Michael Dell: Don't worry about AGI, after all we solved that ozone layer thing

Budget, schmudget, when it comes to AI-enabled productivity gains, says exec

Any dangers associated with artificial general intelligence (AGI) can easily be countered through action, similarly to how humans resolved the depletion of the ozone layer, according to namesake and founder of Dell Technologies Inc, Michael Dell.

“For as long as there’s been technology, humans have worried about bad things that could happen with it and we’ve told ourselves stories, for eons about horrible things that could happen with whatever new unknown force in the world there is,” surmised Dell at a virtual fireside chat hosted by research and brokerage firm Bernstein.

Dell The Man then opined that humans have "a great mechanism" to worry about things and then create counter actions "so that the bad things don’t actually occur."

"Even since - we're both about the same age - you remember the ozone layer and all, I mean, there are all sorts of horrible things that were going to happen. They didn't happen because humans took countermeasures," he told Bernstein's Toni Sacconaghi.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, the ozone layer still has about four decades to go before it is recovered. The landmark agreement to phase out chemicals that deplete the ozone layer, known as The Montreal Protocol, has already been in place for nearly 35 years.

As the world adopts AI

Other insights offered by Dell include that he sees the effects of AI in general as a major factor of the next decade's economic expansion, particularly in the technology industry where he expects it to unlock the power of accumulated data.

"Certainly, we see a big TAM [total addressable market] growing for hardware and services, which is the place that we tend to play in," he clarified.

As for generative AI, the American tech magnate said that how much generative AI can help a business depends on its willingness to throw their budget to the wind in favor of taking a chance on productivity gains.

"What I'm seeing is, there are companies who say, 'hey, the budgets -- the budget, we're not changing it, right?' And then there are other companies who are saying, 'wait a second, we can get a 20 percent or 30 percent productivity improvement here.' Whatever the budget was. Forget about that," he elucidated.

"I'll acknowledge that there's definitely some hype in this area," he caveated, adding "I think, it is sort of a change or die kind of moment."

He also admitted that while "there is a speed advantage that organizations will have in terms of adopting maybe ahead of others... these things do get normalized out."

The CEO also offered that there is a current trend of executives and board members pushing for the adoption of AI. It is something he noticed was "somewhat of a generational change" and perhaps motivated by the perception that any officer or executive not chasing 15 to 30 percent productivity gains would be "derelict."

Dell, the company, in the AI adoption equation

As for Dell the company itself, he noted the org was "pretty disciplined" about where it was spending capital.

"I think there's no question that there's a big buildout. Whenever you have cycles like this, the opportunity for excesses to occur is absolutely there," he said in the next breath.

Although AI undoubtedly is expected to significantly impact how humans operate in the world, a narrative that eschews frugality in favor of not missing out on the next big thing is a convenient take for those selling the associated equipment.

The company's AI-optimized backlog roughly doubled to about $1.6 billion at the end of its third quarter, according to the CEO. The company sees demand mostly in the high end workstations where it has leading share.

What about real world practicalities?

The recommendation to dive right in with company money to AI products may also play out better for big organizations than smaller ones in the channel.

This December at Canalys's APAC forums in Bangkok, distributors, resellers, and reps of Big Tech counterparts agreed that although businesses clamor to adopt AI, they don’t really know how or what to do with it. It's a scenario that results in the dampening of AI enthusiasm as eagerness turns to disappointment.

Part of the problem is that the technology is changing so fast that it is difficult to pinpoint what will benefit an organization best.

"What you learned today may not even be relevant in one quarter," argued Dell presales channel director Sidharth Joshi, at the forums. ®

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