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VMware CEO reveals which tech will have the most impact on the world, and why Elon Musk is wrong on AI

  • VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger says these four technologies will have a bigger impact on the next 20 years than any nation: cloud, mobile, IoT, and AI. He sees mobility doing the most good for humanity and AI having the biggest economic impact.
  • Gelsinger disagrees with Elon Musk’s view that AI is the biggest risk we face as a civilisation. Gelsinger says this is just fear-mongering and believes that technology is largely neutral. Though he does believe there is a responsibility to help shape technology for good.
  • Gelsinger grew up in rural Pennsylvania and could have just as easily become a farmer as the CEO of a multi-billion dollar technology firm.

Business Insider’s Sara Silverstein recently spoke with the CEO of VMware Pat Gelsinger at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The following is a transcript of the interview.

Silverstein:You wrote about the fourtechnologies that are going to be more transformative in the next 20 years than any individual nation. Can you tell me what those four are?

Gelsinger:Yeah, I call them the four superpowers of tech today. One is cloud. You know this idea of unlimited capacity. Really, we can compute anything right? Mobile – unlimited reach, you know, literally half the population of the planet is now accessible right? IoT, you know, crossing the physical to the digital world and really allowing telemetry, automation, and control to just about everything. And then finally AI. The ability to bring intelligence to everything. And those four together really are reinforcing each other. You know, many regards, you know, AI wouldn’t have been possible without cloud. This ability to compute at scale. And you know where are we going to be able to interact with people? Well, we’re going to be able to do it through the mobile devices and they give us more data that we can improve our analytics. So it really is a reinforcing spiral of those four superpowers coming together.

Silverstein:And is there any reason that blockchain didn’t make the list?

Gelsinger:You know, I think if I was looking at it, you know, if I was a financial services guy, blockchain would be on my list. I think at this point, you know, and I almost think about blockchain like I think about public-private key encryption twenty years ago. It was really a breakthrough for a certain aspect and maybe next year when we’re here that will be on my list as well. But I think in a lot of ways that ends up being really reinforcing of those for superpowers.

Silverstein:And when you look at the four superpowers of tech, which one do you think is going to have the biggest impact on humanity?

Gelsinger:You know, in many respects, you – again all of them working together, but the one I think that actually you know really has the opportunity to maybe lift more of humanity than any other is mobility. And you know imagine your a poor farmer in Africa right? All of a sudden that mobile phone gives you access to markets, gives you access to weather, gives you access to information on the modern techniques that are going on in the world- maybe financial services. It becomes entirely transformative and, for instance, one of our partners that we’ve worked with there called Node Africa, they’re doing exactly that. And literally hear these heartwarming stories of a poor farmer who’s taken over his father’s plot. And now he’s thirty to forty per cent more profitable as a result of just bringing a mobile phone into that environment. And, of course, on the back end its many of those superpowers are coming together to deliver those new capabilities.

Silverstein:And is the same true for the one which will have the most economic impact or do you think that that’s a different superpower?

Gelsinger:Yeah, you know, I think if anything clearly, you know, I mean we view cloud as this unlimited capacity. And, you know, literally anybody can build anything on it. And I think today clearly from the one – the social impact today – and clearly here at Davos right? You know, like every other conversation is an AI conversation. What’s the impact on workforce? What’s the impact on, you know, my job? What’s the impact on the social policies as well? So that would clearly be – of any today snd here at Davos this year – sort of the center of what people are talking about.

Silverstein:And how does VMware fit into all of the superpowers? What are you most excited about that VMware is doing in these spaces?

Gelsinger:Yeah well, you know, in many respects, you know, our core virtualization, you know – VMware virtual machine software – that’s our name and our heritage – is part of every cloud. You know, so in many respects I view us as, you know, cloud wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for VMware. And now we’ve reached and we’re securing, connecting, and managing the mobile devices that businesses use to connect to the cloud.

