Bill Gates is still a dominant figure in technology, nearly a half-century after co-founding Microsoft. And when a foundational industry figure speaks–albeit one who shared ties with the now-deceased sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein–it’s worth paying attention. A new blog post summarizes Gates’s thoughts on “the road ahead” in 2024, an influential commentary with insights on artificial intelligence and innovation.

What makes Gates’s thoughts important for tech entrepreneurs is that these posts provide peeks into the mind of someone with a finger on the pulse of bleeding-edge technology who can also still influence the entire industry.

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AI

Gates thinks that the  AI explosion of 2023 is merely the beginning of a tech trend that will shape the near future to an even greater extent. The acronym appears 28 times across the six-page post.

 

He predicts AI will move from its current somewhat geeky corner niche into the limelight.

“In high-income countries like the United States, I would guess that we are 18-24 months away from significant levels of AI use by the general population,” he writes.

Gates expects AI use in less-developed nations to soar, too, with a shorter lag time than had been seen for many other tech innovations. Gates admits that “2023 marked the first time I used artificial intelligence for work and other serious reasons, not just to mess around and create parody song lyrics for my friends.” 

For business leaders directly involved in developing AI solutions, this will sound familiar, even if they haven’t played at being Weird Al Yankovic with a chatbot. Small and midsize businesses are still exploring the many ways AI applications might help their companies. If a business isn’t already considering incorporating AI into customer-facing uses (perhaps as a chatbot) or business decision-making, Gates’ enthusiasm may be a nudge to embrace this tech.

Innovation

Though “innovation” runs as a theme through Gates’s note, he also ties it to AI. That’s because artificial intelligence is set to “supercharge the innovation pipeline.” Citing advances in electric power, cars, planes, and the digital realm, Gates says “innovation is the reason our lives have improved so much over the last century.” He also blows his own trumpet a little, noting “We are far more productive because of the IT revolution.”

Gates, who retired as Microsoft CEO in 2000 to focus on his work with the Gates Foundation, suggests the next step in innovation will be the acceleration of development projects that impact people’s lives materially, financially, and socially. 

The Gates Foundation focuses its work on improving health and reducing poverty globally, so the examples used in Gates’s note are tailored toward these topics. The drug discovery process already uses AI applications to sift through massive amounts of data almost instantly, slashing new medicines’ time to market. Gates muses that AI could help treat high-risk pregnancies. He also suggests that AI could bring personalized tutors to every learner: “The AI education tools being piloted today are mind-blowing because they are tailored to each individual.” He also thinks AI could make it easy for every health worker to access medical info.

Some of these lessons resonate in the business world too. AI can already help companies learn more about their customers, reinforce their supply chains and help process raw data to understand business dynamics better. It can even help founders put together a business plan to start a new enterprise. And its use in content creation for business cases is already well known.

 

Essentially, Gates’s note is a primer for how entrepreneurs should be thinking about how AI can help businesses innovate, particularly if it can “get game-changing technologies out to the people who need them faster than ever before.”

 

It’s Not All Easy

All of this sounds exciting, and might be a shot in the arm for AI startups or leaders planning to use AI to boost their business. 

 

But Gates says figuring out AI isn’t easy. The world is just starting to get an idea about how AI can replace some jobs, and act as a co-pilot for others. And though the tech is exciting, he concedes it’s also confusing. He even admits that though he thought he’d use AI to help him sift through “hundreds of pages of briefing materials” to help craft strategy reviews for the Gates Foundation, expecting it could “accurately summarize” the data for him, he ended up doing it all himself.