Bill Gates is a passionate technology advocate (big surprise), but his predictions about the future of computing aren't uniformly positive.
During a wide-ranging Reddit "Ask me Anything" session on Wednesday -- one that touched upon everything from Gate's biggest regrets to his favorite spread to lather on bread -- the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist outlined a future that is equal parts promising and ominous.
Midway through the discussion, Gates was asked what personal computing will look like in 2045? Gates responded by asserting that the next 30 years will be a time of rapid progress.
"Even in the next 10 problems like vision and speech understanding and translation will be very good," he wrote. "Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them then they will be used very extensively."
Gates went on to highlight a Microsoft project known as the "Personal Agent," which is being designed to help people manage their memory, attention and focus.
"The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model - the agent will help solve this," he said. "It will work across all your devices."
The response from Reddit users was mixed, with some making light of Gate's revelation and others sounding the alarm.
"Clippy 2.0?," wrote one user.
"Please...more like Clippy 2020," another user replied.
"This technology you are developing sounds at its essence like the centralization of knowledge intake," a third user wrote. "Ergo, whomever controls this will control what information people make their own. Even today, we see the daily consequences of people who live in an environment that essentially tunnel-visions their knowledge."
Shortly after, a Reddit user asked Gates how much of an existential threat superintelligent machines pose to humans?
The question has been at the forefront of several discussions among prominent futurists in recent months. Last month, theoretical physicistStephen Hawking said artificial intelligence "could spell the end of the human race."
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Speaking at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium in October, Tesla chief executive Elon Muskreferred to artificial intelligence as "summoning the demon."
I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.
After gushing about the immediate future of technology on Reddit, Gates aligned himself with Musk and struck a more cautious tone.
"I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," he wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned."
Finished addressing questions about the potential demise of humankind someday, Gates got back to more immediate questions, like revealing his favorite spread to put on bread.
"Butter? Peanut butter? Cheese spread?" he wrote.
"Any of these."
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