Bill Gates is Microsoft, and Microsoft is Bill Gates. Despite being one of the most generous philanthropists, Bill Gates is still synonymous with Microsoft. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given away US$30 billion since 2000. If he would’ve given that amount of money equally to 30 persons, that’s 30 new billionaires in this world. Still, he’s American richest person with net worth of US$79.5 billion (Forbes, January 2015).
The billionaire has just hosted his third Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session, whereby anybody can goes to the platform and ask Bill Gates anything they like. Guess what, this year, 2015, will actually mark the 30th anniversary of Microsoft Windows. And there was a question for Mr. Gates about how the technology would look like in the next 30 years. His answer – better vision and speech recognition, and robots getting more intelligent.
So, what would Bill Gates be doing now, if his Microsoft venture hadn’t worked out? He answered that he would probably be a researcher on AI (Artificial Intelligence). Wouldn’t his parents would have spanked and forced him to go back to Harvard instead? But then he wouldn’t be known as “Harvard’s most successful dropout”, would he? Perhaps, the world could be a more dangerous place if he failed Microsoft and explored AI.
Bill Gates founded Microsoft back in 1975 together with Paul Allen, but AI was already one of the most controversial domains in computer science since it was first proposed in the 1950s. Scientists and technologists were fascinated about computers that could understand languages, solving algebra problems, learning checker games and whatnot. Many would like to be known as AI researchers, as the popularity in the domain grows.
Hence. it was only natural that Mr. Gates believed he would be an AI researcher, if his Microsoft pet project had flopped. It was easily one of the most popular subjects in the 1950s and 1960s, with fundings derived mostly from the U.S. military, be it DARPA or Air Force. But by 1974, a year after Bill Gates enrolled at Harvard, both the U.S. and British governments cut off all research in AI not directly funded by them.
The next few years would later be called an “AI winter”, a period when funding for AI projects was hard to find. It’s hard to say if Bill Gates would have founded another company anyway, if the fundings for AI hadn’t been stopped by the government. Perhaps Microsoft would have been set up anyway, but for AI instead of Windows OS. Anyway, one thing is clear – Mr. Gates insists AI is a threat to mankind.
At the same Reddit AMA session, he wrote “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”
Bill Gates was referring to Elon Musk’s belief that it’s very much feasible a “Terminator”-like scenario could emerge out of AI. Already a successful investor boasting names such as Tesla and SpaceX, Elon is also an investor in an AI company called Vicarious. But Mr. Musk claims he’s not trying to make money but rather to keep an eye on AI technology development (so that we won’t ended up in the Terminator film).
Professor Stephen Hawking have warned about the possibility that AI could evolve to the point that it was beyond human control. When the time comes where AI could eventually “outsmart financial markets” and “out-invent human researchers”, it would spell the end of the human race. During the AMA session, Mr. Gates admitted he was working on Microsoft Personal Agent project.
Microsoft already possess technologies such as Cortana, the digital personal assistant that make use of artificial intelligence to anticipate what users will want and respond to their requests. Could this be the paltform for Bill Gates to develop a more sophisticated AI in order to contain the threat of AI, the same way Elon Musk’s Vicarious is doing, keeping an eye on AI which could otherwise goes out of control?
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