AI May Not Be Magic: The Salesforce Signal

June 10, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

Salesforce has been a steady outfit. However, the company suffered a revenue miss, its first in about a quarter century. The news reports cited broad economic factors like “macro headwinds.” Salesforce, according to the firm’s chief people officer, the company has been experimenting with AI for “over a decade.” But the magic of AI was not able to ameliorate the company’s dip or add some chrome trim to its  revenue guidance.


John Milton’s god character from Paradise Lost watches the antics of super-sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms. This character quickly realizes that zeros and ones crafted by humans and enhanced by smart machines is definitely not omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent character who knows everything before it happens no matter what the PR firms or company spokesperson asserts. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

Piecing together fragments of information, it appears that AI has added to the company’s administrative friction. In a Fortune interview, recycled for, consider these administrative process examples:

  • The company has deployed 50 AI tools.
  • Salesforce has an AI governance council.
  • There is an Office of Ethical and Humane Use, started in 2019.
  • Salesforce uses surveys to supplement its “robust listening strategies.”
  • There are phone calls and meetings.

Some specific uses of AI appear to address inherent design constraints in Salesforce software; for example, AI has:

saved employees 50,000 hours within one business quarter, and the bot answered nearly 370,000 employee questions, according to the company. Merging into Project Basecamp, the company’s project management platform, has resolved 88,000 worker requests, speeding up issue resolution from an average of 48 hours to just 30 minutes.

What’s the payoff to the bottom line? That information is scant. What we know is that Salesforce may not be benefiting from the additional AI investment or the friction AI’s bureaucratic processes imposes on the company.

What’s this mean for those who predict that AI will change everything? I continue to think about the two ends of the spectrum: Go fast and break things crowd and the stop AI contingent.

First, the type of AI which is the one that does high school essay writing is easy to understand. These systems work as long as the subject matter clumps into piles of factoids which limit the craziness of the algorithms’ outputs. The topic “How to make a taco” is nailed down. The topic “How to decrypt Telegram’s encryption system” is not. Big brains can explain why the taco question is relatively hallucination free but not why the Telegram question generates useless drivel. I have, therefore, concluded, “Limited, narrow domain questions are okay for AI.”

Second, the current systems are presented as super wonderful. An example is the steady flow of PR about Google DeepMind’s contributions to biological science. Yet Google’s search system generates baloney. I think the different is that whacking away at proteins is a repetitive combinatorial problem. Calling the methods AI is similar to describing Daylight Chemical Information Systems a manifestation of the Oracle at Delphi is hogwash. PR erases important differences in critical lines of research. Does Google DeepMind feel shame? Let’s ask IBM Watson. That will be helpful. PR has a role; it is not AI.

Third, the desire for a silver bullet is deep-seated in many Peter Principle managers. These “leaders” of “leadership teams” don’t know what to do. Managing becomes figuring out risks. AI has legs, so let’s give that pony a chance to win the cart race. But pony cart races are trivial. The real races require winning three competitions. Few horses pull of that trick. I watch in wonder the launch, retreat, PR explanation, and next launch of some AI outfits. The focus seems to be on getting $20 per month. Degrading the service. Asking for more money. Then repeat.

The lack of AI innovation is becoming obvious. From the starter’s gun cracking in time with Microsoft’s AI announcement in January 2023 how much progress has been made?

We have the Salesforce financial report. We have the management craziness at OpenAI. We have Microsoft investing in or partnering with a number of technology outfits, including one in Paris. We have Google just doddering and fumbling. We have lawsuits. We have craziness like Adobe’s “owning” any image created with its software. We have start ups which bandy about the term “AI” like a shuttlecock at a high school in India badminton league. We have so many LinkedIn AI experts, I marvel that no one pins these baloney artists to a piece of white bread. We have the Dutch police emphasizing home-grown AI which helped make sense of the ANOM phone stings when the procedures are part of most policeware systems. Statistics, yes. AI, no. Clustering, yes. AI, no. Metadata assignment, yes. AI, no. The ANOM operation took place about 2017 to its shut down four years later. AI? Nope.

What does the lack of financial payoff and revenue generating AI solutions tell me? My answer to this question is:

  1. The cost of just using and letting prospects use an AI system are high. Due to the lack of a Triple Crown contender, no company has the horse or can afford the costs of getting the nag ready to race and keeping the animal from keeling over dead.
  2. The tangible results are tough to express. Despite the talk about reducing the costs of customer service, the cost of the AI system and the need to have humans ride herd on what the crazed cattle-like algorithms yield is not evident to me. The Salesforce experience is that AI cannot fix or make the Slack system generate oodles of cost savings or revenues from new, happy customers.
  3. The AI systems, particularly the services promoted via Product Hunt, are impossible for me to differentiate. Some do images, but the functions are similar. Some AI system do text things. Okay. But what’s new? Money is being spent to produce endless variations and me-too services. Fun for some. But boring and a waste of time to a dinobaby like me.

Net net: With economic problems growing in numerous sectors, those with money or a belief that garlic will kill Count Vampire, Baron of Revenue Loss are in for a surprise. Sorry. No software equivalent to Milton’s eternal, all-knowing, omnipotent God. I won’t tell the PR people. That Salesforce signal is meaningful.

Stephen E Arnold, June 10, 2024


Got something to say?

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta