In the next five years, you will have your own artificial intelligence assistant, or agent, that will be a frequent voice in your ear and will help you with everything from deciding where to go on vacation to managing your friendships and more. That's according to Bill Gates, who says he's been thinking about agents for 30 years.
What, exactly, is an agent? In a new blog post, Gates defines it as a type of AI software that "responds to natural language and can accomplish many different tasks based on its knowledge of the user." And he makes some predictions about how we'll all be using agents five years from now that are mind-bending and completely logical at the same time.
1. You won't bother with software or operating systems anymore.
Do you use Windows, macOS, or Linux? iOS or Android? Today, these seem like meaningful choices, but five years from none of us will care about any of those because our agents will function as operating systems or platforms, Gates writes. Today, if you want to write an email, you might open Gmail or Outlook. If you want to create a document, you might open Microsoft Word or Google Docs. But five years from now, you won't do any of that, Gates predicts.
"You won't have to use different apps for different tasks," he writes. "You'll simply tell your device, in everyday language, what you want to do. And depending on how much information you choose to share with it, the software will be able to respond personally because it will have a rich understanding of your life."
2. Your agent will be a frequent voice in your ear.
Companies working in AI have been exploring various ways for people to interact with their agents, "including apps, glasses, pendants, pins, and even holograms," Gates writes. "All of these are possibilities, but I think the first big breakthrough in human-agent interaction will be earbuds. If your agent needs to check in with you, it will speak to you or show up on your phone."
He seems to believe that most of us will wear at least one earbud most of the time so that our agents can talk to us whenever they need to. And he might be right, because having an assistant in your ear could turn out to be quite useful. It could let you know when a flight is delayed, remind you of the name of an acquaintance, or even help you better understand someone with a heavy accent, and do many other handy things.
3. Your agent will get involved in your personal relationships.
Just as a human personal assistant might do today, in five years an agent could remind you when a friend is about to have a birthday, come up with some suggestions about what they might like as a present (perhaps by asking your friend's agent), and then purchase the present for you. And--as with a human assistant today--the recipient of the present might perhaps value it less, knowing that the agent was the one who picked it out.
If you want to get together with a friend, rather than calling or texting or even sharing a calendar link with them as you might do today, your agent could work with their agent to find a time when both of you are free. And Gates considers an awkward possibility. "Suppose you want to see a friend," he writes. "If your agent talks to theirs, you don't want it to say, 'Oh, she's seeing other friends on Tuesday and doesn't want to include you.'"
4. It might even help you solve personal problems.
The idea might seem odd, but Wysa and Youper both have research to back up their claim that their chatbots do help lessen symptoms such as anxiety and each has been used by more than 2 million people. Odd as it may sound, these algorithms are fulfilling a real need. "Today, weekly therapy sessions seem like a luxury. But there is a lot of unmet need, and many people who could benefit from therapy don't have access to it," Gates writes, noting that the RAND Corporation estimates that half of all U.S. military veterans who need mental health care don't get it. There are multiple reasons why not, but a shortage of available therapists, high costs, and the social stigma some associate with seeking help are all part of the problem. Chatbots can help with all three of these issues.
Could an AI agent really act as your travel agent, social secretary, therapist, constant companion, and more? It seems certain that they can and will, and sooner than you might expect. They'll probably do a lot of other things for you too. Maybe even some that Gates hasn't thought of yet.
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