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Box CEO Aaron Levie says artificial intelligence will change your life and create huge opportunities

Box ceo aaron levie boxworks 2017BoxBox CEO Aaron Levie reveals the cloud storage company’s new AI upgrades at the company’s Boxworks 2017 conference.
  • Last week, Box introduced Box Skills, which lets app developers apply artificial intelligence from Microsoft, Google, and IBM to their cloud files.
  • Box CEO Aaron Levie says that AI could be as big a shift in our technical lives as the PC revolution was — letting machines do more for us as our digital lives sprawl out.
  • He says the real opportunity is in taking Silicon Valley-borne cutting-edge AI and making it accessible to developers everywhere.
  • Levie also says that he’s largely made his peace with his rivals at Dropbox, given that they target different markets.

Everywhere you go in Silicon Valley, the trendy technology du jour is “artificial intelligence.” It’s a major selling point for Google’s new Pixel phones, the Amazon Echo speaker, Microsoft Office, and a whole mess of tech startups.

Aaron Levie, the CEO of $US2.75 billion cloud file company Box, acknowledges that when it comes to AI, people are “already tired of the buzzword.” And yet, at the company’s Boxworks conference where we spoke last week, Levie announced that Box was making a big bet on artificial intelligence, with new features and capabilities.

With its new AI upgrades, Box customers can pick and choose AI services from Google, Microsoft, and IBM, which can then be used to automatically classify and tag the voice, video, and image files stashed in your cloud. If you’re, say, a hospital, Box is making it easier to build a system such that any X-rays are automatically tagged, secured under federal law, and locked down to only the doctors who are allowed to see them.

“We’re finally at a point where computers can do things on our behalf,” says Levie.

Levie likens the rise of artificial intelligence to the PC revolution in the ’80s — a shift that could change everything about how we interact with our technology, creating huge opportunities for those with the foresight to invest in AI now.

“We’re literally at the beginning of what we can do in this space,” says Levie.

Box skillsBoxBox Skills lets you apply AI wizardry from Microsoft, IBM, and Google to your corporate files. In this example, Box is automatically generating a transcript of the video, giving it tags, and identifying each actor and in which segments they’re on-screen.

That’s where Box comes in, says Levie. Box is taking AI and using it to play to the company’s strengths, says Levie. As people and companies stash away ever-increasing amounts of data in the cloud, it gets harder for humans to organise. When companies go looking for smarter ways to handle that growth, Levie wants Box to be there.

“There’s been few examples of [machine learning] and AI being applied to that problem set,” says Levie. “In an enterprise business, that’s a really hard problem.”

Along those lines, Levie says that artificial intelligence is beginning to come into its own, but difficult to use for most people. Platforms like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud are offering increasingly intelligent services for building software, but you have to be a pretty sophisticated developer to take advantage. Most companies might need some help.

“We’ve played that role in this context,” says Levie.

Box is a publicly traded company, and Wall Street apparently thinks Box is poised for growth — at the time of writing, analyst consensus sets a price target for Box of around $US24, up from its current price of about $US20 at the time of writing.

Drew HoustonJohannes Simon/Getty ImagesDropbox CEO Drew Houston

Box is a category leader with differentiated technology that targets the boom in mobile devices and cloud computing,” writes JP Morgan in an analyst note rating the stock “neutral” following the Boxworks event. JP Morgan says that despite Box’s history of operating losses, its technology makes it well-positioned against cloud storage companies like Dropbox, Microsoft, and Google.

And on the subject of cloud collaboration, Levie says that he’s largely made his peace with Dropbox, once his most public rival, ahead of its expected IPO later this year.

The recent Dropbox redesign proved to Levie that the two companies are really going after different customers. He says that while the two companies still compete in small businesses, he believes that Dropbox has begun to focused on power users and creative professionals. Levie has set is eye on the largest of large businesses.

“We have a very different strategy,” says Levie. “We’ve staked slightly different markets.”

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