One of the most-heard buzzwords at this week's TechCrunch Disrupt confab in San Francisco is AI, the abbreviation for artificial intelligence.
It was as if any onstage interview or discussion within the huge warehouse of the city's Pier 48 would have been incomplete without multiple references to the idea that machines can be programmed to learn.
Danny Lange, head of machine learning at Uber and a former executive at Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report , even tried to offer up a sweeping assessment of where the technology was headed. Software development is "moving from a Newton world of certainty to a Heisenberg model," one filled with "uncertainties and...probabilities," said Lange.
No software or device can know all the things that could change in its operating environment in the future, at least not yet, so software engineers are focusing on building flexible programs, rather than "deterministic" ones. Other industry heavyweights ranging from venture capitalist Marc Andreessen to LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman -- now an investing partner at VC firm Greylock Partners -- touted the potential of AI.
It was not surprising then that Salesforce.com (CRM) - Get salesforce.com, inc. Report CEO Marc Benioff wanted the tech startup crowd to know his company wasn't missing out on the trend. "We've spent $600 million on AI companies," Benioff said Tuesday. The company has "stitched together an AI platform called Einstein" that will allow its customers to integrate the technology into their software, he added.
While it was a pioneer of selling software over the internet, Salesforce has seen much larger players, such as Amazon, Alphabet (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report and Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report enter the cloud market aggressively. That's fueled speculation that Salesforce must get bigger through acquisitions or become a takeover candidate itself. Benioff also reiterated previous guidance provided to Wall Street.
"We'll do $8.3 billion this year" in revenue, he told the crowd of hundreds at the Bay Area gathering. Earlier this year, he said he bid for LinkedIn before Microsoft acquired the social media company.
Benioff added that Salesforce would have news on its mobile platform, called Salesforce1, and its productivity products, at its Dreamforce annual conference in San Francisco next month. The company announced in August that it agreed to acquire the productivity app startup Quip for $750 million.