The Good, The Great, and the Scary with Artificial Intelligence

tim berners lee

When I was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1992, it was perfect timing. I went to work for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia – a company that fully adopted IT Innovation as part of its core strategies. We installed fiber and removed line-of-site satellite, we hard-wired programmable-logic controllers to PCs and captured data that helped us fine-tune our maintenance via an Intranet, and the parent company, Landmark Communications, was already investing heavily in getting newspapers online. I knew the Web was something life-changing for me.

And just two years earlier, Sir Tim Berners-Lee built all the tools necessary for a working Web, including HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the first Web browser, the first HTTP server software, the first web server, and the first Web pages that described the project itself. My business and my career literally all started thanks to his innovation, and I always wanted to see him speak in person.

25 Years Later and IT Transformation

Mark Schaefer invited me to join him on Luminaries – Talking to the Brightest Minds in Tech, a Dell podcast that provides great insight into the leaders behind the world’s most innovative companies. While I knew Dell as a company that sold desktops and laptops to consumers and servers to businesses – I never had insight into the overall ecosystem of Dell Technologies until this opportunity. It’s been a fascinating journey – both from working with Mark who I have the utmost respect for – and gaining insight into the future when interviewing Dell’s leadership.

More on that later!

As part of the program, we were invited to attend Dell EMC World in Las Vegas (where I’m writing this at my hotel room desk). We found out, soon after, that Berners-Lee would be speaking on Artificial Intelligence. “Giddy” is the only appropriate term to use to describe my excitement. I think Mark even told me to calm down at one point. 🙂 Be sure to check out Mark’s thoughts on this speech as well!

Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Artificial Intelligence

The line for the speech wrapped about half-way around the Sands Expo and I was thankful for Mark holding a place in line as I hastily packaged up the equipment from our latest recording. We sat down, and Mark snapped the photo of me above… woohoo! A few minutes later Sir Tim came to the stage and started the discussion. He shared his early love of Isaac Asimov and Arther C. Clarke, two authors that my late father introduced me to when I was young (along with Star Trek, of course!). At 16 years my senior, it was still exciting to think about the parallels of our lives – although I know I’ll never be knighted. Yea, as if that was the only difference.

Berners-Lee let everyone know that he was not an AI expert, but he had some thoughts as far as the benefits and fears out there. The changes that will come from AI are almost imperceivable at this point, but no one argues the possibilities nor the infinite benefits to humankind.

As DellEMC advances its own technologies, for example, hyper-convergence with AI is already on the horizon – systems that grow computing, storage, and network intelligently as companies need them to. The reduction in massive integrations, disparate systems, and human error are going to help more and more companies reach launch velocity, a term overheard several times at the event.

Berners-Lee discussed societal advancements that are within reach that will help reduce waste, increase efficiency, and overall societal improvements to humanity.

Just think about this from a corporate view, having financial systems that can predict, recommend, or even adjust based on your financial health. Or human resource systems that develop incentive systems personalized to the employees’ motivations. Or agriculture systems that optimize the use of pesticides or water dynamically without having to notify the farmer. Or technology companies that can scale and optimize infrastructure and even user experience without the need to develop product plans, focus groups, or testing.

Or, of course, marketing artificial intelligence that personalizes the language, offering, mediums, and channels to personalize and attract the prospect! Wow!

What About Skynet and the Singularity?

The singularity is the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.

In other words, what happens when systems develop systems beyond our ability to understand them? Science fiction has often described this like Terminator, where technology determines humanity unnecessary and destroys us. Berners-Lee’s vision isn’t as violent but still raises great concern. One of the issues he discussed is that robots do not and will not have rights. And leaders in business and government will have to institute more complex controls beyond Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws.

Let’s put aside intelligent robotic weapons that already violate rule #1. The problem, as described by Berners-Lee is that robots aren’t the real issues – artificial intelligence is. Companies are technology and are all going to be implementing AI to help with every aspect of their business. Mark often shares Domino’s Pizza as an example. Are they a pizza company with technology? Or are they a technology company built to deliver pizza? It’s very much the latter today.

And the problem? Companies do have rights; therefore, their technologies have inherent rights. And by proxy, the artificial intelligence produced by that company will have rights. That’s quite a conundrum that needs to be discussed as artificial intelligence accelerates in popularity and usage. Imagine a large company, for example, that has a platform that utilizes artificial intelligence to create something profitable for their shareholders – but that’s devastating to humanity. It’s not the robots we need to worry about, it’s artificial intelligence that doesn’t have controls to ensure our safety and security.


Berners-Lee thinks the singularity could be a reality within 50 years. He also unequivocally stated that it’s his rational opinion that AI will surpass human intelligence. We are living in amazing times! I don’t believe Berners-Lee was alarmed nor fearful of this future – he just said that companies, governments, and even the science fiction storytellers need to discuss these issues more if we hope to ensure our future is a safe one.

Disclosure: Dell paid all of my expenses to attend Dell EMC World and is my client for the Luminaries podcast. Be sure to tune in and review us, we really want your feedback!

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