Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates believes artificial intelligence will revolutionize vital sectors of the global economy within the next few years, and said the incredible and sometimes frightening things we've seen so far barely scratch the surface of what's coming.

"AI stuff you're seeing, to be clear, is very early," Gates said during an interview on the "Armchair Expert" podcast. “But over the next two or three years, agricultural AI, health advice AI, drug discovery AI—it's going to be really big."

In a wide-ranging conversation with podcast hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman, Gates said AI's ability to process huge amounts of data and provide tailored recommendations quickly will be transformative.

"AI is kind of like a free worker that can scan lots of things and come up with good advice, whether it's a technical support call, or trying to figure out what college to go to, or what courses to sign up for," he said. "Almost anything you think about—if you train the AI properly, and you get the user in front of it—except for a little bit of cost of running that back end, it's kind of like free work.”


The company Gates helped create is one of the biggest players in AI, thanks to Microsoft's massive $10 billion investment in OpenAI and integration of artificial intelligence across its software tools. He and OpenAI CEO discussed the technology's future in a conversation onstage in January.

During the interview, Gates said he's still part of conversations at the Redmond-based tech giant. He said that he had written various memos around the rise of AI, and that Microsoft has been "digging these memos out" and inviting Gates to discuss his thoughts around AI.

“The CEO of Microsoft is a very special person—Satya [Nadella] has drawn me in," Gates added.


The billionaire philanthropist said that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is already harnessing AI to tackle major global challenges, such as child mortality, malaria, and agricultural productivity.

"In agriculture, for example, the AI can read the nitrogen level in the forecast and it can update you on what you should be doing to deal with this vulnerability of this crop," he explained.

While Shephard appreciated the role AI could play in advancing the sciences, he said he was concerned about using the technology to tackle more human problems, like raising a child or dealing with a conflict—in part because the source data is so subjective.

“The data for this would be the social sciences, which are so flawed in so many ways,” he said. “I'm not sure how AI is ever advising humans.”

”If it's a problem that humans are not good at dealing with, then present techniques won't create some novel approach,” Gates responded. “There's so many different things, we probably don't have a corpus of data to make a superhuman psychologist or a computer psychologist—so we have to understand where we have data that embodies the expertise.”

Still, Gates said he saw much potential for AI in education, therapy, and caregiving.

“Psychiatry and psychiatry counseling—I do think eventually it will be helpful, because you want somebody who you've been talking to for a long time that is immediately available and sympathetic, detecting certain circumstances to escalate to a human expert, and really dump out very quickly what is going on,” Gates said. “I actually think in mental counseling, AIs will play a role.

”But boy, we're going to have to be very careful about that,” he added. “And that's going to require a lot of work that has not been done yet.”


Gates acknowledged that the accelerating pace of AI development raises complex challenges for society.

“People say, ‘In the world of AI, what should I teach my kid?’” he said. “I don't know the answer to that question, because society will reorganize how it thinks about time, and what counts in this world of access.”

One clear challenge, Gates pointed out, is that different communities and countries will embrace or resist AI to different degrees, creating disparities between what gains or ills the technology brings.

“The idea that we're going to stop—just one company will stop, or one country will stop—when will you get some collective motivation to all say, stop?” he said. ”I'm actually thinking now, maybe we'll have a world where parts of the world have chosen to use AI in full, and other people are more like, ‘Get your buggy out, baby.’”

“Yeah, get your abacus out, we're going to figure this out the hard way,” Shephard joked.

Gates said he didn't think his work on global health and development would be rendered obsolete, but if highly capable AI assistants could do it better, he'd be fine with that.

"Everyone else has experienced this in their lives, where there's someone who's so much better than you—it's like, ‘Why do I even try?‘" he said.

"An example I give is malaria eradication: I am very proud of the fact that I think that's a worthwhile cause, and it's got a level of complexity in terms of science and risk and regulations and experiments that my life's work puts me in a position to hire great people and build this team,” he continued. “It's fine if the machine literally says to me, ‘Hey, I'm going to do this better than you. I'll run this meeting, you go play pickleball and listen to someone's jokes and I'll take care of this for you.’”


The interview, recorded in Gates' hotel room during a Gates Foundation trip to India, also touched on lighter fare like the billionaire's sleep habits and his love of pickleball, Wordle, and bridge. The three also reflected on their time in the South Asian country.

“It does make you remember the great things that we have, as much as the U.S. is in this deeply polarized, troubled state, we are the gold standard—so much learning and aspiration,” Gates said. “I think to come here, it always takes you out of your normal life and it gives you distance. It gets you to appreciate some things.”

Edited by Andrew Hayward

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