AI for the masses and overcoming GDPR woes: key Dreamforce takeaways for marketers

Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff sat down with IBM president Ginni Rometty during the conference

Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual marketing and tech conference, is over for another year. Where last year was all about automation and customer experience, emerging trends this year included discussions around democratizing AI, how marketers can safeguard ahead the looming GDPR deadline and what the rise of the machines means for the future of employment.

The Drum was on the ground at the festival, so in case you missed out here’s what we think marketers need to know.

AI is going to become about ‘clicks not code’

Salesforce used the event as a platform to unveil a slew of updates to its machine learning platform myEinstein. The changes have made the tool more accessible to developers and marketers of all skillsets, allowing them to build chatbots and set up predictions algorithms without the need for coding.

This idea that AI is becoming more democratized was a theme that continued throughout the whole festival with brands like Adidas and T-Mobile taking to the stage to talk about it during Marc Benioff’s keynote.

"Everybody knows we've got to move forward on artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, all types of data science," Benioff told Dreamforce attendees.

He added that AI is “the future of all Salesforce applications,” showing that the company’s commitment to letting everyday workers, rather than developers, build AI functions is one that’s not going anywhere soon, and a trend we’re likely to see other platforms follow.

However, tech players have different takes on what automation means for the future of the digital workforce

During the week, there were a lot of discussions around what the fast-paced growth and scale of AI means for humans.

During a chat with Benioff IBM’s chair, president and chief executive Ginni Rometty said there was a "lot of fear mongering around AI killing jobs.

"It’s happened with every era of technology and yes, some jobs go away and some enter,"she said pointing to an MIT study which recently which suggested 10% of jobs will go away, but 100% will change because of AI advancements

“This is about the man and machine working together. Not only is that a job you need to prepare the world for, we’re already seeing difficult problems of the world, such as healthcare, being solved by this era," she added.

During a panel hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), however, former head and co-founder of Cognea AI Liesl Cappe, who sold her firm to IBM and watched it become an integral part of Watson, took a more cautious approach.

“We think of singularity as when machines get smarter than us and then start getting better, when you think about it the only condition for singularity is that a machine self improves and we don’t stop it," she said. "There’s nothing I see in AI today that says we’re going to stop the advance in that technology."

She said businesses should be thinking about what values they want their AI systems to hold and how they will they make decisions.

"Do we want to give them human values?" she asked: "The same values that gave us slavery and sexism and racism? An appalling set of values. In the near-term what companies and governments need to be thinking about more is what do we do with a displaced workforce."

Like IBM, Accenture and PwC - who both had a massive presence at the conference - put a positive spin on things, imploring delegates to consider the job opportunities AI might create.

During a panel on Monday afternoon the former's chief technology and innovation officer Paul Daugherty said: "We're hiring people now to be personalised trainers for chatbots and virtual agents. That’s just one example – we see all sorts of jobs being created."

Meanwhile, PwC's global tech and alliance consulting leader Paul Gaynor told The Drum: "I believe it will help create more jobs, we'll just see a shift of where the jobs are. I think the AI industry creates a tremendous amount of work for the future, it does remove some of the more repetitive work, but to program all that, to design [the tech] and to implement it; it creates a lot of different work prospects."

AI was the big talking point, but there was no escaping GDPR

Based on San Francisco, Dreamforce might be based in America, but there was no escaping chatter around the forthcoming 18 May General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) deadline.

IBM used the event to announce upgrades to its central European cloud hub, part of which will see marketers handed more control of their data.

Harriet Pearson, a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, focused on privacy and cybersecurity matters, reminding US brands why they should care about GDPR.

Meanwhile, Salesforce's Christopher Jacob, product marketing leader and Liam Doyle, senior vice-president of product management told The Drum that GDPR was an area it was putting "all its investment" to train and educate brands about how they should comply.

Senior global marketers and tech chiefs from Hotels.com, Rituals and Wunderman also said it would be a key area of focus for their teams over coming months.

And, Salesforce has found a new "best friend" in Google

In case you missed it, Google and Salesforce inked a massive partnership during the week to pool data for advertisers.

The deal echoes an earlier pact Salesforce signed with Amazon Web Services (AWS) last May, in which it named the Seattle giant a “preferred partner” for its public cloud infrastructure. Now Salesforce is using the same terminology for the Google deal, but when questioned on how it was possible to "have two best friends," Salesforce's executive vice president head of business development and strategic accounts Ryan Aytay told press the partnership would not affect its relationship with Amazon.

However, the company was coy about how it would allocate work between the two rivals.

You can read the rest of The Drum's Dreamforce coverage here.

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Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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