In a post to his official blog on Thursday, the billionaire Microsoft cofounder said that even in 2023, “software is still pretty dumb”—but he predicted that this would “change completely” within the next five years.
Instead of having multiple different apps on our devices to carry out different tasks, he said users would simply need to tell their device, in everyday language, what they want to do. That’s where so-called AI-powered “agents” will step in, Gates said.
“In the near future, anyone who’s online will be able to have a personal assistant powered by artificial intelligence that’s far beyond today’s technology,” he wrote. “Agents are smarter. They’re proactive—capable of making suggestions before you ask for them.”
These personal assistants, capable of carrying out different tasks across different apps, will continuously improve over time as they get to know their users, according to Gates. For example, if you were planning a trip, existing chatbots might only be able to identify hotels that fit within your budget—but an agent will know what time of year you’ll be traveling and whether you always seek out new destinations or prefer to return to the same place.
“When asked, it will recommend things to do based on your interests and propensity for adventure, and it will book reservations at the types of restaurants you would enjoy,” Gates said. “If you want this kind of deeply personalized planning today, you need to pay a travel agent and spend time telling them what you want.”
AI agents will also drastically overhaul our productivity, Gates added.
Microsoft and Google are among the plethora of firms already competing to develop productivity-boosting AI with their virtual assistants Copilot and Bard. But according to Gates, the AI agents of the future will “do even more” than those productivity tools.
“If you have an idea for a business, an agent will help you write up a business plan, create a presentation for it, and even generate images of what your product might look like,” he predicted. “Companies will be able to make agents available for their employees to consult directly and be part of every meeting so they can answer questions.”
Since the phenomenal rise of OpenAI’s generative AI chatbot ChatGPT, billions of dollars have been poured into the development of artificial intelligence.
But while the likes of Microsoft, Google, Baidu and Elon Musk’s xAI are all competing to produce the most disruptive artificial intelligence model, Gates speculated that no single company will dominate the agents business. However, he noted that most of the AI agents of the future would likely be something individuals will have to pay for.
“[But] if the number of companies that have started working on AI just this year is any indication, there will be an exceptional amount of competition, which will make agents very inexpensive,” he said. “Today, agents are embedded in other software like word processors and spreadsheets, but eventually they’ll operate on their own. Whether you work in an office or not, your agent will be able to help you in the same way that personal assistants support executives today.”
Ultimately, agents will be able to assist their users with “virtually any activity and any area of life,” Gates insisted.
“If your friend just had surgery, your agent will offer to send flowers and be able to order them for you,” he wrote. “If you tell it you’d like to catch up with your old college roommate, it will work with their agent to find a time to get together, and just before you arrive, it will remind you that their oldest child just started college at the local university.”
Gates has previously spoken about how he believes the AI revolution will lead to everyone having their own “white collar” personal assistants—and he isn’t the only technologist to have made that prediction.
Earlier this year, internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee told CNBC’s Beyond the Valley podcast that AI would be able to access our data and step into the role of personal assistant.
Meanwhile, Google DeepMind cofounder Mustafa Suleyman said in a September interview that he believed everybody would have their own AI-powered personal assistant within five years.