The debate of whether or not technology will replace humans is an ever-ongoing one. At a time when millions of Indians have now returned to working from office, many are debating the 6-day workweek or Infosys co-founder, Narayana Murthy’s emphasis on 70 hours of work a week. There’s been an interesting development in this aspect. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates foresees a future with a three-day week work cycle, where machines could also be making food and performing other chores.
The former CEO of Microsoft has been a vocal proponent of AI. Bill Gates made an appearance on South African comedian and writer Trevor Noah‘s podcast “What Now?” in an episode recently. Trevor asked the 68-year-old billionaire about the threat of artificial intelligence to jobs, to which Gates said there could one day be a time when humans “don’t have to work so hard.” “If you eventually get a society where you only have to work three days a week, that’s probably OK,” he said.
In the 45-minute-long conversation, the philanthropist billionaire spoke on the broader aspects of AI and how technology could change lives. Bill Gates further added that there could exist a world where “machines can make all the food and the stuff,” and people don’t have to work a five-day-plus workweek to earn a living wage. On AI displacing human jobs, Gates believes that there is a possibility that society will adapt.
He said that if the transition happens at a manageable pace and there is adequate government support, then it could lead to a society where less manual labour is needed, and people would end up having more leisure time. “Another thing that’s clear to me is that the future of AI is not as grim as some people think or as rosy as others think. The risks are real, but I am optimistic that they can be managed,” added Bill.
The Impact of AI
Throughout his conversation, Gates was positive about AI’s potential. He believes that AI can significantly enhance productivity and also mentioned that it could be of great help in tasks like programming and testing. It could also be a boon in healthcare as it will reduce a lot of paperwork for doctors. While artificial intelligence could bring about some positive change, Gates has previously acknowledged the risks of AI if it’s misused.
In July, he published a 3,000-word blog post about the potential impact of AI. “I don’t think AI’s impact will be as dramatic as the Industrial Revolution, but it certainly will be as big as the introduction of the PC. Word processing applications didn’t do away with office work, but they changed it forever,” Gates wrote. “Employers and employees had to adapt, and they did,” he added.
Bill Gates also acknowledged the limitations in fully understanding AI by citing the example of an LLM making basic mathematical errors. With AI becoming smarter, the billionaire also expressed his concerns about it being used for malicious purposes such as deepfakes and cyberattacks. He also commented on the duality of AI as it can be a tool of empowerment and can also be used to polarise people.
And, Gates isn’t the only business titan to predict a shorter work week. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said that the next generation of workers will only have a 3.5-day workweek due to AI. “Your children will live to 100 and not have cancer because of technology and they’ll probably be working three and a half days a week,” Dimon told Bloomberg in October.
Gates once viewed sleep as lazy and told Trevor Noah that his life was all about Microsoft ever since he was 18 to 40 years old. Now, he feels “the purpose of life is not just to do jobs.” Companies in the US and abroad have been testing the effectiveness of a four-day workweek. Quite a few of them have given positive reports of improved work-life balance and efficiency.
Shashi Tharoor Reacts
Following this workweek debate, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor shared his views on the suggestions made by Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. During an interview with former Infosys CFO Mohandas Pai, Narayana Murthy stressed the need for Indian youth to work for at least 70 hours a week to boost the country’s productivity. After a few days, the US billionaire, Gates argued that “job is not everything” and backed a 3-day work week.
Finding a common solution to the work week debate, the Congress MP wrote on the X platform, “…If Mr Gates and Mr Narayana Murthy sit down together and work out a compromise, we will end up exactly where we are, with a five-day work week!“
“@BillGates says a three-day work-week ought to be possible”. In other words, if Mr Gates and Mr Narayana Murthy sit down together and work out a compromise, we will end up exactly where we are, with a five-day work week!https://t.co/2Id9GEf1KC— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) November 26, 2023
People posted their views in reaction to the post. “Bill Gates makes money when people buy his productivity and AI software to do things faster, Narayana Murthy and Co. makes money mostly using billable hours – so more time you spent in the office and bill the client, Murthy makes money,” one user wrote.
Another user wrote, “It’s for each one of us to decide how much to work to live & grow as much as we want. They aren’t gods … they can have their opinion like we all have“. A third user commented on Tharoor’s post highlighting the pain of Indian bankers who are still demanding for a five-day workweek culture. “15 lakh Bankers of the country still waiting for 5 Days Week Culture sir Shashi Tharoor, seems you forgot, Banks remain open on every odd Saturdays.”
The advent of AI has definitely been transformative. It has completely changed the way we live our lives and how we carry out many of our day-to-day tasks. We guess everyone would love to have an ideal work-life balance. A 3-day workweek sounds great in theory but will it ever be possible? Especially in a world that promotes hustle culture and capitalism. AI has been developing at the most rapid pace, let’s wait and watch.