Bill Gates: Fears AI, Likes Bitcoin, Loves Dogs - InformationWeek

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Bill Gates: Fears AI, Likes Bitcoin, Loves Dogs

In an "ask me anything" session on Reddit, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates talks about artificial intelligence, his Secret Santa, dogs, and the future of tech.

Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century?
Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century?
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates participated in his third "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) session on Reddit. Participants had the chance to pepper him with questions about his philanthropy efforts, futuristic technology, and what it was like to drink water made from human waste -- which, apparently, is like drinking any other kind of water.  

Gates and his wife, Melinda, are active philanthropists dedicated to improving the quality of life in impoverished areas. As noted in the the couple's recently published annual letter, efforts for 2015 and beyond include decreasing the child mortality rate, boosting agricultural productivity, and providing mobile banking and educational software to people in poor countries.

This year, Gates predicted that life will improve faster for residents of poor countries than it ever has before, with longer lifespans, nutritious food, and access to banking and education provided by technology. His Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is actively trying to save the impoverished world, and we hope that they will succeed.

[ Will Microsoft's mobile Outlook efforts change your life? Read Microsoft Outlook for iOS, Android Arrives. ]

We know he is dedicating his wealth and efforts to the greater good, but what don't we know about Bill Gates? As it turns out, his AMA session reveals Gates to be a funny and down-to-earth guy. Here are our favorite takeaways:

  • Bill Gates had a Reddit Secret Santa: This year, Gates received a quilt that was put together by a group of people, as well as a jug of maple syrup, and book titled The Promise of a Pencil. He sent Reddit user Calid7 a helmet of Loki (a villain from Marvel Universe and Thor's brother), in addition to an inscribed coffee-table book of pictures from Africa, a Microbes poliovirus stuffed toy, and a donation in her name to [email protected], a program that provides vaccines to children in poor countries.
  • He loves to read: When asked about a life lesson he learned the hard way, Gates said, "Don't stay up too late even if the book is really exciting. You will regret it in the morning." He admitted that he is "still working on this problem."
  • He's concerned about machine intelligence: Gates said that in machines' earlier stages they will do jobs for humans, which will bring positive outcomes if managed well. A few decades after that, however, the intelligence will strengthen further. He sides with Elon Musk and others on the idea that machine intelligence poses a risk, and he doesn't understand why more people aren't concerned.
  • He can only speak one language: When asked about things he regrets, Gates admitted that he wishes he could speak a foreign language like French, Arabic, or Chinese.
  • He believes in Bitcoin: Gates deemed Bitcoin "an exciting new technology" but will not use it to provide banking to the poor, as he said they shouldn't be using currency with value that increases or decreases compared to their local currency. Such users also need to be able to reverse mistakes in whom they pay, so the anonymity factor of Bitcoin wouldn't work in those circumstances.

(Image: ABC News)
(Image: ABC News)

  • His dogs are named after cookies: One is called Oreo and the other is Nilla. One Reddit user (operationopera) pointed out the password-related security risks of sharing his pets' names online, to which another (Harry101UK) helpfully suggested that Gates call his pup OreO5d02.
  • He predicts the rapid growth of tech: "There will be more progress in the next 30 years than ever," said Gates of technology. In the next 10, he said, speech understanding and translation will improve, and mechanical robots will be able to pick fruit or move hospital patients. He also admitted to working with Microsoft on a "Personal Agent" that will work across devices, remember everything, and help its user find and pay attention to specific things (Cortana, perhaps?).
  • He's not afraid of risk: The Gates Foundation chose health inequity as its global philanthropy cause and educational inequity as its national cause; Gates stated that most of its projects fit into these two areas. Part of the beauty of philanthropy, he said, is that it's "far more risk-oriented than government or private-sector spending, which makes it special when it is done right."

What's not to like about a guy who names his dogs after cookies? What do you think is most eye-opening about Gates's views? Do you have other Gates trivia to share? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2015 | 8:09:32 AM
Re: AI & Cortana
I don't know exactly what they fear but I see it as  a long slow path issue.  I don't think that tomorrow all of the robo cars are going to start running down pedestrians but I can see a scenario where we slowly give up control and direction to AI.  We start with following it's exercise advice, let it pick television programs and movies for us based on our "likes" helps us remove people from our social media feeds that bring us down and then once we rely on it we are open to more suggestions.  All of the examples I listed are available in current apps so we are already simple AI systems decision making responsibilities.  After a few years of getting used to liking the things that the AIs serve there won't be much questioning if things slowly drift away from our personal likes over to what an AI wants us to like.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
1/31/2015 | 10:44:00 PM
Re: AI & Cortana
@rradina: You nailed it. AI can only ever be as evil as the humans creating and controlling and using it. Which, as we know from events recent and long past, humans have quite a deep and abiding capcity for inflicting evil on one another.
PedroGonzales
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50%
PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2015 | 10:22:21 PM
Re: Will to survive -- where does AI get it?
I think sometimes we are caugh up in the negatives of AI, but we forgot of the many benefits it could bring. I think such benefits can really impact our lives.  Live language translation, decision support tools that allow physician to better diagnose diseases to patients, etc.  Imagine a decision support system that helps us make better life choices such as buying a home, moving to a new place, changing careers, etc.  I think the next project for bill gates should be becoming a Sci fi writer.  A dystopian world where AI robots are controlling humans, sounds like an excellent plot and the software they run is  windows 98; a real nightmare.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/30/2015 | 5:29:36 PM
Re: Will to survive -- where does AI get it?
>It could learn the principle of survival and value of survival but the desperation to survive that living beings can take on isn't present in the system. Or is it, someday?

