Peter Holley of the Washington Post captured some thoughts Bill Gates articulated during a Reddit “Ask me Anything” session on the topic of a Microsoft project “called the Personal Agent”. Holley’s clips appear in an article titled Bill Gates on dangers of artificial intelligence: ‘I don’t understand why some people are not concerned’. Holley writes: “He went on to highlight a Microsoft project known as the “Personal Agent,” which is being designed to help people manage their memory, attention and focus.”
But Holley doesn’t note the project has been discussed before, this time by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Nadella touched on the very same theme on July 10, 2014, in his letter to Microsoft Employees, titled Bold Ambition & Our Core. Here is the quote from Nadella: “Computing is ubiquitous and experiences span devices and exhibit ambient intelligence. Billions of sensors, screens and devices – in conference rooms, living rooms, cities, cars, phones, PCs – are forming a vast network and streams of data that simply disappear into the background of our lives. This computing power will digitize nearly everything around us and will derive insights from all of the data being generated by interactions among people and between people and machines. We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.”.
I wrote earlier in this blog on these comments of Nadella’s. My formal education includes a Master’s degree in English Literature. I spent a lot of time working on the poems of Samuel Coleridge and couldn’t help noting Coleridge’s prescience when he wrote in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner: “Water, water everywhere, but nary a drop to drink”.
I think, in 2015, a lot of us are parched mariners, dying of thirst in a world flooded with too much information to be manageable. So, where Holley reads Gates’ comments as a portrayal of some of the features of Microsoft’s personal agent as a kind of personal tune up, I read them as depicting a set of components of a solution packed with artificial intelligence. The solution will be designed to sort, and prioritize information into useful, digestible chunks, which can provide the user with a reliable basis of beneficial activity.
Cortana, Siri, and Google Now are three very early stage examples of this type of effort, with, respectively, very limited results. But perhaps these tools will become useful in time.
Ira Michael Blonder
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