Podcast: An Intelligent Environment… For Your Business

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What do artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality have in common? Each of these technologies with revolutionize the way we interact and partner with machines and with each other. Together, they will transform the workforce, improve healthcare, and democratize education. Learn more with Jeff Clarke, Vice Chairman of Products & Operations at Dell Technologies.

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and the Future of the Human-Machine Partnership

The Internet of Things is creating an unprecedented amount of data that only continues to grow exponentially. Processing that data into usable information requires new strategies for intelligent automation across the IT infrastructure. In fact, IDC predicts that by 2021, 70% of enterprise applications will employ some form of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

At the same time, the human-machine interface and partnership continue to rapidly evolve making it easier than ever to interact and work alongside intelligent machines. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented and virtual reality are finding their way into both consumer and business applications. These technologies will revolutionize everything from aeronautical design to higher education. Jeff Clarke, Vice Chairman, Products & Operations at Dell Technologies, offers perspectives and a sneak peek at the future direct from Dell’s own R&D labs.

Featuring: Jeff Clarke, Vice Chairman, Products & Operations, Dell Technologies

Jeff Clarke is responsible for Dell’s global supply chain, and leads its product organizations: Infrastructure Solutions Group and Client Solutions Group. In his Operations role, he oversees global manufacturing, procurement and supply chain activities. On the product side, Jeff leads the engineering, design, and development of servers, storage and networking products, as well as engineering, design, development and sales of computer desktops, notebooks, workstations, cloud client computing and end-user computing software solutions.

Jeff joined Dell in 1987 as a quality engineer, moved into a product development role in 1989 and has served in a variety of engineering and leadership roles. In 1997, Jeff founded and launched Dell’s Precision workstation product line, subsequently overseeing Dell’s OptiPlex, Latitude and Precision commercial PC lines of business. Under his leadership, all three businesses achieved No. 1 worldwide share positions. Jeff also ran Dell’s enterprise business from 2002 to 2005.

Jeff has led Dell’s supply chain to be recognized among the world’s most innovative. In 2017, Dell Technologies was named to Fortune’s Change the World list, which highlights leading companies innovating to solve the world’s biggest challenges through profit-making strategy and operations. Dell was recognized for its sustainable innovations, including its ocean plastic packaging program and Dell’s pioneering circular economy practices, both enabling significant global environmental benefits, saving on costs and differentiating the company in the marketplace.

“Think about the advancements we’ve made in decoding the human genome. Think about what we can do in the next couple of decades as we build more computing capability and more intelligence into what we’re doing. You’ve got to get excited.”

— Jeff Clarke, Vice Chairman of Products & Operations, Dell Technologies

Luminaries Hosts

  • Mark Schaefer Author, Consultant, College Educator. Mark is a leading authority on marketing strategy, consultant, blogger, podcaster, and the author of six best-selling books, including "KNOWN." He has two advanced degrees and studied under Peter Drucker in graduate school. Some of his clients include Microsoft, GE, Johnson & Johnson and the US Air Force.
  • Douglas Karr Technologist, Author, Speaker. Pre-Internet, Douglas started his career as a Naval electrician before going to work for the newspaper industry. His ability to translate business needs into technology during the advent of the Internet paved the way for his digital career. Douglas owns an Indianapolis agency, runs a MarTech publication, is a book author, and speaks internationally on digital marketing, technology, and media.

0:52 MARK SCHAEFER: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Luminaries, where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. This is Mark Schaefer. And I’m going solo today. My regular co-host, Douglas Carr, is a little under the weather today. But, oh, man, do we have an amazing show for you today.

1:11 We’re meeting with the Vice Chairman of Products and Operations for Dell Technologies, Jeff Clarke. And we are going to be talking about some new ideas, some new research about the human-machine interface and some new research that’s been coming up. But Jeff, before we get started, I heard through the grapevine that you enjoy playing video games. Do you have a favorite old-school game or a modern game that you like to play?

1:43 JEFF CLARKE: Yeah, I’m a gamer. I’m old school, for sure. I was before the PC era. So you remember games like Pong and Tetris.

1:51 MARK SCHAEFER: Oh, super old school. [LAUGHS]

1:53 JEFF CLARKE: Then my first PC game that I remember was Castle Wolfenstein, a first-person shooter game.

