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Gazing Into Technology’s Crystal Ball

Innovation 047
Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2019
TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2019
Aspen, CO

4:10 PM
Two business software companies find themselves at key moments in their trajectories. Hear how the CEOs navigate.
Sasan Goodarzi, CEO, Intuit
Jennifer Tejada, CEO, PagerDuty
Moderator: Alan Murray, CEO, FORTUNE

Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune Magazine

Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi joins the who’s who of leaders exploring AI, regulation, the future workforce and other tech trends

Intuit CEO Sasan Goodarzi was among several dozen Fortune 500 leaders, tech entrepreneurs and investors who recently attended Fortune Brainstorm Tech, an invitation-only conference for exploring bleeding-edge trends. At this year’s event in Aspen, Colorado, July 15 – 17, topics ranged from artificial intelligence (AI), to the intersection of policy and tech, to U.S. competitiveness versus China and the rest of the world, and more. Below are some highlights.

The AI factor

AI was a major theme this year. Discussions abounded on the ethics and moral obligations facing the industry to ensure that AI technology develops for good. In a panel titled How to Control AI (Before It Controls Us),” Salesforce’s chief scientist and IBM’s SVP of cloud/cognitive software addressed the issue of what companies must do to harness the potential of AI without harming their customers.

The speakers noted that AI will have both good and bad impacts. On the plus side, it will enable things like faster drug development, self-flying cars and better policing. But it will also allow people to create and distribute fake news, make “deep fake” videos to convince people of political and other biases, and even frame minorities for doing bad acts they never actually did.

AI is only as good as the trained data we give it, and therefore needs to be tested for bias and fairness. For example, if a company does business lending based on all the historical credit, it will inevitably end up lending more money to men than women. So it’s critical to test for bias of historical data to train models the right way. Bottom line: AI depends heavily on clean data and proper training of the model, and companies need to invest to teach it the right things.

The future worker

Employers and managers take note (again): Gen Z and millennials have different mindsets, needs and skills that you’ll need to factor into decision about workplace location, tech tools and employee wellness. Leaders from SAP, Bloomberg Beta, eBay and NEA explored the subject in a town hall session.

Among the points explored: In order to understand who their future workers are, employers should treat them as a customer segment. They should also consider how much they spend on training and what they spend it on. The gig economy is growing fast, but there’s no training to teach low-income people looking for freelance work the skills they need. The future worker will also most likely be found in urban areas; it’s projected that 60 percent of new jobs will be in 25 cities in the U.S.

Leading in a time of change

In a panel titled “Leading in a Time of Change,” Sasan and PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada discussed how they’re navigating major transitions in their companies’ trajectories.  Sasan shared how Intuit has reimagined and disrupted itself multiple times on the way to becoming the AI-driven expert platform it is today.

“We were born in the era of DOS,” he said. “The only way to do that is to fall in love with consumer problems, not our solutions.”

On Diversity and Inclusion, Sasan shared his journey as a native of Tehran, Iran who got bullied as a kid in the U.S. “Inclusion hits close to home,” he said. “I know what it feels like not to be wanted.”

Sasan said that diversity is a fact, and inclusion is a choice. If you want inclusion, it’s important to listen to front-line employees, learn and make real adjustments in behavior. As for diversity, it starts at the top with a diverse senior leadership team (60 percent of Sasan’s team are women), and ensuring you have goals and that they are measured.

“Diversity is a strategic imperative as our customers are diverse,” Sasan said. “It’s critical that we are building products that appeal to diverse customers.”

On regulation, Sasan advocated for the private and public sector to unite to accelerate innovation and implement guardrails instead of attacking each other. He used industry tax fraud as an example of how a great public-private partnership can lead to great outcomes. Intuit and other industry players worked with the IRS to help reduce fraud by 90 percent.

On the issue of the future workforce, Sasan said a key to retaining millennials is all about the work they do. “If it matters, they stay,” he said.

Manager capability, too, is key. Managers need to learn soft skills and how to lead vs. control, set direction and priorities, and remove obstacles so employees can do great work.

Sasan called AI the “third platform,” after electricity and the Internet, that will “fundamentally change the world.” He defined AI as Machine Learning, knowledge engineering and natural language processing, and explained how Intuit uses AI to help put more money in customers’ pockets, eliminate drudgery and build confidence.

“It’s critical to helping our customers get paid the next day,” Sasan said.

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