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Michael Dell: Why we must learn to work with AI

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A key message of a major technology conference this week was that we should worry less about artificial intelligence taking our jobs and more about learning to work with it, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

“It’s not people or machines. It’s people AND machines.” With that simple message, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell hoped to put to rest the threat of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) replacing humans.

Speaking at the opening of the Dell Technologies World conference in Las Vegas on Monday, the Dell founder was adamant that technology was a force for innovative and positive progress for the entire world.

Later, he told a media briefing that Dell Technologies deeply believed in the power of information technology as a driver of transformation of business and society, and that AI was a key to this transformation.

“I’m seeing an explosion of use cases for AI. It includes neural networks, machine learning and deep learning, but the idea is that you’re taking all this data and using learning and inference to draw better conclusions from the data.”

The message that ran through the conference, which drew 14 000 delegates to experience first-hand the benefits of the historic $67-billion 2016 merger between Dell Inc and EMC, was that AI was the engine of growth, and data was the fuel for this engine. He also described it as a “variable technology”, which meant that its impact would vary greatly depending on how it was used.

“There will always be variable technology, and the difference is between those who figure it out and those who don’t. If you’re not using your data with AI, you’re probably doing it wrong. 

“To be competitive in the future, you have to use AI and data and do it at record speed and at scale. It all starts with a company’s data, and the data helps make a product or service better. This allows a company to attract more customers, which creates more data, and the cycle repeats itself.”

Despite prophecies of AI doom from the likes of Elon Musk, Dell was not too concerned about government stepping in.

“Regulation is interesting. It happens because people are afraid of something, or because something really bad happens. Is that possible with AI? Absolutely. It’s our job to prevent that. We have to figure out how to use it in a responsible way. We’ve had mostly very good stuff. There will always be bad people; we have to figure out how to stop them.

“Will governments play a role in that? Probably. Sometimes regulation is important and works well, sometimes it backfires spectacularly. I do know if you try to hold something back that’s fundamentally powerful and good, that’s not going to work.”

Dell believes that the advent of 5G, the new connectivity standard that will eventually replace 3G and 4G, will once again change everything related to information and communications technology. However, the standard was only finalised at the end of last year, and it will still take a few years before most mobile network operators will be able to roll out 5G networks.

“It will help move that data exponentially faster. If AI is your rocket ship, data is the fuel for your rocket. If you know how to use it, data will become your most valuable asset.

“The thing that is amazing is that so many new things are coming, it’s hard to know which to be more excited about. 5G is like we’re sitting in the mid-90s and someone has cooked up this thing called the World Wide Web and we’re wondering what’s going to happen as a result. In the same way, 5G is a massive accelerant of all the things that are happening in technology. 

“It’s not just about us communicating, it’s about connecting everything together. These are all enabling technologies.”

During the Dell Technologies World event, a constant refrain was for businesses to prepare not for the next few years, but for the next decade. With the theme “Realizing 2030”, the focus was on how emerging technology will reshape our lives in the next 15 years. 

Last year the company collaborated with the Institute for the Future to explore the emerging technologies shaping the future of the human experience over the next decade. 

The ultimate conclusion? Humans and machines will be working in close partnership by 2030.

Both individuals and organisations are grappling with the digital and workforce transformations under way today,” the report found. “As these transformations are informed and influenced by emerging technologies over the next decade, people will develop new and deeper relationships and new dependencies on machines, at home and in the workplace. 

“If we start to approach the next decade as one in which partnerships between humans and machines transcend our limitations and build on our strengths, we can begin to create a more favourable future for everyone.”

In the report, Liam Quinn, Dell Chief Technology Officer, likened the emerging technologies of today to the roll-out of electricity 100 years ago, saying that we no longer fixate on the “mechanics” or the “wonders” of electricity, yet it underpins almost everything we do in our lives. 

Similarly, in the 2030s, today’s emerging technologies will underpin our daily lives: “Imagine the creativity and outlook that’s possible from the vantage point these tools will provide: In 2030, it will be less about the wonderment of the tool itself and more about what that tool can do.”

By 2030, the report concluded, “we will no longer revere the technologies that are emerging today. They will have long disappeared into the background conditions of everyday life. If we engage in the hard work of empowering human-machine partnerships to succeed, their impact on society will enrich us all.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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