1:58 MARK SCHAEFER: Oh, I remember that.

1:59 JEFF CLARKE: — a great, great game.

2:00 MARK SCHAEFER: I remember that game.

2:02 JEFF CLARKE: And now I have gaming children. And with my son, I’ll play World of Warcraft, which I’m not very good, but it is amazing what is done in the gaming community.

2:14 MARK SCHAEFER: My children have grown up. But I mentor young children. And I just look at these games, and they’re just so amazing. It’s like immersing yourself in movies. Do you ever get to go over to Alienware and like mess around over there with what they’re doing?

2:28 JEFF CLARKE: I get– well, one of the good things about my position, although I wouldn’t call it a luminary or the brightest mind in the industry, but I do get to go into the labs, and I get to go play. And my favorite lab to play in is the Alienware lab, particularly with some of the VR stuff and some of the futuristic games being developed.

2:51 MARK SCHAEFER: Oh, yeah.

2:53 JEFF CLARKE: I’ll occasionally go there and just, kind of, escape for a little bit.

2:57 MARK SCHAEFER: It’s a good way to relax, isn’t it? I remember–

3:00 JEFF CLARKE: It’s a great place to relax.

3:01 MARK SCHAEFER: I remember the first time I ever tried VR. They put this headset on me. And I was on a Brazilian river cruise. And you could see the rain dripping from the trees, and I thought, I don’t want to go back. This is– it was just amazing.

3:18 JEFF CLARKE: No. We’ve done some demos and developed some capability that I’ve had the gear on and then with, sort of, extra peripherals that are your hands. And getting in and being able to do a form of surgery or a very detailed work in three-dimension, virtual, or augmented reality is wicked cool.

3:40 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah. Are you blending things from Alienware with other parts of the company? You’re kind of–

3:47 JEFF CLARKE: You typically have what I think are two distinct areas. You have the entertainment side of virtual reality. And then you have what is increasingly the business application or the commercial application and migrates its way towards augmented reality. And it’s pretty fun to watch those two areas evolve.

4:16 Certainly, Alienware and our precision platform on content creation of that type of capability is interesting. But it’s very much a consumer-oriented gaming-oriented environment. Where the capabilities of Dell technology come together is when you can begin to bring the environments into the commercial platform and thinking about it as whether it’s a service platform or a manufacturing platform.

4:49 I was with a large aircraft manufacturer earlier this week and talking about how we use augmented reality in the manufacturing of an airplane in a wing and how you might change the way you build manufacturing processes and techniques. It gets pretty interesting that way. Then if you added the buzzword internet of things, but just think about a bunch of smart sensors and a bunch of sensorized way of manufacturing, you begin to bring a very different and rich, immersive way to manufacturing data sets to improve manufacture efficiencies and outcomes.

5:28 MARK SCHAEFER: And one of the– I just gave it a talk on this topic. Actually, I did some work with the Air Force. Maybe we were even in some of the same plants looking at some of these things. But also, I think it’s going to solve some really interesting problems around marketing because people are like cocooning in their bubbles. And if we can offer them these rich, immersive experiences–

5:51 I was at the big Dell event. I think it was last year. And you had the virtual reality car you could drive. And the lines were so long. And what an amazing opportunity, where we’re just getting buffeted with all this information. But when you can go into an immersive experience like that, it really solves a marketing problem too.

6:14 JEFF CLARKE: Well, think about the technology that’s in front of us, Mark. We have an opportunity, as we get more data and we can do something with that data and understand you as Mark, the consumer, as an example. And then I can bring you a rich, immersive experience into what it is you want to buy. And I know enough about you to present you the right options in a way that you want to see them, which may be different Doug, who’s not here today. You kind of have a very powerful way to customize the marketing message by individual and individual need. And we can expand that into the commercial side of the marketplace too.

6:51 MARK SCHAEFER: Mm-hmm. And what exciting times. Well, one of the things I wanted to– this really is a great kind intro to one of the things I wanted to talk about is this new report that Dell was involved with partnering with Vanson Bourne to take a closer look at this human-machine interface. And we’re going to have a link to that report in the show notes.

7:14 Last year– I mean, I love going to these presentations and listening to things at South by Southwest, for example, about the projections. And one of the themes that came out last year was there’s really a lot of anxiety about this, even from some leaders like Bill Gates or Elon Musk.

