Bill Gates, billionaire businessman and philanthropist, expressed concern that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could take over the world in a recent post on his blog, GatesNotes.

In his blog post, Gates drew attention to an interaction he had with AI in September. He wrote that, to his astonishment, the AI received the highest possible score on an AP Bio exam. 

The AI was asked, “what do you say to a father with a sick child?” It then provided an answer which, Gates claims, was better than one anyone in the room could have provided. The billionaire did not include the answer in his blog post.

This interaction, Gates said, inspired a deep reflection on the way that AI will impact industry and the Gates Foundation for the next 10 years.

The positive potential for AI

As a philanthropist, Gates chose to focus on how AI technology could be used to reduce inequality.

Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event in New York (credit: REUTERS)

“The evidence shows that having basic math skills sets students up for success, no matter what career they choose. But achievement in math is going down across the country, especially for Black, Latino, and low-income students. AI can help turn that trend around,” wrote Gates.

“AI will enhance your work—for example by helping with writing emails and managing your inbox,” he promised.

He stated that AI will improve the efficiency of everyday workers and suggested that it is beneficial to see AI as a “digital personal assistant.” He acknowledged that populations will need to be retrained as AI takes on new roles and that governments will need to be responsible for overseeing this.

More specifically, Gates predicted that AI will have a strong impact in reducing the burden on care workers. If AI were able to undertake tasks like “filing insurance claims, dealing with paperwork, and drafting notes from a doctor’s visit” then more time can be allocated to patient care. 

Adding to this, Gates noted that AI can have a massive impact on poorer countries where access to medical facilities is limited.

“AIs will even give patients the ability to do basic triage, get advice about how to deal with health problems, and decide whether they need to seek treatment.”

AI may even be able to make significant contributions to medical innovation, Gates claimed. 

He explained that “the amount of data in biology is very large, and it’s hard for humans to keep track of all the ways that complex biological systems work. There is already software that can look at this data, infer what the pathways are, search for targets on pathogens, and design drugs accordingly.”

He predicted that AI will eventually be able to predict side effects and the correct dosages for individual patients.

In the field of agriculture, Gates insisted that “AIs can help develop better seeds based on local conditions, advise farmers on the best seeds to plant based on the soil and weather in their area, and help develop drugs and vaccines for livestock.”

The negative potential for AI

Despite all the potential good that AI can do, Gates warned that it can have negative effects on society.

“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 AI,” he wrote. 

Gates acknowledged that AI will likely be “so disruptive [that it] is bound to make people uneasy” because it “raises hard questions about the workforce, the legal system, privacy, bias, and more.”

AI is also not a flawless system, he explained, because “AIs also make factual mistakes and experience hallucinations.”

Gates emphasized that there is a “threat posed by humans armed with AI” and the potential that AI “decide that humans are a threat, conclude that its interests are different from ours, or simply stop caring about us?” 


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