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Bill Gates Worries About Machines Gaining Super Intelligence

Gates also reveals that he has two dogs, likes sauce on his BBQ and his big regret is not learning a foreign language.

Bill Gates

Even the father of the mainstream personal computer is worried that machines might one day get too smart.

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Bill Gates said during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. “First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that, though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

It’s the third time Gates has done one of these sessions. A year ago, Gates talked about, among other things, why he likes to do dishes.

Gates was asked about a range of topics, from whether he would like to live forever to the first thing he likes to do in the morning to whether he prefers donuts or donut holes. As always, not all questions get answered, with community members voting up questions they like best.

Among the questions Gates chose to answer was one about his biggest regret.

“I feel pretty stupid that I don’t know any foreign languages,” Gates said “I took Latin and Greek in high school and got As, and I guess it helps my vocabulary, but I wish I knew French or Arabic or Chinese. I keep hoping to get time to study one of these — probably French, because it is the easiest. I did Duolingo for a while, but didn’t keep it up.”

Gates noted that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg learned Mandarin, even recently doing a question-and-answer session in that language with Chinese students.

Asked what lesson he has learned the hard way, Gates said: “Don’t stay up too late even if the book is really exciting. You will regret it in the morning. I am still working on this problem.”

Here’s what Gates had to say on various other topics.

On whether technology is making us dumber:

Technology is not making people less intelligent. … Technology is letting people get their questions answered better so they stay more curious. It makes it easier to know a lot of topics, which turns out to be pretty important to contribute to solving complex problems.

On bitcoin and other digital currencies:

Bitcoin is an exciting new technology. For our Foundation work we are doing digital currency to help the poor get banking services. We don’t use bitcoin specifically for two reasons. One is that the poor shouldn’t have a currency whose value goes up and down a lot compared to their local currency. Second is that if a mistake is made in who you pay, then you need to be able to reverse it, so anonymity wouldn’t work. Overall financial transactions will get cheaper using the work we do and bitcoin-related approaches. Making sure that it doesn’t help terrorists is a challenge for all new technology.

 Bill Gates’ dogs, Oreo and Nilla
Bill Gates’ dogs, Oreo and Nilla
Bill Gates

On whether he has pets:

We have two dogs. One is Oreo and the other is Nilla. I will say I spend less time with the dogs than the kids do but I really like them (when they are not barking at night and not eating things they are not supposed to and when they are well house-trained). I have resisted getting a third dog.

On the future of the PC:

There will be more progress in the next 30 years than ever. Even in the next 10, problems like vision and speech understanding and translation will be very good. Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them, then they will be used very extensively.

One project I am working on with Microsoft is the Personal Agent, which will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to. The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model — the agent will help solve this. It will work across all your devices.

On Microsoft’s just-introduced HoloLens:

The HoloLens is pretty amazing. Microsoft has put a lot into the chips and the software. It is the start of virtual reality. Making the device so you don’t get dizzy or nauseous is really hard — the speed of the alignment has to be super, super fast. It will take a few years of software applications being built to realize the full promise of this.

On that technology that turns poop water into drinking water:

The time frame is longer than I would like. Probably five years before we have hundreds of them out in dozens of cities, but we can scale up fast after that.

On the need for more research funding:

Research is very underfunded compared to the ideal. Society captures so much benefit from innovation that inventors don’t, so there is not enough risk taking. Government (and Foundation) funding of research helps but it still should be more. The United States funds a lot more than any other country even relative to its success. It should do more medical and energy and educational and other research. Politicians often think short term unless the voters tell them to avoid that. Perhaps the most outrageous thing is we have not raised energy research funding to help solve climate change!

On the prospects of immortality and funding research into life-extension technologies:

It seems pretty egocentric, while we still have malaria and TB, for rich people to fund things so they can live longer. It would be nice to live longer though, I admit.

On his favorite expensive food:

Nathan Myhrvold has some amazing modern cuisine stuff that is super tasty. I am not a foodie, but his new concoctions are amazing. I also like Thai and Indian food but it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Dry rub or sauce on his BBQ:

Sauce. Lots of sauce. I always spill a bit, so I avoid BBQ before TV appearances.

On whom he is rooting for in the Super Bowl on Sunday:

This is an easy question. I am good friends with Paul Allen, who owns the Seahawks, and I live in Seattle. The playoff game was amazing to watch. Go Seahawks!

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