“Not in my lifetime,” Bill Gates said in an interview yesterday when asked when we’ll have artificial intelligence. “We don’t understand the basic operations of the brain enough. There’s a certain algorithmic breakthrough that’s not there.”

While some AI enthusiasts, such as inventor Ray Kurzweil, believe that we’ll have human-level processing power in $1,000 machines by 2020, Gates believes the brain is too complicated to be compared to the simple circuitry of computer chips.

“It’s not a numeric notion. You can’t say, give me another several factors of two and it will happen,” he said.

Of course, with more than $32-billion in personal wealth, the chairman of Microsoft Corp. could easily fund research into the brain’s functioning that could lead to dramatic AI breakthroughs.

Yet while such funding isn’t on his or Microsoft’s near-term agenda, Microsoft is spending large amounts of money on next-generation computer technology that will interact with humans more normally and naturally.

The first result of this development work is handwriting recognition, which can recognize text, drawings and annotations and will be widely available when Microsoft begins selling its Tablet PC.