New Delhi: As millions of Indians return to work and debates around the feasibility of a 6-day workweek gain momentum, there’s a hopeful perspective emerging. The endorsement of a 70-hour workweek by Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy is now being questioned. In contrast, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, known for his support of AI, envisions a future embracing a three-day workweek. Gates suggests that machines could take on responsibilities like food preparation and other household tasks.
During a podcast interview with South African comedian Trevor Noah on ‘What Now,’ Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, 68, addressed concerns about AI taking over human jobs. Gates asserted that AI won’t replace jobs but will rather ‘change them forever.’
In the 45-minute conversation, the billionaire delved into the broader implications of AI and its potential to transform lives. Regarding AI’s impact on employment, Gates expressed the belief that society could adapt if the transition occurs at a manageable pace with sufficient government support. He envisioned a scenario where less manual labor is required, granting people more leisure time.
Positive potential of AI
In the conversation, Gates expressed a positive outlook on the capabilities of AI, highlighting its potential for substantial improvements in productivity. He specifically highlighted its advantages in tasks such as programming and testing, underscoring its positive influence on efficiency. Additionally, Gates anticipated AI streamlining healthcare procedures by reducing paperwork for medical professionals.
Acknowledging AI’s transformative potential, Gates recognized its limitations, citing an instance of an LLM making basic mathematical errors. The billionaire expressed concerns about the negative aspects of AI, cautioning against potential misuse in areas like deepfakes and cyberattacks. He reflected on the dual nature of AI, recognizing it as both an empowering tool and a potential source of polarization.
Gates down the memory lane
Gates reflected on his personal development from childhood to his tenure at Microsoft. When inquired about his self-perception, Gates recalled the past, contemplating his journey. “I have a long period from about age 18 to 40 where I was very monomaniacal; that is, Microsoft was everything. Once I dropped out, I didn’t let myself focus on much else. Then I was lucky enough, as other people took over Microsoft, I got to read and learn all about the health challenges – why do children die? And that led to the Gates Foundation being my full-time work,” he said.
Following his time at Microsoft, he shifted his attention towards healthcare, AI, and various other sectors, engaging in a diverse range of activities. “Today, I am involved in all of them, with Microsoft, AI work, the health stuff where we continue to make amazing progress in reducing childhood death. Now people are realising more than ever that if we don’t innovate to get rid of emissions, we are going to be in deep trouble.”
On his career in technology
Reflecting on his career in technology, Gates traced back to his childhood. He shared with Noah that at the age of 13, his aptitude for mathematics stood out. As computers emerged, he joined a small group that navigated the complexities of this new technology.
“One of the teachers made a mistake on the computer and lost $200, so no teacher touched that computer ever again,” he said while narrating an incident from childhood. When asked what was the mistake that cost the teacher $200, Gates said that “it was an infinite loop and it was a timeshare computer where you actually had to pay for the compute time. And, he didn’t hit the stop command. He thought, why isn’t the program doing anything? But he’d written what’s called an infinite loop.”
He later added that he and Paul Allen took charge of the computer, investing a considerable amount of time in understanding its workings. When asked about a possible error causing a $200 expense for the school, the billionaire clarified that, to avoid an infinite loop, he and his peers sought free computer time by offering their services, given the high cost of computers at that time. Gates disclosed that he willingly developed various ‘ordinary software’ just to secure access to computers.