Artificial intelligence (AI) is at the forefront of the tech industry, with the potential to bring enormous financial gain to those who perfect it. While scientists and ethicists debate the impact of advanced chatbots on society, tech companies are scrambling to incorporate AI into their products. Microsoft, in particular, has invested heavily in the technology and is leading the charge in the race for AI supremacy. In this article, we explore Microsoft’s bid to win Silicon Valley’s cut-throat AI race.
Microsoft’s AI Push
Microsoft is one of the pioneers in the development of AI, and the company has invested heavily in the technology. The company has partnered with OpenAI, the start-up behind ChatGPT, a transformational software that offers Microsoft a chance to surpass Google in search. Microsoft has also reportedly invested $10 billion in OpenAI. According to CEO Satya Nadella, AI will shape everything the company does in the future.
AI-Powered Office Work
During a recent visit to Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, executives demonstrated how AI can boost its business. One example is the integration of AI into Microsoft’s Powerpoint software. Office workers can complete hours of work on presentations in minutes by providing a series of bullet points to Copilot, Microsoft’s AI chatbot integrations. Copilot creates an entire slide deck complete with stock images, corporate branding, and the right color scheme. Full sentences extrapolated from the bullet points garnish each slide.
Walter Sun, the vice president of AI for business applications, believes that Copilot could become an “autopilot” by 2028. An executive could simply ask the software to create a slide deck, and it would do all the legwork. AI assistants within Microsoft’s products will become ubiquitous, writing code, emails, and Powerpoint presentations for people while they deal with less automatable tasks such as meetings and presentations.
Limiting the role of humans in day-to-day business raises ethical questions. Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s marketing chief, asks, “The question is, are we designing PowerPoint in a way that takes away my agency, my humanity? Or are we empowering them to spend more time on the parts that matter?”
AI has the potential to destroy jobs, even in its current state. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna recently stated that thousands of back-office staff are likely to be “replaced by AI and automation over the next five years.” Connor Axiotes, a researcher at the Adam Smith Institute, believes that mass adoption of AI will lead to higher levels of unemployment than any other past technology. He says, “Future AI systems will have superhuman labor abilities, be smarter than humans, and encroach on a domain that no transformative technology ever has – cognitive labor.”
Even as tech companies continue to develop AI, there’s the question of whether AI is good enough to do the job in the first place. During the Copilot trial on GitHub, one software developer complained that the AI sometimes “suggests things that are just wrong.” Another said using the product was akin to “having to deal with a trainee programmer who knows how to search on Google” — not a glowing endorsement.
ChatGPT has a well-documented tendency to “hallucinate”: produce convincing-sounding answers to questions that are, in fact, wrong. Plagiarism is also an issue when it comes to creating new material such as code or Powerpoint presentations.
The Future of AI
While AI has its flaws, Microsoft is keen to press ahead with its advantage in AI, hoping to gain a crucial edge over rivals including Google and Amazon. The cost of losing ground should not be underestimated. Google, whose experiments with AI have been lower-profile, saw $120bn wiped off its shares after a botched demo of its own chatbot, Bard, showed it giving a wrong answer.
Microsoft representatives are keen to stress that the company wants to “augment” what people can do with AI instead of replacing them outright. However, it is difficult to ignore the potential for AI to destroy jobs, even in its current state.
Despite the potential risks, Microsoft remains committed to AI. The company hopes to gain a crucial edge over its rivals, including Google and Amazon. If it does not, it risks falling behind.
OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, ultimately aims to create “artificial general intelligence” (AGI), which is regarded by most researchers as the field’s Holy Grail: the creation of true machine consciousness. AGI would allow machines to essentially think for themselves, and this breakthrough moment could be reached within years, some in the field believe.
However, pessimists are most worried about AGI. Once machines can be set off to complete tasks with relative autonomy, how can we control what they do? Thought experiments abound about how relatively simple commands could lead to the end of humanity.
Would Microsoft adopt AGI if OpenAI creates it? Eric Boyd, the company’s corporate vice president of AI platform technology, says in Redmond, “Honestly, I don’t know.” It is difficult to speculate “on this thing that doesn’t exist,” he says. However, Boyd adds: “I can’t imagine we wouldn’t take advantage of some really advanced technology.”
The potential of AI is enormous, but the risks are equally great. Microsoft is leading the charge in the race for AI supremacy, but the company’s representatives are aware of the ethical considerations involved. Microsoft remains committed to AI, but the company also wants to “augment” what people can do with AI instead of replacing them outright.
As AI continues to develop and its potential is realized, there will be many questions that need to be answered. Microsoft and other tech companies will have to navigate these challenges carefully to ensure that the benefits of AI are maximized while its risks are minimized.