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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Bill Gates reckons AI spells the end for Amazon and searching for stuff on Google

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Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates recently spoke at the AI Forward event in San Francisco, and outlined how he thinks AI is going to change our lives and economies. Our interactions with the internet especially, Gates believes, will never be the same.

“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,” said Gates, while making it clear that he doesn’t think the current AI models are there yet (thanks, Reuters). In his mind it is imminent, however, whether designed by a startup or his own Microsoft (which recently invested $10 billion in ChatGPT).

“I’d be disappointed if Microsoft didn’t come in there”, said Gates. “But I’m impressed with a couple of startups, including Inflection.” Inflection AI is a startup co-founded by Mustafa Suleyman, formerly of DeepMind.

The ‘personal agent’ Gates references is the current AI Holy Grail, software that integrates into a person’s daily life and assists them in pretty much every mundane task. You won’t think “damn I need a babysitter this Thursday and didn’t realise” then spend half an hour phoning around: You’ll tell this thing the problem and let it sort everything out. Or as Gates suggests, it will “read the stuff you don’t have time to read”.

I’ll keep my Michael Crichton books, thanks, but we are already in the nascent stages. AI is currently being integrated into a wide range of products, including the likes of Photoshop, while Microsoft is busy integrating ChatGPT features into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Earlier this year it linked ChatGPT to Bing and the Edge browser.

The downside, of course, is we’re all gonna lose our jobs. Maybe. Gates reckons the scenario where the machines take over certain roles is not too far away and everyone’s at risk: Robots will replace so-called blue collar workers, while AI will take care of the white collar lot. “As we invent these robots, we just need to make sure they don’t get Alzheimer’s,” Gates joked.

If that all sounds a bit depressing, at least it still appears to be a few years off. Gates reckons we’ll be in this pattern of companies adding AI to existing products for a while before the emergence of an AI personal assistant that basically does everything. Now, sort out one that can cook the kids dinner and put them to bed, and I’m sold. 

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