7:34 JEFF CLARKE: Those are luminaries in [INAUDIBLE].

7:35 MARK SCHAEFER: They are luminaries in anybody’s book. What’s your position on that? Do you have some anxiety, some trepidation about this emerging AI-human interface, or are you more optimistic?

7:50 JEFF CLARKE: Hugely optimistic. Why would you be any other way, particularly if you think about the history of technology, at least in my time, over 30 years now, where technology’s been used to solve different problems. It’s been used to improve the human condition. And when I think about the capabilities of whether you want to talk about machine learning, artificial intelligence, great amounts of decentralized information, trying to make something of that to drive better outcomes, again, how could you not get excited?

8:29 At least I think I’m in the better outcomes business. And if we’re in the better outcomes business, being able to process what is going to be increasingly large amounts of data in ways that different companies and individuals can use, you’ve got to get excited. Think about the advancements we’ve made in decoding the human genome. Think about what we can do in the next couple of decades as we build more compute capability and more intelligence in what we’re doing. What’s the next medical through we can make?

9:01 MARK SCHAEFER: Well, I’m glad to hear you’re optimistic. I’m optimistic too. I was reading a book on the plane today. I saw this great quote. And they said, if you look at the aircraft industry, that’s a human-machine interface. And we don’t call it artificial flying. It’s just become flying. The technology has helped to improve all of our lives.

9:25 JEFF CLARKE: Yet many commercial flights, when they get up, they put on the old button, and the computer takes over to fly the airplane.

9:32 MARK SCHAEFER: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. So, yeah, my mind’s spinning with ideas about that. One of the things, Jeff, that was so interesting in this report that Dell helped sponsor is that it was basically evenly split, the people that were interviewed, around the predictions of automation intelligence working together in ways that would either help businesses or get in the way of businesses.

10:06 That just kind of blew my mind. Do you see that resistance with some of the businesses that you work with? What are some of the cultural hurdles that are keeping people from embracing this?

10:18 JEFF CLARKE: I don’t know if I know the cultural hurdles. Certainly customers that I’ve had the opportunity to interact with are looking for technology, looking for intelligent automation to help them with what is going to be large amounts of decentralized data. And they’re looking for the processing of that information to be offloaded from the organization so the organization can focus on how to use that information to drive better outcomes, better results for the corporation, better results for individuals.

10:57 I think of it as maybe the following example. I was talking to a customer not too long ago on autonomous cars. Think about how sensored an autonomous car is going to be. Think about all the information that’s going to come in on an individual autonomous car.

11:17 Now think of a fleet of autonomous cars. Think about that data going someplace, and something’s got to be done with it to drive better algorithms for each and every autonomous car. You quickly get in a world that would go well beyond petabytes to exabytes to zettabytes. And if you think about if we don’t change the way we look at information and use these new techniques that are in their infancy today, we’re talking we won’t have enough people to process all the data that we’re going to create. So we’re going to need intelligent automation, intelligent methods to break the data into information to do something about. Does that make sense?

11:58 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And so as you were speaking, I’m also thinking about some of the security aspects of this. And that’s one of the things I love about Dell is that you really take a holistic view of the system with all this data and interconnected systems. I’m just thinking about this fleet of trucks going down a road. That’s got to be a big part of the Dell solution too.

12:22 JEFF CLARKE: Well, think about the uniqueness of our company is Dell Technologies and the portfolio of companies of protecting information, data at the edge, all the way through the data center and into the cloud, building security services on top of that, providing the ability to threat monitor, and when we see a threat, be able to, if you will, sandbox or set that threat aside. We’re able to bring that perspective to an end-to-end solution for our customers. We’re clearly in our infancy in being able to do that.

13:01 But the portfolio of technology we have puts us in a very unique position. And these problems are only going to get, I think, more interesting or technically interesting because it is about the data. And it’s about the data at rest, the data at flight, the data at the edge, the data in the data center, the data in the cloud. And customers are going to be–

13:22 They’re unbelievably sensitive about it today and as there’s is more information, only more. Think about what happens when there’s a breach, the lost productivity, the loss confidentiality, the loss of faith in a brand that’s associated with that. It’s become unbelievably important in the table stakes going forward.

