While there’s nothing particularly new in this post by Bill Gates, it’s nevertheless a good one to send to people who might be interested in the impact that AI is about to have on society.
Gates compares AI agents to Clippy which, he says, was merely a bot. After going through all of the advantages there will be to AI agents acting on your behalf, Gates does, to his credit, talk about privacy implications. He also touches on social conventions and how human norms interact with machine efficiency.
The thing that strikes me in all of this is something that Audrey Watters discussed a few months ago in relation to fitness technologies: will these technologies make us more like to live ‘templated lives’. In other words, are they helping support human flourishing, or nudging us towards lives that make more revenue for advertisers, etc.?
Agents will affect how we use software as well as how it’s written. They’ll replace search sites because they’ll be better at finding information and summarizing it for you. They’ll replace many e-commerce sites because they’ll find the best price for you and won’t be restricted to just a few vendors. They’ll replace word processors, spreadsheets, and other productivity apps. Businesses that are separate today—search advertising, social networking with advertising, shopping, productivity software—will become one business.
How will you interact with your agent? Companies are exploring various options including apps, glasses, pendants, pins, and even holograms. All of these are possibilities, but I think the first big breakthrough in human-agent interaction will be earbuds. If your agent needs to check in with you, it will speak to you or show up on your phone. (“Your flight is delayed. Do you want to wait, or can I help rebook it?”) If you want, it will monitor sound coming into your ear and enhance it by blocking out background noise, amplifying speech that’s hard to hear, or making it easier to understand someone who’s speaking with a heavy accent.
But who owns the data you share with your agent, and how do you ensure that it’s being used appropriately? No one wants to start getting ads related to something they told their therapist agent. Can law enforcement use your agent as evidence against you? When will your agent refuse to do something that could be harmful to you or someone else? Who picks the values that are built into agents?
But other issues won’t be decided by companies and governments. For example, agents could affect how we interact with friends and family. Today, you can show someone that you care about them by remembering details about their life—say, their birthday. But when they know your agent likely reminded you about it and took care of sending flowers, will it be as meaningful for them?