If we assume we'll teach our AI via machine learning, we'll just have to make some pre-applied rules immutable -- like you may not harm humans. The notion we'd let machines learn on their own -- without human approval of what's learned -- seems hugely unwise. It would essentially be inviting randomized action.
rradina
IW Pick
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2015 | 4:27:34 PM
Re: AI & Cortana
Do you think they fear the wrong influence controlling AI or AI controlling itself and eventually us?

I know this conjures images of Terminator, HAL 9000, Proteius IV (Demon Seed) and Saturn 3 (although the first three don't deserve to be desecrated by perhaps Farrah Fawcett's finest film!) but long before AI becomes capable of Pinky and the Brain evil, I see danger starting when humans grant implicit trust to AI.  For instance, a car that parallel parks by itself is a great innovation until it's hacked and maximum throttle is applied in reverse causing it to fly across a sidewalk packed with pedestrians.  What about when cars start driving themselves and a commuter logs thousands of blissful auto-drive miles and suddenly a software update causes a miscalculation at 70mph.

It's not that the AI is evil but as it gets better, will we increasingly grant it implicit trust and eventually get burned when it makes a deadly mistake?
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
1/30/2015 | 4:05:49 PM
Will to survive -- where does AI get it?
It's not clear to me how AI gets out of control, even though Stephen Hawking is another worrier on this front. I understand an AI system like IBM's Watson can absorbe more information than I can and can access all of humanity's stored knowledge and try to learn from it. But I don't see where the desire to survive at any cost would come from in a computer system or robot. It could learn the principle of survival and value of survival but the desperation to survive that living beings can take on isn't present in the system. Or is it, someday?
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2015 | 11:56:22 AM
Re: Bill Gates: Fears AI, Likes Bitcoint, Loves Dogs
Reddit AMAs definitely have a unique personal feel to them, but Bill Gates tends to come off as a down-to-earth, well learned person in other interviews I've seen as well. He doesn't seem content to rest on his success, probably accomplishing more notable and varied goals in his lifetime than most will.  It says more about him, though, that he always endeavors to learn all about these topics (reading his responses about waste disposal was enlightening) as he's tackling them - versus just throwing money at a problem. Like others, the bit about AI stood out as a little weird to me. It's not like there's nothing to be concerned about on that front, but those of us who understand the technologies we call 'AI' today tend to agree that our future doesn't look quite that much like a scifi movie - but, it's hard to convey tone via text, and we may be reading too much into what was intended as an offhand comment.

The goals of the foundation do provide an interesting distillation of the technology we've developed in our lifetimes. What's the point of it all if we don't use it to help people in need? Not just critical needs like banking and healthcare, even very very rudimentary internet access could give kids around the world access to great educational resources and leapfrog them generations over what's available to them today. There was an interesting quote a bit farther down in the AMA - "So far we have not being able to use technology to connect people to the needs of the poorest in countries that are far away to tap into their empathy. I think this can be done but it needs some missing creativity." If I understand it right, that's meant to refer to crowdfunding. It's true and a little sad - if we can raise millions to make a new kind of phone case with a few clicks, we should be able do the same for those in need. 
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2015 | 10:37:47 AM
AI
I'm not so wary of AI that will get "out of control," as I think we're a long way off artificial organisms that can think outside of their intended function, or "break" programming, in the same sense that I can't change my genetic makeup if I choose to.

What is potentially worrying though is malicious AI created by someone for a specific task. That has the potential to be much more dangerous, but again, only as dangerous as the person that creates it. 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2015 | 9:11:51 AM
Re: AI & Cortana
@mak63, you bring up some very good points.  The guys who are pushing AI and technology are the same guys warning us about letting it get out of control.  On one hand this sounds like they are aware that what they are doing has the potential to be misused, on the other hand it sounds like they want to be the controllers of AI and this is their entry point.  If they get out in front of the charge and declare themselves the champions of safely developed AI then they get to steer the direction of AI.  I do agree that AI has the potential to be more disruptive than taking low level jobs but at the same time I think some people would be very happy being controlled by AI.  I look at people who model their day around what their fitness tracking watch tells them is best for them, why not a smarter device that does a better job of leading?
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2015 | 2:41:09 AM
AI & Cortana
He (Gates) sides with Elon Musk and others on the idea that machine intelligence poses a risk, and doesn't understand why more people aren't concerned.

Maybe because we don't live in the same world as them or perhaps we don't watch so many movies about it. Anyway, the latest model of the Tesla P85D has a mode called "insane". Musk is not really helping his cause.

When Gates says that he's working with Microsoft on a personal agent, I thought immediately about Microsoft Agent. Remember those? This time around has to be Cortana, right?
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