13:43 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, unbelievably important. I think about that a lot. I mean, really the biggest thing you can offer a customer today is trust. You want to be able to tell a customer, we’ll never let you down. And a big part of that today is going to be security, their data, e-commerce. So much of our economy is hinging on this very idea of keeping their data safe.

14:05 JEFF CLARKE: With a lot more people trying to get at it.

14:07 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, that’s right. I was sitting down with a security expert one time, and they said, sometimes I feel like there’s eight people trying to get at it for every one trying to keep them away.

14:22 JEFF CLARKE: I don’t know what the ratio is, but there are certainly more each and every day trying to attack various forms of information around our customer set.

14:33 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah. So we started the conversation and you were hinting at some of the cool things that you were looking over into the Alienware group and virtual reality. And I would just love to follow you around for a day and just look at the amazing things you get to experience. And I know you can’t talk about some of your deep, dark secrets of R&D, but can you give our listeners just some ideas of some of the things you’re seeing that make you go wow? Give us some hint of what you get to see in your position at Dell.

15:10 JEFF CLARKE: Well, I had the opportunity to see a few things. One other area that certainly gets me excited in the organization, given what we do, is this internet of things. I like to call it Lots Of Data Everywhere, LODE for short. And if you really like analogies, it’s the mother lode.

15:34 It’s going to be a very large opportunity for the likes of us to carve out a position to help our customers deal with this. There are many that believe everything’s going to the cloud. There’s no possible way that’s going to happen. Internet of things, with many smart devices and many sensors on the edge of the network, are going to require close-proximity computing, close-proximity assessment or analyzing that information that drives it–

16:12 MARK SCHAEFER: Is that that edge computing?

16:14 JEFF CLARKE: I believe–

16:14 MARK SCHAEFER: Is that one of the terms?

16:16 JEFF CLARKE: That is one of the terms that would be used. But we’re going to see a pivot and a move from centralization to decentralization because just think about it. Let’s go back to my autonomous car example.

16:30 You’re in it. You’re driving late at night, and a deer jumps in front of you. Do want to be able to go back to the cloud and determine if that was a deer–

16:37 MARK SCHAEFER: You can’t send that to New York for review.

16:40 JEFF CLARKE: Hit the brakes and deal with milliseconds of processing time.

16:44 MARK SCHAEFER: Oh, that’s so interesting.

16:45 JEFF CLARKE: You need real-time assessment. You’re going to need real-time assessments. So cars in the future are going to be computers on wheels. They’re going to have to– that’s a data center, and will at some level. And I get really excited about this decentralization of what has been moving towards a cloud, back to the edge of the local processing, local storage, local security.

17:12 Because what will happen– that’s a big opportunity. And again, when you look at our end-to-end asset base, we kind of get excited about that. Clearly another area that I see a lot of work in with our team is the cloud is real, no doubt about it.

17:29 I think sometimes we forget the cloud is a destination. It runs on infrastructure. And what we find is our customers increasingly are using multiple clouds, or multiple cloud adoption is the method of the future. There isn’t one that’s going to distinguish itself. We’re going to see private cloud, hybrid cloud, and certainly public cloud. And increasingly we have customers that are– it’s more than one and often three.

18:00 Another area that’s really fun and it’s really– we talked about it earlier. It’s really in its infancy. And it’s going to be a cool area. If you have young children, have them go to school to study this, which is the machine learning and artificial intelligence.

18:18 If you think about the processing power that’s going to be unleashed over the next years, the improvement of the algorithms, the ability to really look at and solve big problem sets and get smarter is– we’re on the forefront of it. In fact, our research would suggest 70% of enterprise applications will have some form of AI and ML in them by 2021.

18:45 MARK SCHAEFER: Wow. That’s not that far away.

18:47 JEFF CLARKE: No, just about three years.

18:50 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah.

18:51 JEFF CLARKE: Cognitive computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence will be the fastest growing software development categories in our industry in a very short time. The other area that kind of bridges from that is this intelligent automation. Now that I have all this information, what do I do with it? How do I process it? And how do I offload organizations of all of this task? And it will be lots of data.

19:13 You talk about my example earlier of the zettabytes. How are you going to process that? And then what we see is happening architecturally is a movement from what has been the past 30 years of building specialized hardware to a movement of building specialized software, software-defined everything– software-defined storage, software-designed data centers, software-defined networking.

