- Diane Greene, Google’s cloud chief, was interviewed at the annual “Most Powerful Women Evening” event and covered a lot of ground.
- She said she wouldn’t have minded buying Github and cautioned Microsoft from fiddling too much with the platform.
- She also crowed that Google’s cloud tech was superior to Amazon’s.
- She wasn’t questioned directly about the recent controversy within Google about the company’s military contracts, but she did offer that today’s tech leader has to be mindful of the wishes of employees.
Diane Greene, CEO for Google’s cloud businesses, spoke on a wide range of subjects regarding Google and the company’s rivals Wednesday night. She covered nearly everything other than the one topic that’s grabbed the most headlines of late.
At the annual “Most Powerful Women Evening” event hosted by Fortune magazine, Greene said that she “wouldn’t have minded buying” Github. When asked about Google’s competition with Amazon Web Services for cloud supremacy, she boasted that Google’s cloud possessed “better technology.”
On artificial intelligence, one of the hot areas of investment and innovation in the tech sector, Greene said it was “a real frontier and nobody knows how fast it’s going to go or where it’s going to go.” According to Greene, AI is frightening to some because the technology has developed more human aspects and capabilities.
But as for Google’s recent employee uprising over the company’s dealings with the Pentagon and its recently aborted ambitions to vie for some of the lucrative AI contracts now offered by the US military, the event’s hosts told the audience that they decided not to query their guest about the controversy.
That’s a curious choice by Fortune considering recent events. Last year, Google agreed to provide AI technology to help the Pentagon analyse huge amounts of drone surveillance footage. When word about the partnership spread inside the company, many employees were angered – more than 4,000 signed a petition that demanded Google management stop working with the military and promise never to develop AI for weapons. A dozen employees quit in protest.
Tech companies are now like governments
A few weeks ago, Google CEO Sundar Pichai relented. He published a list of ethical principles to guide the company’s AI development and promised not to use AI for weapons.
The decision to forgo military contracts potentially worth billions of dollars didn’t exactly help Greene’s efforts to continue growing Google’s cloud. One of Greene’s interviewers did attempt to draw her out about the debacle. The interviewer asked her whether it was true that all platforms can be used for “good or evil.”
“I think that’s true of almost every tech,” Greene responded. “You can use a Google doc to send nasty grams.”
Greene added something else that hinted at how Google’s management views the recent employee revolt. She spoke about some of the challenges that tech leaders face now, in an age where employees feel empowered to refuse to work on projects they find morally objectionable.
“AI researchers want to know how their tech is going to be used,” Greene said. “Now, you have to [figure out] and discuss all about the worst possible uses for a technology … I think tech companies are almost in a position of being like a government, as far as making decisions about what your values are.”
Greene is a powerful figure at Google. Because she sits on the board of Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, she is both Pichai’s employee as well as one of his bosses. The cloud is also a pivotal area for Google, and Greene has led the division to rapid growth since taking over there in 2015.
On Amazon, the leading cloud service, she suggested that the company enjoys the top spot in the sector because it had a first-mover advantage. She added, however that Google is rapidly closing the gap between the companies.
“We have the better tech, the better cloud,” Greene said. “What Amazon has is a lot of developer mind share because it was the only cloud in town, but that’s changing very quickly. We’re more secure … we have better machine learning.”
As for Microsoft, Greene’s comments suggested that she was a little envious of that company’s $US7.5 billion acquisition earlier this month of Github, the top software development platform. She noted that Google is the” biggest contributor to GitHub” and cautioned Microsoft’s leaders against fiddling too much with the platform.
“I hope they can leave them completely neutral,” she said. “I think that would be the thing to do after paying $US7.5 billion.”
Lastly, Greene was asked what she learned during her time at Google.
“It’s been a unique challenge for me,” Greene said. “It’s a very large operation, and for me, it’s like a large startup because of our unbelievable growth.”
“[Google cloud] is also in enterprise and Google is mostly a consumer company,” she added. “Building that within this larger company, and then partnering with the rest of the company around everything has required a lot of processes and ways to work together and juggling people and organisation structures. So, I feel like I’ve become an organizational engineer.”
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