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Former Microsoft CEO and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates called artificial intelligence the “most important advance” in technology since the development of computers and smartphones in a blog post Tuesday, arguing AI bears both opportunities and responsibilities as it can help improve access to healthcare and education globally—but acknowledged developers still need to work out some shortcomings.
Gates pitched the advances in AI as a way to improve productivity in the workplace, help reduce global preventable deaths among children and improve inequity in American education by bettering students’ math skills.
AI will reduce the workload on healthcare workers, completing tasks for them like filing insurance claims and drafting notes from doctor’s visits, Gates predicted.
Gates also sees AI as a way to reduce the death rate for young children—five million children under the age of five die every year—particularly in poor countries, where AI could help patients determine whether they need to seek treatment and AI-linked devices like ultrasound machines could help healthcare workers be more productive.
One of the Gates Foundation’s priorities will be ensuring advancements in AI are used to help the poorest people in the world, including those who struggle with health problems like AIDS, TB and malaria, the billionaire said.
AI could also revolutionize education in the next five to ten years, Gates said, by creating tools that understand an individual’s interests and learning style and tailoring educational content to those needs, but he cautioned that tools need to be equally accessible to all schools.
AI has reached consumers in recent months by way of chatbots that can simulate human conversation, with Microsoft—which Gates co-founded almost 50 years ago—investing in OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. Microsoft has integrated ChatGPT into its Bing search engine, and on Tuesday, Google announced its response to the AI frenzy with the launch of its chatbot Bard.
Gates acknowledged the current shortcomings of AI, including its lack of understanding of abstract reasoning, its ability to create something fictional when asked by users and inability to understand the context of human requests. However, he argued none of these problems are “fundamental limitations” of the technology and said the issues, which developers are working to resolve, “will be gone before we know it.” Gates also noted the concern that AI could be used for malign purposes, but said governments and the private sector needed to work together to “limit the risks.”
“[AI] will change the way people work, learn, travel, get health care, and communicate with each other,” Gates said. “Entire industries will reorient around it. Businesses will distinguish themselves by how well they use it.”
While Tuesday’s post is Gates’ firmest endorsement of the future of AI, these are by no means Gates first comments on the developing technology. Last month in an exclusive interview with Forbes, Gates described AI advancements as “pretty stunning” and, similarly to Tuesday’s letter, compared them to the developments of the PC and the internet. Gates said Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s artificial intelligence program works better than others in the space, and called the broad availability of ChatGPT “very impressive.” At the end of last year, Gates also said his foundation was working to develop an ultrasound tool for the developing world using AI software. The probe, which Gates said could help reduce the number of deaths during the neonatal period, would be plugged into a mobile phone or tablet and can distinguish whether the pregnancy is high risk or whether the mother could need a C-section delivery. If the technology is helpful in places where it’s currently being tested—Kenya and South Africa—Gates said it could be widely available in two to three years.
We estimate Gates to be worth $107 billion, making him the fifth richest person in the world.
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