19:39 We are going to see continued movement towards specialized software running on industry standard hardware, rather than what has been more of specialized hardware. Get excited about that. We’re kind of in that business. And then lastly, the one we literally opened with is the notion of collaborative and immersive experiences.

20:04 As the workforce transforms, the new entrants to the workforce are driving pressures to the traditional way of managing a workforce. This workforce wants to work on anything, anytime, anywhere. It wants access to the information anywhere it may be beyond the four walls.

20:24 It’s putting pressure on how we present that information and secure that information. And they want to do it with voice. They want to do it with gesture and touch, the natural ways that we interact with one another. They’re going to want to do that with their information, their applications. And AR and VR will play a pretty significant role in that.

20:45 So those are the big categories that I get to occasionally play around with, by no means the expert. We have plenty of expertise in this organization around these areas. And it’s a privilege to be able to spend a few minutes with them and talk about this. Then you get cool categories, the display technology.

21:05 We talked about we’ve been a leader in display technology. What’s happened with AK displays and as we move forward to the next generation technology? I look at storage-class memory and memory persistence in the next generation compute platforms and storage platforms we build, cool stuff. We haven’t seen nothing yet.

21:24 MARK SCHAEFER: Wow. Wow, that’s amazing. I want to spin the conversation a little bit in a different direction. You had talked about the excitement you have for our children and especially for education. My children are older, but I still mentor young children. And I see all– a lot is still not really changing in their world.

21:49 I’m an adjunct faculty member at Rutgers University. And I’ve taught there for the last eight years. And I know that it’s not just companies struggling with this transition, but it’s universities as well. And I know that you and your wife have been generous benefactors of higher education. And I’m wondering your thoughts about the opportunities for this digital transformation with physical universities?

22:11 Are they going to be more or less important? Or are they going to be different? What’s your vision of education going forward with this layer of AI covering the world?

22:21 JEFF CLARKE: Wow, that’s an interesting question. Well, I won’t make a comment on whether physical brick and mortar stays or it doesn’t stay. What I do know, it’s got to change. What do know, I have a college-age son. And the fact that he can take a fair percentage of his classes online is an experience. Like it’s a floating point error for me. Probably dates myself.

22:50 The fact that he’s learning in a different way and the information is presented in a different way, I think, changes the education dynamic. At some level, maybe not the way to describe it because I’m not an academic, but it’s going to democratize education. It’s going to make education more affordable and more available to more people. And I think that is good for humankind long term.

23:22 What that means to a physical classroom I don’t know. I do know physical classrooms are changing. I do know physical classrooms– my wife happens to be an educator, too. Physical classrooms are putting in more technology. It’s table stakes.

23:39 Look what is happening in our country in primary education in the One-to-One initiative just to put compute assets in primary school children. Technology is table stakes to be educated and to compete at primary education, and that’s got to go all the way through our university system. So I would expect that would mean we’re going to bring techniques like ML or AR and VR to the classroom.

24:09 Why wouldn’t you? Think about a medical school now that can talk about how to do heart surgery, as an example, and do that in an augmented reality way and reach so many more people and have so many more trials at it. Think about what could be done with some of the artificial intelligence algorithms. And as that can be used to teach and understand the way I learn is different than the way that you learn, Mark. And curriculum now adjusts to the individual versus you having to adjust to the curriculum. Or my fun physics teachers back in the old days, this is the way it’s going to be.

24:51 I think you can have a much more rich and immersive learning experience in a way that’s best for you, in a way that could be physically in a chair in the classroom or physically in a chair at home. And then I think at some level it helps democratize education across the globe and raising the education standard everywhere, which I think is great for us as humans.

25:16 MARK SCHAEFER: It is. So exciting.

25:17 JEFF CLARKE: I don’t know if that’s what you wanted.

25:19 MARK SCHAEFER: It doesn’t matter what I wanted. Jeff, our time has just flown. Thank you so much. I learned so much from you today. It’s been such a pleasure, such an honor getting to talk to you today. And everyone, we sure appreciate you listening to us.

25:37 We never take you for granted, your support. You’ve made us one of the top 1% business podcasts now. And we really love that. So thank you so much. This is Mark Schaefer. And on behalf of Jeff Clarke, we will see you next time on Luminaries. That’s it.

25:55 JEFF CLARKE: Thanks. Was that–

25:56 MARK SCHAEFER: Thank you, sir.