The tech titan has an optimistic view of how AI will impact our lives, which comes in stark contrast to some of the suspicions raised by other Silicon Valley leaders -- Tesla Inc. (TSLA) - Get Report CEO Elon Musk being one of the technology's most visible critics, describing it as a potential "existential threat" to the human race.
Nadella spoke about AI, immigration, his tenure at Microsoft and a range of other topics as part of a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York City on Wednesday night.
"Elon, for example, has I think taken a very strong position around what AI can do and the harm AI can do if it runs out of control," Nadella said. "It's a worthy discussion for us to have because AI isn't just another piece of technology. It could be one of the world's most fundamental pieces of technology the human race has ever created."
Nadella isn't alone in defending AI's possibilities. Facebook Inc. (FB) - Get Report CEO Mark Zuckerberg has spoken extensively about how the rise of AI could ultimately benefit areas like healthcare and self-driving cars. He later went on to call Musk's comments "pretty irresponsible," in addition to referring to the Tesla boss a "naysayer." Musk shot back by saying that Zuckerberg's understanding of AI was "pretty limited."
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Despite exchanges like this, Nadella said he remains enthusiastic about what AI may hold for the future. He said it's already improving people's lives and is quickly becoming a big area of focus for Microsoft.
Nadella pointed to one story in particular that he said illustrate's AI's promise. He recently met with a Microsoft employee who had a visual impairment and was able to use Microsoft's Seeing AI, an app aimed at the low vision community, that uses computer vision and AI to understand the world around you, using the phone's camera. She walked into a cafeteria and used the app to see the food, read the menu and ingredients and order a meal, he noted.
"That means she's able to fully participate in the company because of this AI," Nadella said.
AI has also been a big theme at Microsoft's Ignite conference in Orlando that started on Monday and runs through Friday. The company is doubling down on AI by expanding its presence in its Azure cloud products, as well as in many of its core products like Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint and Word. Microsoft also unveiled Machine Learning Workbench, which is targeted for developers and helps manage data.
Nadella noted that other products, like One Note, have machine learning/AI tools that continue to help kids with dyslexia learn to read.
"So to me, AI can in fact bring more human empowerment and more inclusion so that people can fully participate in our economy and our society," Nadella said.