Open research beats erecting borders in Artificial Intelligence: Bill Gates

Bloomberg New York | Updated on November 22, 2019

Bill Gates. File photo

China and the US are the two leading AI superpowers that have dominated research

Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates spoke out against protectionism in technological research around topics like artificial intelligence, arguing that open systems will inevitably win out over closed ones.

In conversation with Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait at the New Economy Forum in Beijing on Thursday, Gates was skeptical about the idea that ongoing United States (US)-China trade tensions could ever lead to a bifurcated system of two internets and two mutually exclusive strands of tech research and development.

AI is very hard to put back in the bottle, Gates said, and whoever has an open system will get massively ahead by virtue of being able to integrate more insights from more sources. Citing Microsoft’s AI research in Beijing, Gates pondered the rhetorical question of whether it was producing Chinese AI or American AI. In the case of Microsoft’s UK research campus in Cambridge and the findings it produces, he said that almost every one of those papers is going to have some Chinese names on it, some European names on it and some Americans names on it.

China and the US are the two leading AI superpowers that have dominated research, however cooling political relations between them have slowed the international collaboration that underpins innovation. Huawei Technologies Co, Beijing’s tech champion, has been subject to a variety of sanctions from Washington, in part because Chinas rapid AI development is perceived as a rising threat.

Gates said he was more worried today than five years ago about the rise of nationalist and protectionist political tendencies across the globe, and that he now wonders whether that will prove a cyclical trend or a more permanent change. Still, as far as the US and China were concerned, he said hes even more passionate about the value of engagement than ever.

The other key takeaways from the talk

Gates said there is no doubt solar and wind are key parts of a new energy mix needed to battle climate change. “Quite a bit of nuclear may be required to fill in for fossil fuels as we move to zero carbon. But he doubts a carbon tax would be realistic in the US Republicans have largely sworn off the idea and, by and large, he said, Democrats are not pushing it as a key priority, either. The ability of political leaders to convince their electorates of the benefits and value of globalization has gone down,” said Gates.

Published on November 22, 2019

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