We’re also now stretching that to be able to reach to IoT and be able to feel if you have, you know, imagine that you’re a city commissioner right? And you’re saying, “hey, we’re going to have smart streets and smart cities as well.” Are they going to be secure; are they going to be managed. Hey, that’s what we are doing to bring iot into those environments. And, of course, we’re putting AI into all of our products as well as making sure AI runs on it. So in many regards, you know, we play a role in all four of the superpowers and maybe our heritage is more in the cloud space than any other.

Silverstein:What would be your response to people like Elon Musk who are worried about AI threatening humanity?

Gelsinger:I just disagree. You know, I think his perspective is wrong. I think it’s a little bit of, you know, fear-mongering in that respect. I do think that, you know, we have this enormous opportunity and I think we as technologists to shape technology for good. Technology is largely neutral right? You know the printing press right? You know, was it Bibles or Playboy? You know, every technology has the good and bad aspects to it and I think AI will be the same way. And, you know, as it gets applied to different Industries, you know, they have their natural cycles of social and regulatory adoption associated with them, respectively.

I think overall the technical community needs to be playing a bigger role. And I think this idea of shaping technology for good. You know, like I said, you know, being a US citizen, I meet with senators and representatives. These are largely good people who don’t understand what technology is and it’s our duty to show up, work with them and help to shape the policies in the future, so that it is a force for good. We really see many of these super powers – literally extremism, you know, poverty, education, healthcare – these are the underlying technologies that are enabling breakthroughs in those areas to I think in many respects tackle the greatest threats to humanity today. And I’m thrilled to be part of that.

Silverstein:And before I lose you, can you tell me what got you interested in technology?

Gelsinger:Well, you know, I’m from a farming family. And, you know, a farming community – the east coast of Pennsylvania, you know, my dad was number nine of 10 kids. So and grandpa had helped son number one, two, son-in-law, you know, it got done to may dad and he says, “We have enough farms, just work with your brothers.” Had my dad had his own farm, I’d be a farmer today. Because I liked working with my dad. I liked, you know, the farming life. So somewhat it was almost an accident right? And Intel came recruiting and it was a free trip to California. And boy, you know, hey 18 years old never been on an aeroplane sign me up. But I’m not moving; they’re crazy out there. And became early at Intel and Technology, became CTO for Intel. It’s really been a, you know, Cinderella career in that aspect. You know, even, you know, now 38 years into the technology industry, I’ll just say I’m as fired up about tech and how we truly can shape humanity, improve the quality of life for every human on the planet. And it’s just been a privilege to come from a very rural, backwater farming community and now being on a stage like the World Economic Forum and speaking about the superpowers of technology. You know, it’s like “pinch me wake me up.” You know, it’s almost like a dream 38 years later.

Silverstein:And if you have any advice for people that want to get into this space – and what kind of people are you looking to hire for VMware?

Gelsinger:Yeah, well two different aspects to that, Sara. You know, one is everybody needs to be a technologist going forward. And I sort of joke in the past, you know, we said, “hey if you’re going to school, you need to learn to read, write, and arithmetic.” In the future, it’s read, write code, and arithmetic. Because literally technology is becoming part of everything. You know, if you’re, you know, in a marketing role, hey, you know, you want to know sentience analysis and you want to be able to analyse data and so on. That sounds like computer science to me. Imagine you’re in finance, right? Guess what? You know, you’re running spreadsheets, you’re running a different analytic analysis – sounds like technology to me. You know, every industry – and really this is what I call “tech is breaking out of tech.” And it’s coming into every business; it’s becoming a technology business; and every aspect of every business is becoming a technology business.

So I really see its, you know, everybody needs to become more technologically aware as we move forward. Now clearly in our space, we’re out for, you know, people who write the best code on the planet. You know, we’re out, you know, people who really want to do these disruptive, innovative, impossible things, as we say. You know, before we get started, it’s seen as impossible. When we’re done, it’s seen as commonplace because we’ve made it capable that everybody has taken advantage of. So we’re looking for the best and brightest people who are passionate, you know, who live our corporate values, who want to do good things. But also do them the right way. You know, be involved in their communities and really people who are world changers.

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