HP CEO Meg Whitman is addicted to email. She says “it’s like crack.” She even wakes up in the middle of night, grabs her smartphone and checks email, she said on stage Thursday afternoon, during HP’s customer conference held in Las Vegas.
Although she loves to work, she doesn’t think her addiction is healthy for her or anyone else doing the same.
So she told New York Times columnist and author, Tom Friedman, during an onstage interview of her, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
When Friedman asked Whitman if the tech industry was pushing too much data at people, she said:
“I think about that. I wonder if we’re wired for this. If the human brain and our emotional state can actually sustain this. Boy, I feel a lot more stressed than I did 10 years ago because I am always on. I wake up in the middle of the night, I reach over for my phone and I check my email. This is probably not a good thing. But it’s addictive. It’s like crack.”
Whitman says her concern might be a generational thing, just like her grandmother used to get stressed out over the new technologies that came into her life: cars, aeroplanes, PCs.
“I remember thinking, oh, she’s so old-fashioned,” Whitman said. “I think the next generation will look at me [and think], she doesn’t understand how you can completely process this all the time. But I worry about it and I wonder what it’s doing to the psyche.”
Interestingly enough, the answer is to the problem could be more technology, Nadella answered her on stage.
“What’s scarce today is human attention,” he said. “In the sea of data and information, how can we have someone help you? And that will be your own computers.”
He believes that our computers will grow ever smarter and become human-like personal assistants. He mentioned Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri, as an example. It can check traffic and tell you when it’s time to leave for a meeting, for instance.
He also talked about the real-time translation tool for Skype that Microsoft plans to launch before the end of this year. That tool requires solving three really hard problems he said: recognising human speech, mimicking/synthesizing it, and doing all that instantly in multiple languages.
The same tech that does the translation can be used in other ways, like to read your email, Facebook, text messages, calendar, and so on, and organise your life. The industry calls this tech “deep learning.” (It used to be called artificial intelligence.) The goal is to make computers that can see, think, interpret, and react. Instead of constantly checking email, you’d let your phone tell you what you need to know.
It’s an interesting idea and we’ll see how long it takes to materialise. Those of us using Siri, Google Now, or Cortana (or even simpler things, like texting autocorrect) know that computers aren’t there yet.