Are emerging artificial intelligence tools set to relegate internet giants like Google and Amazon to the same dusty shelves as laser discs, fax machines and overhead projectors?
That’s the prediction Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made Monday at a San Francisco tech conference focused on AI issues and hosted by financial giant Goldman Sachs and Silicon Valley venture firm SV Angel.
Gates believes a yet-to-be-developed AI-driven personal assistant is likely to take over humdrum human tasks like searching the internet, shopping and even engaging with online productivity tools. That’s because the new digital helpers will be keyed-in to users’ needs in a way that will obsolesce many of the current, mainstay uses of the internet.
“Whoever wins the personal agent, that’s the big thing, because you will never go to a search site again, you will never go to a productivity site, you’ll never go to Amazon again,” Gates said, per CNBC.
He also suggested that, in the future, AI-powered humanoid robots will become more affordable than human laborers and begin replacing blue collar workers, according to CNBC.
Gates has plenty of skin in the AI game as he remains the single biggest individual investor in Microsoft, the company he helped found in 1975 and one that’s poured billions into one of the most talked about generative artificial intelligence developers, OpenAI.
So, what is generative AI? Here’s a description from an AI chatbot called Pi, a platform under development by AI startup Inflection and a company Gate’s name-dropped in his talk on Monday.
“Generative AI is a type of AI that can generate new, original content, such as text, images, or video,” Pi generated in response to the Deseret News query, “What is generative AI?” “It does this by learning from large amounts of existing data, and then using that knowledge to create new content. Some examples of generative AI include GPT-3, DALL-E, and Midjourney.”
(In an unrelated exchange, the witty Pi refused to play the “what animal would you be?” game and called shenanigans on this reporter identifying with the turducken.)
While Gates professed his interest in the work Inflection is doing in the AI space, back in January Microsoft announced its third round of investment in OpenAI, the company behind the wildly popular ChatGPT chatbot as well as generative image-maker DALL-E.
To that end, Gates noted in his Monday comments that while he believes there’s a 50-50 chance that the big AI personal assistant breakthrough will be made by a startup, he’s holding out hope that Microsoft is the first to make it happen.
“I’d be disappointed if Microsoft didn’t come in there,” Gates said, per CNBC.
Microsoft’s investments in OpenAI, reportedly now up to around $13 billion, have earned the company the right to independently commercialize ongoing AI advancements and it has already incorporated the technology into its Bing search engine as well as its email platform and productivity suite including Word and Excel.
While Gates said he believes the advent of an advanced AI personal assistant is still a ways down the road, an ever-expanding list of startups and established tech companies are racing to be the first to reach that AI benchmark and beyond.
Concern over exactly what lies beyond AI’s current capabilities, and how future advancements might impact the collective fate of the systems’ human progenitors, is at the heart of new efforts in the U.S, Europe and elsewhere to establish some rules and regulations, before it’s too late.
At a U.S. Senate committee hearing last week that included OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman among a panel of witnesses, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chairs the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, said lawmakers failed to effectively regulate social media when it mattered and could not afford to make the same mistake now as artificial intelligence advancements raise myriad concerns.
“Congress has a choice now,” Blumenthal said. “We had the same choice when we faced social media, we failed to seize that moment. The result is predators on the internet, toxic content, exploiting children, creating dangers for them.
“Congress failed to meet the moment on social media, now we have the obligation to do it on AI before the threats and the risks become real.”