Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2019. My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Media, Analysts and Influencers program. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event. Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.
Here are my rough notes from the Wednesday General Session at Dell Technologies World, titled “Optimism and Happiness in the Digital Age”. The panellists were:
- Allison Dew, Chief Marketing Officer, Dell Technologies
- Brynn Putnam, Founder & CEO of MIRROR
- Eben Shapiro, Deputy Editor, Time and Time.com
- will.i.am, Founder & CEO, I.AM+
AD: Change has been going in for a long time. It’s the pace of change, in every part of our lives. People are questioning what they’re going to do when things keep changing.
WIA: The investment that society has put in AI is much more than it has in human intelligence. We haven’t invested in humanity.
Tell us more about your company Will.
WIA: Marc Benioff pushed us to pivot a long time ago. We had a watch separate to a phone a while ago. Used to have to talk to the watch. Told them to focus on the software. Back in 2004. Did things like voice control. Getting it to be cross-domain. Natural language processing. Now they power Deutsche Telekom’s call centres in Austria, amongst others.
Brynn, can you tell us about your company?
BP: MIRROR is a mirror, and can stream in-home fitness things. We want to make it the third screen in your life. For interactive experiences. Using technology for fitness. You’ve leaned in to screens. The best technology gives you what you need, what you want, and what you can do. Use biometric data to tailor your program.
How many people are tracking their steps? That’s a great example of positive uses of technology. Allison, can you talk about AI? It concerns people when they gaze into the future.
AD: AI is not actually new. Combination of AI, data and compute power. Are we an optimist or are we a pessimist. We need to be pragmatic, responsible optimists. Any technology can be used for good, and used for bad. We use a lot of AI and ML to do our targeting in marketing. IF we only use the data from the past, we only target current customers. We want to expand our audience. So we have to think about the data sets that go into our models, This is human thought and governance going into what we do. Critical thinking and human oversight. Really big social problems – medicine done at scale.
Will, do you want to respond?
WIA: For a company, that’s great. Taking data and using AI to give you a path forward. But people and communities don’t have that. What’s coming tomorrow is a little more personal. Some other companies are accessing people’s free product. “I’m just a data point for them”. Doctor’s still ask you questions like where have you been? My phone knows that. My doctor doesn’t ask for my phone though. We need to have regulations on data, and AI. Government needs to catch up.
Will, you had a previous career. Music industry was hit hard by tech via file sharing.
WIA: Music is technology. The first Steve Jobs was Edison. The first iPod was a gramophone. That way of getting music was disrupted. More music is made today than there ever has. People aren’t getting rich like Lionel Richie any more. Maybe they will in the future. Music isn;’t all about money. Making your heart fell good, and letting other people feel that heart and joy. We need a new business model. There’s a lot of junk, but a lot of good stuff too. Music and VR is the space for dreamers and creators. It’s 1919. The industry hasn’t really blossomed yet.
Brynn, you’re a parent. You have a product that promotes screen time. Should that be limited?
BP: I think about quality more than quantity. We need to think about how tech can play a role in having a positive influence on our children. Inspire curiosity ..
AD: We need to think more about self-monitoring. We never allow our brains to get bored. When we do, we pick up our phones. Your mind never rests on a particular task. That prevents you from doing things like writing and creating music, for example.
Allison, what is the role of tech companies in building those kinds of monitors?
AD: So much of the conversation about tech is about media and social media. The writers are media professionals. There’s the role that companies have in social media, and the role we have in technology overall. Instagram are going to pilot diminishing the importance of likes in Canada. Some people think this is a bad thing, because they make money that way. Point of these technologies is to make a connection. We’re going to see increasing responsibility of media and governments. We try to do this too, in different areas.
Will, as a creator, how do use tech, but avoid being distracted while trying to do something?
WIA: Technology is not the only distraction. Boys and girls in high school. Drugs can be. The Kardashians are. You need to surround yourself with folks who share the same passion as you. You need to be mindful of the squad you select. We do dumb shit with smart phones. Some 18 – 21 year olds will create a new Facebook. They’re out-marketing the marketers. All in 15 – 30 seconds. The engagement is crazy.
Do you try to expressly carve out time from distractions?
BP: I try to set time for specific tasks. Focusing singularly on problems. It’s easy to blame the device.
Allison, are you doing this at Dell?
AD: When I talk about how are brains are wired, we don’t need to blame the device. It’s important to take personal responsibility. You need to have a conversation about not using phones at the dining table.
WIA: We people watch. If we were looking at the 60s, we’d judge them for having too much sex. Sluts and hos. “We don’t have phone sluts or phone hos”.
It’s a bit boring now to bring up government regulation. Do you have concerns for government breaking up big tech companies?
AD: What do you call it Will? “Idatity“? Creating some controls. California has different privacy laws compared to Europe or other US states. Worry about 1000s of different laws being in place to block productivity.
