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Bill Gates isn’t too scared about AI

It’s interesting to ask what contribution Gates makes by weighing in now, says Leslie: “With everybody talking about it, we’re kind of saturated.”

Like Gates, Leslie doesn’t dismiss doomer scenarios outright. “Bad actors can take advantage of these technologies and cause catastrophic harms,” he says. “You don’t need to buy into superintelligence, apocalyptic robots or AGI speculation to understand that.”

“But I agree that our immediate concerns should be in addressing the existing risks that derive from the rapid commercialization of generative AI,” says Leslie. “It serves a positive purpose to sort of zoom our lens in and say, ‘Okay, well, what are the immediate concerns?’”

In his post, Gates notes that AI is already a threat to many fundamental areas of society, from elections to education to employment. Of course, such concerns aren’t news. What Gates wants to tell us is that although these threats are serious, we’ve got this: “The best reason to believe that we can manage the risks is that we have done it before.”

In the 1970s and 80s, calculators changed how students learned math, allowing them to focus on what Gates calls the “thinking skills behind arithmetic” rather than the basic arithmetic itself. He now sees apps like ChatGPT doing the same with other subjects.

In the 1980s and 90s, word processing and spreadsheet applications changed office work—changes that were driven by Gates’s own company, Microsoft.

Again, Gates looks back at how people adapted and claims that we can do it again. “Word processing applications didn’t do away with office work, but they changed it forever,” he writes. “The shift caused by AI will be a bumpy transition, but there is every reason to think we can reduce the disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Similarly, with misinformation: we learned how to deal with spam, we can do the same for deepfakes. “Eventually, most people learned to look twice at those emails,” Gates writes. “As the scams got more sophisticated, so did many of their targets. We’ll need to build the same muscle for deepfakes.”

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