Return of Microsoft Bob? But seriously, Gates sees new chance for ‘personal agents’

billgatesannualletterREDMOND — Bill Gates opened his talk at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit today by saying we’ve entered a “golden age of computing,” as connectivity, data and processing power open up new opportunities to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Which paves the way, of course, for the return of Microsoft Bob.

OK, not really, but in response to one question, the Microsoft chairman did refer to the company’s ill-fated virtual Windows assistant, circa 1995, as an early example of a  “personal agent” helping lead us through our daily tasks.

The potential is much richer today, Gates said.

He explained, “It’s been talked about for decades, and now really is possible — where we see where you’re going, we see your calendar, we see your various communications. … We can actually look at the text, look at the speech, try to be helpful to you in your activities. I think we will be more connected and therefore if somebody wants to do a task like find a gift of a certain type, organize a trip in a certain way, there will be a closer match — that is, the gap between what the software can do for them and what most people end up doing, that could be reduced.

“But you always make mistakes on these things. When the machine tries to do the table with numbers, or the dog comes up and says, ‘Oh, you didn’t do this thing right,’ Microsoft Bob-style. A long time ago we tried a little personality that was definitely premature. I think it will re-emerge, but perhaps with a bit more sophistication. We were just ahead of our time, like most of our mistakes.”

Apple has tried to tackle this problem in recent years with its Siri personal assistant for iOS, whose web search results will be powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine in iOS 7, the upcoming revamp of Apple’s mobile operating system.

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  • Guest

    As I quickly skimmed over the GW page, for a split-second there I misread the title as “Return of Microsoft Bill Gates” and thought FINALLY a move that could save the company. Message to Bill Gates, you can’t cure Malaria, it was a noble attempt so you and Melinda get credit for trying, now go back and take care of the MS mess!

  • Contrarianism

    Did I read this correctly? Gates said, “It’s been talked about for decades, and now really is possible — where we see where you’re going, we see your calendar, we see your various communications. … We can actually look at the text, look at the speech, and hand it ALL over to the NSA.”

  • Mike_Acker

    a “Golden Age” of computing may begin when people generally realize the whole digital industry has been slapped together in the most slip-shod and careless manner. Authentication of transactions is a critical requirement. This used to be done by putting pen to paper.

    although PGP has been available for years the industry has not generally incorporated it properly into the digital process. the result is scammers are having a field day with everything from e/mail to software, bank transactions, and government snoops

    the Golden Age of computing may start when the computer o/s is made secure and is then able to protect the integrity of the transactions we need it to process.

    that ain’t now and it ain’t coming from msft