Why Bill Gates Believes Generative AI Will Be 'Revolutionary'


Bill Gates in New York in 2022. Credit - Michael Nagle/Bloomberg--Getty Images

Bill Gates published an op-ed on Tuesday saying that the artificial intelligence (AI) technology behind tools like ChatGPT could be as revolutionary as the graphical user interface was in 1980.

The graphical user interface was the prototype to modern operating systems like Windows and Mac. Now, Gates says AI will lead to all sorts of similarly massive changes in the coming decades.

“The development of AI is as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone,” he wrote. “It will change the way people work, learn, travel, get health care, and communicate with each other.”

Gates isn’t exactly an impartial player in the unfolding AI arms race. Microsoft, the company he co-founded, is investing more than $10 billion in OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT and which Gates raves about in his article. While Gates is no longer involved in day-to-day operations at Microsoft, he still serves as an advisor, meeting with project teams, and owns billions of dollars worth of Microsoft stock.

Here are some takeaways from the piece:

AI has a lot of potential in health care

As Gates now spends much of his time on philanthropic causes, he says he’s acutely interested in how AI could improve lives in less economically developed countries and “reduce some of the world’s worst inequities.” He argues that AI systems will accelerate medical research and potentially create tools to mitigate diseases like AIDS, TB and Malaria. He also suggests that generative AI tools should be used for primary diagnoses of patients seeking medical advice.

While Gates acknowledges that AIs will inevitably misdiagnose patients, he contends that the upside is worth it. “Humans make mistakes too. And having no access to medical care is also a problem,” he writes. Meanwhile, Gates predicts that AI will soon be integrated into health care systems around the world, helping medical professionals file insurance claims and deal with paperwork.

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In the workforce, Gates predicts that AI will serve as a “personal agent”: drafting emails, monitoring schedules and taking notes. These abilities will cause massive workplace shifts, which will necessitate that governments “help workers transition into other roles,” he says. However, he argues that these shifts will allow humans to fill in the roles where software cannot, including “caring for patients and supporting the elderly.”

AI is already having an outsize impact on the educational world, with students attempting to use AI to complete homework and writing assignments, and teachers using it to devise lesson plans. Gates argues that AI will be a crucial educational tool that will “measure your understanding, notice when you’re losing interest, and understand what kind of motivation you respond to.”

Humans must step in to prevent AI harms

Plenty of harms loom. AIs have regurgitated hate speech and misinformation and have tried to emotionally manipulate users. Gates notes the misinformation problem, pointing to ChatGPT’s inability to solve math problems that involve abstract reasoning. However, he predicts that those kinds of limitations will be “largely fixed in less than two years and possibly much faster.”

In a series of principles that Gates outlines as key to guiding the conversation around AI, he acknowledges that AI could exacerbate inequalities without the right interventions from governments and other organizations. He says it’s important for policymakers and philanthropists to prioritize the opposite: to wield AI to “help the poorest” and reduce inequality.

Superintelligent AIs are coming

Gates raises the specter of superintelligent AIs, or machines that are smarter than human brains and make their own decisions about how they are used. He writes excitedly about these superintelligent AIs, asserting that they are “in our future.” Whether they will be positive or catastrophic for society, Gates writes, is too early to tell.

In the near future, however, Gates encourages the continued adoption of AI technology, along with the institution of guardrails and regulations. “This new technology can help people everywhere improve their lives,” he writes.” At the same time, the world needs to establish the rules of the road so that any downsides of artificial intelligence are far outweighed by its benefits.”