Robots to replace 'rote labour': Gates

Bill Gates supports increasing work automation by robots, so long as it doesn’t mean more war, the Microsoft founder said in a QA session at the University of New South Wales televised on ABC1.

“We already have the equivalent of robots doing a lot of things,” said Gates, who runs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For example, the job of a telephone operator has largely been automated, he said.

“We are proceeding to replace all sorts of rote labour with robots. This is a progression that with vision, with speech recognition, with greater mobility will expand to a lot of new areas.”

Pressed about the use of robotic drones for war, Gates said he doesn’t “see robots as something that will lead to more war”.

“Robots are a good thing. Let’s just use them for something other than war.”

Gates said he doesn’t see artificial intelligence surpassing humans in the near term.

“In some respects, computers are far faster than we are today—multiplying, perfect memory—and it’s a wonderful auxiliary tool that lets us communicate, create and ... simulate things.”

However, “it will be a long time before you’re matching the type of broad judgment that humans exercise in many different areas”.

That’s not to say machines won’t get there eventually, Gates said. “Over time the machines will get very smart, and like all modern things we’ll have to adjust to that.”

New technology always raises new privacy challenges, Gates said. “It is one of the drawbacks against an overwhelming set of positive things in terms of staying in touch, learning [and] curiosity.

“Privacy is one of the things we’re going to have to make sure we draw the line in the right way, and I think different countries will experiment with different ways of drawing it.”

He noted that people tend to hold privacy lower as a concern if it means protecting national security.

“When you get terrorists using the technology, you’ll tend to say ... the state should be able to see a lot,” but in other cases, “you’ll tend to move towards individual privacy,” said Gates.

“Hopefully, we can find a way to achieve both.”

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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