Bill Gates on Wednesday hosted his third AMAon Reddit.
For those unfamiliar, an AMA is where someone goes on Reddit and allows the greater internet community to ask them anything.
Gates was asked what he would have done if Microsoft hadn’t worked out. Here’s his response:
“I would probably be a researcher on AI. When I started Microsoft I was worried I would miss the chance to do basic work in that field.”
Gates founded Microsoft back in 1975 with Paul Allen, but artificial intelligence was a popular field of research in the ’50s and ’60s — scientists and researchers discovered that computers could solve maths problems, word problems, win at checkers, and even speak English. Gates was still in prep school around this time, where he was getting recognised for his prodigious talents programming computers and software.
But less than a year after Gates enrolled at Harvard University, the US and British governments cut off all exploratory research into AI that wasn’t directly government-funded. For almost five years thereafter, the countries experienced what was called an “AI winter.” An even longer “winter” occurred starting around 1987, for about another decade.
Despite his longstanding interest in AI, however, Gates also says he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” which also includes Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. Hawking believes AI could eventually “outsmart financial markets” and “out-invent human researchers,” while Musk similarly believes we could see a “Terminator-like scenario” if we aren’t careful about how we manage this technology.
It’s interesting to think about what artificial intelligence would be like if Gates started researching in that field 40 years ago — perhaps it would be much improved, or maybe we would all be enslaved by computers by now. We’ll never know, since Microsoft became such a resounding success.