WIA: We live in America. The food isn’t the most healthy. The same company that regulates our drugs regulates our foods. We eat bad stuff then they give us pills. Bad for business. It should be about what’s good for people, not business.
Education. Technology is an important driver of the economy. Education hasn’t caught up yet though.
WIA: 11 years I’ve had a school where I’m from. Started with 65, now 700 kids. It’s hard to raise money for kids. It’s easy to raise money for AI though. That’s inhumane. That keeps me up at night. Why is it so hard to raise money for education?
Do you feel the education system is going to teach your child what they need to know?
BP: Optimistic answer. My 2yo favourite activity is taking tach and putting it back together. Excited to see my child engaging and exploring technology.
Allison, Dell hires a lot of people. Can you find enough engineers and programmers?
AD: Search for tech staff is hard. We have systemic issues in our education system. We need to focus on STEM, build the talent pool. Critical that we need to teach our children to engage in critical thinking. Teach our engineers to write, read, engage with other humans. Need them to think critically about what they ask the technology to work on. Kids don’t know how to talk to people.
WIA: I blame what we have on technology companies. If I ran FIFA, we makes sure there’s a World Cup every 4 years. They’re recruiting from a very young age. The Oscars make sure everyone is watching the red carpet. Acknowledge the makeup artists, the scriptwriters. The Grammies. There’s a shortage of jobs. We’re not inspiring kids to dream about that path. The tech companies need to pay so that every kid is dreaming of getting into tech.
BP: The ability to automate things that we need to do so we can do things we want to do
WIA: is it going to love me, and am I going to love it? Everyone picks up their dog, because the dog gives the illusion that it loves you. Will a robot do that because it knows everything about you? Is it going to love me too?
AD: The Cylon / Wall-E fight off. Cylons are bad, Wall-E is good. Which one will win.
AD: Already everywhere
WIA: Who owns my data when I’m going around pinging everything?
BP: Every day essentials made easier in a way that seamlessly integrates in my environment.
WIA: Is the new rich. Humans born a certain way, and then the “super elite”. Data is currency now. Countries that will be poor in data, and countries that will be rich in data.
AD: I can see the possibility. Some of it is good – solving cancer. But I don’t want a girl, etc, that’s really scary.
WIA: I want to chop these legs off and join the Olympics. Now I want big breasts. You can do that now.
AD: Too much of the conversation is about the media. But it’s important too. After the Sri Lankan bombings, they shut down social media channels. Contributed to stopping some of the violence. But it’s scary. What do you think?
ES: Forums being used to propagate hate, there’s a need for some control. But it’s a first amendment issue too. It’s complicated.
Audience Q and A
Q: WE know there’s a correlation between fitness and happiness. But we’re all busy. Any tips?
BP: Treat your body like it belongs to someone you love. We’re always faced with a series of choices.
Q: Do you see technology as a way to not only celebrate diversity and eliminate biases we see? How does technology help us create respect for diversity? Do you see technology as a way to bring that forward?
AD: It absolutely can be, it’s whether you want to. It’s about the data sources you use. If you widen the source of information, you can solve the problem faster. You run into trouble if you apply the same processes to data that you already did, and don’t address the hidden bias.
BP: Social media is fundamentally a platform that enables everyone to be a story teller, and find their own community.
WIA: If tech could borrow from the world of music, and collaborate more. Music is all about collaboration. If we could be a bit more collaborative, diversity is solved.
Q: Is there anything that truly frightens you about tech?
AD: Tech can be used to bring out the best in humanity, and also used to inspire mass hatred. That’s why the emphasis I have on responsible and pragmatic is so important. We need to make sure we don’t pretend that the problems don’t exist. The truth is in the middle.
WIA: The technology doesn’t terrify me. People terrify me. The decisions we make, the hate we make, the divisions we create. Machines are machines. It’s not machines that made the Congo that way, or the hood has liquor stores and strip clubs near schools – that’s zoning. It’s people that scare me.
BP: The idea that innovation requires revolution. Over-emphasis on what we can do, rather than what the world needs.
Q: I grew up in a poor environment. When you gave back to the community, where did you start? And how did it progress?
WIA: 2008 – fresh off of what America felt like. On that Obama high. What’s next? Focus on the neighbourhood. Start where you come from. I went small with 65 kids at my school. It was $10 million over 9 years. How am I going to come up with that? It can be heart, passion, mentorship, not necessarily money. I’m going on 12 years now.
Q: Being a technology creator, are you worried about the dangers of AI in the future?
AD: We feel incredible responsibility about what we’re doing, and our role in steering humans. Focusing technology on stuff that isn’t a real problem. Let’s focus on eradicate poverty, not how to deliver burritos faster.
AD closes by thanking the panellists. “Don’t be a phone ho”.
Entertaining session. 4 stars.