According to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, artificial intelligence isn’t “just the most important technology of our lifetime, but probably the most important in any lifetime,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.
An active voice in the AI space, Benioff has taken the stance that AI can be helpful but dangerous. Consumers have only experienced phase one of what AI can be, Benioff told the AP. On the future of AI, he said, “None of us are really ready for this because none of us have had this experience before.”
Previously, Benioff has spoken about the tendency for generative AI to lie and for large language models to plagiarize. He has voiced privacy concerns regarding consumers’ personal information that becomes part of an AI model. But, despite his criticisms, Benioff believes AI can be a significant aid to Salesforce clients.
Salesforce provides tools to help sellers manage their relationships with consumers. Its products help companies track sales, automate marketing and perform customer service, among other tasks. One of the largest tech companies in the world, Salesforce is valued at $221 billion, which is more than IBM but less than Microsoft.
Salesforce isn’t new to the AI race. It first launched Einstein, its AI service embedded into Salesforce products, in September 2016—six years before the launch of ChatGPT made artificial intelligence a hot topic. The product allowed Salesforce clients to predict actions from their customers and create personalized marketing messages. Earlier this year, it announced Einstein GPT, a chatbot that can help companies find potential customers, write emails, compile data and more. Salesforce also launched AI Cloud, which further integrates generative AI into Salesforce products. The company is building AI Cloud technology into Slack, the messaging platform for businesses Salesforce acquired in 2020.
Benioff’s opinions on artificial intelligence are in line with those of other tech CEOs. Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, AI researcher Gary Marcus and other industry experts acknowledge the dangers of AI, going so far as to sign a letter calling for a pause on AI developments to introduce safety measures. Others signed an open letter warning that AI could lead to extinction, without other context. Signees include OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott and Anthropic CEO Dario Amodei.
Salesforce is coming off a period of major internal changes. In November 2022, Bret Taylor, who served as co-CEO alongside Benioff, left Salesforce to start a new company. At the turn of the year, Salesforce laid off 7,800 employees, or 10 percent of its staff. Benioff said he hired too many workers during the pandemic, which caused the cuts. Other tech companies, including Meta, cited over-hiring as the reason for their layoffs as well.
This month, the company’s stock is trading at a one-year high, today worth $227 per share. The price is more than five times what the stock sold for a decade ago. At its peak in November 2021, when many tech stocks reached their highs, Salesforce traded at $307 per share.