Dell CEO rings warning bell; says forget robo-apocalypse, AI is an ‘enabler’


Founder and CEO of Dell Technologies, Michael Dell, speaks to YourStory on how AI will change the world, why people must adapt to stay relevant, and the need to use the technology responsibly.

Michael Dell isn’t your average entrepreneur. When he was a young man, back in 1984, he would say his business would be as big as IBM one day. Thirty-four years on, his business is indeed close to IBM’s revenues. Dell, which sells PCs, devices, storage and security services, is now a $55 billion technology conglomerate.

In the era of AI, Dell’s new mantra is “change or die”. While his company announced a slew of AI-led technologies at the Dell Technologies World Conference in Las Vegas, Michael minces no words about the positive impact new technologies will have on society and community.

Stating that there will be no “robo-apocalypse”, Michael spoke to select media, answering YourStory’s questions on AI, the need for a human-machine partnership, and the future of IT in India. Edited excerpts of the interview:

Michael Dell, Chairman of Dell Technologies, says AI will usher in a human machine partnership

YS: In India, we are grappling with the impact of AI; we fear job losses and staying relevant. What advice do you have for individuals, governments and large companies?

MD: What I am seeing is an explosion of AI in different applications. I am seeing a combination of neural networks, deep learning, and machine learning. There are many different varieties of AI. But, it is all about data. There is rapid acceleration of AI in our server business because the need to crunch data faster is becoming imperative. We have had a plus-30 percent growth in that business.

Now, why is this happening? AI is very vertical-driven and every industry is building AI for its own purpose based on the data that they have collected. The learning and inference is key; there are great libraries and tools one can learn from. Today, there is a rise in edge computing where your house or car is the device where the AI computing will happen. This is valuable data for corporations, and they want to protect it and use it to serve customers better.

Let me tell you this, whenever there is a new technology, people get scared. Remember fire or the wheel. There were good things and bad things that came out of those technologies. Humans evolved to use them for their benefit and it is our job to stop people from using them for bad purposes. The same is the case with AI; we will see forging of a human-machine partnership. There will be no robo-apocalypse as some people put it. But, people must learn these things to stay relevant. Corporations that adapt to this change will become relevant or they will die soon. Like I mentioned earlier “change or die”; it is the nature of our industry.

YS: Elon Musk says AI more dangerous than an atomic bomb. Should it be regulated?

MD: Regulation is interesting. Why does it happen? Things are regulated because something bad happens and policymakers feel that they need to control something by regulating it. Isn’t it our job to stop the bad things? Our job is to ensure that these powerful tools are used for good. I am going to take a step back and mention some old technologies like the fire or the wheel.

What did humans do with fire? They used it to keep them warm, cook their food, and finally they also used it for bad things like burning other villages down. When fire was discovered, people would have been saying what a cool tech it is. Talk about the wheel, it created and destroyed jobs.

It’s the same thing with AI; there will be a lot of good things and bad things. We need to use it responsibly. But bad things can happen and governments do have to play a role. But sometimes regulation creates more bad things because it stalls progress. If you try to hold something like AI back, it is not good for us. AI is great because it helps humans get better at the work they do. I am an optimist and I say good things will happen. But, there will always be a small portion of the world that is bad; if bad people do bad things we need to stop them.

YS: What is the impact of 5G and the connected world, especially India?

MD: There are so many new technologies that it is hard to keep up. But, I can tell you 5G will change the world and the way it interacts with data. Let us take the connected car or the level 4 autonomous driving example. The amount of data a smart city will generate per million people will be 200 petabytes a day.

Now let us just take autonomous cars that will be in the market by 2020. The car will generate 4TB of data per day and these data points cannot be crunched with current networks. With 4G network you have a zero chance of making the network intelligent. Maybe even 5G is not enough. Think about the compute capacity needed in the car. You need local storage and compute in a connected car because it is constantly making instant decisions. You cannot let data travel in and out of the car all the time.

We are super excited about 5G and its going to be amazing to usher in this new era of connecting everything. It will be a massive enabler in the coming years. The telco world is moving all workloads to this dynamic hyper-converged cloud world.

I travelled across Germany, and they did not have 4G in many locations. Each nation is yet to achieve its network strategy. It is because carriers cannot afford 5G today. However, 5G is a big enabler and the governments have to figure it out. Look at how India can use the “India Stack” to deliver citizen services to every person with a phone; we are doing a lot of work with that technology. The India Stack is a government-led technology effort that is one of the best in the world. Indians are smart and I believe they will figure out how to use new technologies to benefit their country.

YS: What is digital transformation? Is the AI argument similar to the one for/against the internet in 1993?

MD: We are an essential infrastructure company that helps digital transformation and usher in the era of IoT. It is about how data is used at the application level, regardless of the type of infrastructure. Companies are figuring out how to use data by building data lakes before they even look at algorithms and inference. Today it is still a vertical discussion and limited to industry needs.

Twenty-five years ago people asked me questions about the internet and what my strategy was. They asked me if I have appointed people who understand the internet. I would be even asked questions like where are my internet products and where is my internet division. Today, the internet is everywhere and it is the same with AI, which is an enabling technology. Data is the fuel for AI. There is a rise in edge computing where end-point devices will deliver so much learning. We have hundreds of projects at Dell and we are going to announce so many tools that will improve the quality of work.

Again, AI is an enabler and every modern corporation must ask this question to themselves. There is one solution. You have to figure out what works with you. The more data you have, the better AI can help you transform your business.


Updates from around the world