Bill Gates says the ‘age of A.I. has begun’ and it could either reduce inequity or make it even worse—he’s betting on A.I.’s ability to improve productivity

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Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is famously optimistic about artificial intelligence and its promise to speed up innovation. He considers A.I. tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot to be one of two technologies that have been truly revolutionary (the other example was with graphic user interface, or digital icons and buttons, in computing). 

Now Gates says the “age of A.I. has begun” and that it will not just improve productivity but also help fix societal problems like inequity. He thinks the technology can free resources and improve access to healthcare and education in countries that lack it if governments and philanthropies introduce the right policies and direct funds where they are most needed.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how A.I. can reduce some of the world’s worst inequities,” Gates wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “For one thing, they’ll help health-care workers make the most of their time by taking care of certain tasks for them—things like filing insurance claims, dealing with paperwork, and drafting notes from a doctor’s visit.” 

Gates pointed out that a number of developing countries struggle with attracting enough doctors, which often worsens inequities between the wealthy and the disadvantaged. If every healthcare professional has access to A.I. tools to better advise patients on the best course of action, a lot more people in need can be served, he says. Meanwhile, in education, A.I. can assist with training students and help them get higher test scores. 

Instituting such systems would take years of testing and persistent efforts by governments, philanthropies, and businesses for the A.I. to be part of the solution instead of worsening the problem, Gates said. In that way, the benefits would be accessible to all and not just the well-off who can afford to use such technologies.

“Governments and philanthropy will need to play a major role in ensuring that it reduces inequity and doesn’t contribute to it. This is the priority for my own work related to A.I.,” Gates wrote.

The potential of A.I. to solve problems affecting entire countries and communities comes with its own set of threats, and Gates acknowledges the technology is still limited.

“People will need to see evidence that health A.I.s are beneficial overall, even though they won’t be perfect and will make mistakes,” Gates wrote. “A.I.s have to be tested very carefully and properly regulated, which means it will take longer for them to be adopted than in other areas.”

A.I. can sometimes fumble or hallucinate by returning inaccurate or fictitious information and becoming a threat in the hands of wrong people who misuse it, he said. Then, of course, there is the possibility of A.I. running amok and becoming a threat to humans. 

Despite these risks, Gates still thinks A.I. technology has great potential. 

“Entire industries will reorient around it. Businesses will distinguish themselves by how well they use it,” he wrote. 

The billionaire philanthropist has long supported A.I. and advocated that its benefits far outweigh its dangers. For one, he doesn’t see A.I. as a threat to jobs. If anything, it could improve how people work by increasing efficiency, he says. 

As the person who helped to start a computer revolution half a century ago, which also sparked similar concerns about killing jobs, he said A.I. ‘s development is “every bit as important as the PC, as the internet.” Earlier this year,  during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, he touted A.I. as a tool that “gives a glimpse of what is to come.” 

It’s normal for people to raise concerns about any revolutionary technology, Gates said, but he added that A.I. is just one such example and that it can be used to accomplish real change.

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