Dome of the parliament in Kyiv.
Photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

AI thinkers grapple with modern war

Protocol Enterprise

Hello and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: AI researchers debate how technology plays a role in modern conflicts like the invasion of Ukraine, Zendesk shareholders want it to stop monkeying around and the week ahead for enterprise tech.

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It’s getting harder to find traditional lines of industry that are still holding out on cloud computing. Even two-thirds of stodgy accounting firms are planning to adopt cloud tech in the next two years, according to CPA Practice Advisor, and one-third will make that migration in the next 12 months.

AI eggheads try to solve the Ukraine question — on Twitter

In a world in which banks tell us that buying something with the right carbon-offset credit card can cure climate change, it comes as no surprise that AI researchers think AI can solve entrenched geopolitical conflicts like what’s happening in Ukraine right now. And of course, that conversation has been happening on Twitter.

Nando de Freitas, a machine-learning researcher at Google’s DeepMind, posed a question to the Twitterverse on Thursday: “What role can the AI community play in a world where bullies attack peaceful democratic countries and threaten the world? I’m really curious to hear from everyone.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not “peaceful democratic countries” can be bullies themselves, de Freitas got a handful of responses from techno-optimists who see potential solutions AI could create to tackle these threats.

  • “AI can solve [the] problem by fusion reactor stabilization to produce free energy thus eliminating oil hegemony of many nations,” wrote S@g@R.
  • Of course, some pointed more directly to AI’s obvious military implications. “AI can and will have a huge impact on war and cyberwar,” wrote AI researcher @SouthernSummr. “If you think AI is irrelevant in war than you are thinking in the past. Computers aren't just ‘fancy playthings.’”
  • AI professor Irina Rish suggested that drones “instead of mobilization” of troops or denial-of-service attacks could counteract war-mongering bullies.

Many saw state-fueled propaganda and disinformation as something that AI has not only enabled, but could help to mitigate.

  • Former Googler and algorithmic transparency advocate Guillaume Chaslot pointed to YouTube. “The AI community can tell @SusanWojcicki to stop using our work to promote dictators,” he wrote, noting that recommendations he worked on at YouTube helped promote content produced by Russia Today, a Russian state-funded media outlet.
  • “We might want to ponder the relation between state-sponsored propaganda, mass murder, and our recommendation algorithms,” wrote Anna Rogers, a natural-language processing researcher. But first, she said people should take more obvious approaches such as donating to relevant charities or writing to legislators to support sanctions and aid.
  • “We urgently must identify the vulnerabilities of today's ML (recommendation) algorithms, which are now weaponized by cyber warfare,” wrote Lê Nguyên Hoang, who is helping to build an open-source and ethical video recommendation system called Tournesol.
  • Dan Roy, an AI researcher and professor, tweeted that information systems should actually steer people toward common ground. “We ought to reconsider how information systems (esp., social media) produce feedback and how such systems can be controlled for social good,” he wrote. “We can't allow systems to drive people to divergent beliefs.”

But not everyone has their tech goggles on. Some people – even some in AI themselves – said that this time, tech is not the answer.

  • “I think it is time we exit our bubble and come to terms with the reality that not everything is amenable to tech solutions,” wrote Stan Onyime.
  • “The AI community can and should recognise its own irrelevance here and actively use its oversized platform to give way, giving other, much more important people, causes, disciplines and entities, air and airtime,” tweeted Michael Veale, associate professor of digital rights and regulation at London law university UCL.
  • David Pfau, a research scientist and colleague of de Freitas at DeepMind, also stepped outside the AI vacuum. “I don't think there is anything specific to the AI community that doesn't apply to other communities as well,” he wrote. “I think it would be better to ask what we can do as human beings.”

— Kate Kaye (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM CLARI

How do you maximize Sales and Marketing performance? Point them at the same targets. Watch the latest episode of Club Revenue on Nasdaq as Bhaskar Roy, Chief Marketing Officer at Workato, reveals his remarkable tactics so that Marketing and Sales can outperform.

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Zendesk shareholders revolt

The Zendesk-Momentive saga finally came to an end Friday after shareholders rejected Zendesk's proposed acquisition. The decision comes on the heels of a proxy battle initiated by Jana Partners following a failed takeover bid by a group of PE firms that would have valued Zendesk at $17 billion.

Zendesk first announced its intent to pursue an all-stock acquisition of Momentive (formerly known as Survey Monkey) in October of last year. The company hoped Momentive could bolster its customer intelligence capabilities and produce a combined revenue of $4.6 billion for the companies by 2025.

But investors weren’t on the same page. Last month Jana Partners wrote a letter to the board of directors pushing for rejection of the acquisition. What followed was a back and forth between Zendesk management and Jana Partners, along with advisory firms ISS and Glass Lewis. Jana managing partner Barry Rosenstein wrote a letter to the board of directors that it should either be replaced or Zendesk sold to an interested buyer.

The future for Zendesk remains unclear. If the proxy battle is successful, four Zendesk board members will be replaced. The next time a takeover bid comes around, Zendesk may not have the option to turn it down.

— Aisha Counts (email | twitter)

Coming next week

Next week’s earnings calls may come with big news. Salesforce is sharing results on Tuesday, and there’s no small amount of speculation that this could be the moment founder Marc Benioff turns the reins of the company over to co-CEO Bret Taylor. Zoom will also share earnings following the launch of its contact center service this week, along with Box and Okta.

Zoom will announce fourth-quarter earnings on Monday at 2 p.m. PT.

Salesforce will share fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday at 2 p.m. PT.

Box will share financial results on Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.

Okta will host its earnings call on Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.

Also, don’t miss Protocol’s multicloud event on Wednesday at 10 a.m. PT.


— Aisha Counts (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

Alibaba Cloud recorded a 20% jump in revenue during the fourth quarter to 19.54 billion yuan, or just over $3 billion.


Nvidia was reportedly the victim of a hack that took down internal developer systems, and a spokesperson told Protocol the company was “investigating an incident.”

A MESSAGE FROM CLARI

How do you maximize Sales and Marketing performance? Point them at the same targets. Watch the latest episode of Club Revenue on Nasdaq as Bhaskar Roy, Chief Marketing Officer at Workato, reveals his remarkable tactics so that Marketing and Sales can outperform.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you Monday!

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