure, and it will book reservations at the types of restaurants you would enjoy,” said Gates.
Future challenges and privacy concerns
Aside from all the benefits people can enjoy with these AI Agents, Gates also outlined several challenges. He says there would need to be a new kind of database that’ll allow AI agents to store, retrieve and build upon the information they learn about users without putting their privacy at risk.
“But who owns the data you share with your agent, and how do you ensure that it’s being used appropriately? No one wants to start getting ads related to something they told their therapist agent. Can law enforcement use your agent as evidence against you? When will your agent refuse to do something that could be harmful to you or someone else? Who picks the values that are built into agents?”
Gates adds that companies would also need to determine whether individuals will have a single AI agent that collaborates with other agents or if people will create distinct AI agents tailored for specific tasks, such as tutoring or therapy. And that there would need to be a standardised method where AI agents can communicate with each other.
“The cost needs to come down so agents are affordable for everyone. It needs to be easier to prompt the agent in a way that will give you the right answer,” Gates wrote. “We need to prevent hallucinations, especially in areas like health where accuracy is super-important, and make sure that agents don’t harm people as a result of their biases. And we don’t want agents to be able to do things they’re not supposed to.”
No cause for worry (yet)
Despite Gates’s predictions, the likelihood of AI completely replacing humans in the near future is minimal, according to Humayun Sheikh, a founding investor at Google’s DeepMind in an interview with CNBC. Sheikh says that while AI chatbots such as ChatGPT showcase impressive capabilities, achieving human-level intelligence remains a distant prospect.
This is because we currently do not possess the technology required to develop “artificial general intelligence” or AGI. AGI, as defined by IBM, pertains to an AI with the capability to perform most tasks as effectively as or even better than a human.
“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 in a blog post in March.
For now, we have what’s known as “Narrow AI.” This type of AI is trained to excel at specific tasks, such as recommending movies or books that align with your past viewing or reading preferences, as explained by IBM.
However, as more emerging technologies unfold and technological advances, the algorithms that govern how AI systems learn will also get better.