Stay Safe from Killer Robots – In a Puddle

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Artificial intelligence already is a top topic at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Monday night, amid a driving blizzard that snarled traffic around town, I hosted a small dinner featuring Carnegie Mellon University’s Justine Cassell. She is associate dean of technology, strategy, and impact at the university’s school of computer science, and an expert on the human role in artificial intelligence. Cassell let loose the best one-liner I’ve heard that combats Elon Musk’s fear that the robots will kill us all. “If you’re afraid of the android revolution,” she said, “just stand in a puddle. The robot will electrocute itself.” (She added: If you can’t find a puddle, just stand still for 40 minutes, the robot will run out of electricity.)

Tuesday morning I hosted another panel that featured the Stanford roboticist and machine-learning expert Fei-Fei Li. She is doing a stint at Google, working in its cloud business, and has admirably grasped the commercial aspects of her technical job quite well. She argues that “pre-data” companies can’t all of a sudden do AI themselves. The solution: Google Cloud, which would be happy to help.

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Speaking of companies who want to come up to speed digitally and otherwise, I’m pleased to announce that later this year Fortune will launch its newest conference, Brainstorm Reinvent. Think of it as the mirror image of Brainstorm Tech in Aspen. Reinvent, which will be held Sept. 24-25 in Chicago, targets C-level executives in the industrial heartland, all of whom want to be on the right side of disruption. The founding sponsor of the event is McKinsey, the international consulting firm that’s keen to help non-tech-industry companies navigate these difficult straits. If you’d like to attend (or speak), drop me an email.

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Monday I noted that the backlash against the tech giants would be a preoccupation of at least Silicon Valley executives in Davos. In that vein, I highly recommend an engaging, erudite, cleverly written, and amusing cover story in The Economist, “Silicon Valley, we have a problem.” Incidentally, of the three tech giants the article calls out the most for potential antitrust actions, Amazon (amzn), Facebook (fb) , and Google (googl), only the latter two are in Davos in force. In the magazine’s next tier, Microsoft (msft) has a Davos presence; Apple (aapl) and Netflix (nflx) do not.

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Line of the day (so far) … Rachel Botsman, author of Who Can You Trust?: “Convenience is trumping trust.” This on a Davos panel with Google Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat (whose company gives away a ton of information in return for its users’ data) and Dara Khosrowshahi (whose company’s trustworthiness has plummeted).