Equality, AI and education: Will.I.Am and Benioff on how Salesforce can change the world

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 6 October 2016

Equality, AI and education were three of the key themes Salesforce pushed at this year’s Dreamforce event held in San Francisco – where more than 170,000 attendees packed out city venues – and more than 15 million tuned in online.

The cloud commuting company hit headlines this week following its acquisition of Krux and also after its share price slumped massibley after its name was added to the mix around rumoured Twitter buyers.

Main keynot speaker,  musician and tech entrepreneur Will.i.am, began by urging the audience to help invest in education, as many of the industry’s jobs could be filled by currently disadvantaged inner city kids in the future, if their education was improved.

"I'm not just here because I like to hang out with geeks. I'm here because I think geeks could change inner cities forever," Will.i.am  said.

Will.i.am, who was asking the audience to buy a song and/or video on Apple Music and iTunes, with proceeds funding education programs and college scholarships via his charity, was followed by an energetic presentation from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

Benioff, who boasted of the company’s recent appointment of a chief of equality, said “nothing will help our world go faster and further and create more equality”, than if the industry pulled together and strengthened the vision about how the space can help push equality and also education.

“We’re in the age of equality - lets all focus and double down on how we can help,” he said.

From workplace diversity to LGBTQ equality, Benioff has been a longtime advocate of equality, having told Time magazine that between the cloud, social networks, mobile phones, it’s not very hard for a CEO like him or Richard Branson or Michael Dell to tweet something or support something as “one little tweet can make a huge difference”.

Benioff also went on to urge “every person in the room to adopt a public school” and added that courses like robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) should be open to more and more children in order to help them break into such innovative sectors when they leave school.

Marc Benioff

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

Four years ago Benioff encouraged San Francisco’s struggling middle schools to think big, while backing their ideas with seven-digit donations. Salesforce’s nonprofit foundation itself has donated more than US $13.5 million and according to reports, district officials have said that test scores are ticking up, class sizes are down, and the use of technology in classrooms is taken for granted.

The CEO and also Salesforce co-founder and CTO Parker Harris, went on to focus on the firm’s new artificial intelligence (AI) offering, Einstein, which is now built into the core of the Salesforce Platform. Aimed at marketers and also sales reps as the two roles are increasingly blurring, Einstein – and its many algorithms - aims to power a smarter world of CRM. It can automatically write emails, chase up leads, plans calendar events and can even tweet – all in an automated fashion. It also enables anyone to use clicks or code to build AI-powered apps. 

Ebony Frelix

Salesforce’s VP of philanthropy and engagement, Ebony Frelix, also took to the stage to talk about Bono’s charity Red, which aims to deliver an AIDS free generation.

Dreamforce is aiming to raise US$1 million from attendee donations to Red this week and not only will Bill and Melinda Gates double-match what is raised, but Benioff will also put in $1 million.

“We have a higher purpose here at Dreamforce and that is to give back,” Frelix said.

“We have an amazing opportunity to change the world.”

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Want more from Dreamforce? check out 'Marketing should be about pulling, not pushing – Aldo CMO'

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