Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, has accustomed us to its periodic forecasts that range across different fields. One of his memorandum best known is “The Tidal Wave”: in 1995 Gates predicted the modern Internet and the explosion of related services. This time, after the presentation of the Transformer idea by a group of Google engineers in 2017, and the introduction of the revolutionaries generative models OpenAI at the end of 2022 (which caught much of the competition off guard…), betting on the potential of artificial intelligence is simple. Especially looking at what Microsoft is doing with Copilot in Windows and with Copilot for Microsoft 365.
The agent predicted by Gates in 1995 today take the form of personal assistants based on artificial intelligence
It was the year 1995 when Gates introduced his idea of agent, software components capable of understanding the user’s questions and responding in kind using natural language. In his book The Road Ahead, the former CEO and president of Microsoft (roles now held by Satya Nadella) explained that a agent can perform many different tasks, depending on knowledge acquired by the user.
The difference compared to the functioning of “generalist” generative models is all here. While the models we know are based on one training phase initial, developed from a corpus of information provided as input (for example taken from published web pages), Gates thinks of a personal assistant that improves its knowledge based on the data shared by the user himself.
“In the next five years the situation will change completely. You won’t have to use different apps for different tasks. You simply tell your device, in everyday language, what you want to do. And depending on how much information you choose to share, the software will be able to respond personally because it will have in-depth knowledge of your life. In the near future, anyone online will be able to have a personal assistant powered by artificial intelligence that goes far beyond today’s technology“, writes Gates in a note.
Copilot transforms the idea of the users into a concrete product agent
You don’t find any similarities with what Microsoft is now creating with Copilot and, in particular, with the version intended for users of the Microsoft 365 suite? We are still in the embryonic stage but the idea is evidently to realize what Gates predicted.
The Redmond company has failed with Cortana but that experience, combined with the steps forward made thanks to the development of artificial intelligence, will allow us to make a decisive leap forward. Already today Copilot per Microsoft 365 aims to summarize texts, create documents from scratch, prepare emails and respond to messages, create reports of online meetings by participating directly, develop – with the collaboration of the new OneDrive 3.0 – adeep knowledge on all documents and activities carried out daily by the professional and the company.
“Agents won’t just change the way everyone interacts with computers. They will also subvert the software industry, bringing about the biggest revolution in computing since we went from typing commands to touching icons“, continua Gates.
How a real personal assistant works, according to Gates
Also Clippywhich as Gates says, many still make fun of, was a personal assistant. It was 1997 and the “performance” of that virtual paperweight pin was rather mediocre. In some cases the functioning of Clippy it was so annoying that many users rushed to deactivate it. Today someone even had fun transforming Clippy with ChatGPT making it a formidable helper.
Gates says that the time is ripe to equip himself with a real personal assistant capable, with the user’s authorization, of following his online interactions, his movements in places in the real world, and knowing his relationship with real people , with professional activities and daily commitments. This personal assistant will thus be able to develop a detailed knowledge personal and work relationships, hobbies, interests and routine daily life of each individual. Each person will be able to choose how and when to have the personal assistant intervene to obtain help or ask for support to make a decision.
Clippyas well as most of the generative model-based tools we use today, are basically bot. The agent that Gates has in mind are smarter: they are proactive, capable of making suggestions before starting an interaction. I am able to carry out tasks for the user and they improve over time because they remember activities and recognize intentions e behavior models.
“The most exciting impact of agents is how they will democratize services that are too expensive for most people today. They will have an especially large influence in four areas: healthcare, education, productivity, entertainment and shopping“Gates observes again.
The topic of privacy will be increasingly current and delicate
Do you know the effort Microsoft is making to bring Copilot to Europe? Here, with the idea of agent based on artificial intelligence, the tema privacy it will get hotter and hotter.
Users must be able to carefully determine what information the user can have access to.agent and what types of interactions are allowed. But who carries out the data processing shared with theagent and how to ensure that they are used appropriately? “No one wants to start getting ads about something they told their agent“, comments Gates. “Can law enforcement use the knowledge acquired by the personal assistant as evidence against the individual? And when will the assistant refuse to do something that could be harmful to the user or other people? Who chooses the values to communicate to the assistant and the ethical principles on which he must base her behavior?“.
Then there is the issue of information sharing: An agent cannot talk to another user’s digital assistant at the risk of revealing personal information and confidential data.
In short, the path taken now seems already traced but there are a series of priority questions for the technology industry and legislators to which it is necessary to provide convincing answers in a short time.
Opening image credit: iStock.com/Just_Super