SAN FRANCISCO — A Dreamforce keynote is always more of a production than a pure business presentation.
There’s usually a celebrity or two, some zany antics and high-minded ideas about making the world a better place.
All of those elements and a few surprises dropped into the Moscone Center yesterday as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff warmed up the crowd by invoking the latest innovations in the company’s services. As always, he made a firm push on the theme of customer service and keeping the Salesforce platform a lively home for customers and partners.
“That’s why we’re here and that’s what Dreamforce is all about,” he said. “The power is in our community and our customers.”
There was plenty of talk about Einstein, the artificial intelligence (AI) platform designed to help Salesforce products work smarter and more intuitively. Benioff also made sure to tout Salesforce's growth. The company will bring in $8.3 billion in revenue this year.
Salesforce has created a $389 billion impact on the US gross domestic product over four years and created another two million jobs.
Salesforce has a history of supporting philanthropic causes, and it made a point of highlighting more such efforts this year.
The 2016 edition of Dreamforce features the company’s partnership with (Red) and The Global Fund. Bill and Melinda Gates agreed to double-match all money raised for (Red) during the conference, and Benioff also pledged $1 million. Attendees are also encouraged to contribute and there’s a large booth with (Red) products for sale.
Benioff quoted Albert Einstein to emphasize the role of charity: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
The personification of Einstein as a zany cartoon may be silly, but Salesforce is tremendously serious about the role its Einstein solution will have as part of its overall platform. The keynote was less about the specifics of Einstein and more about how AI has become a mainstream technology.
Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris referenced the use of AI by numerous smartphone apps and services.
“AI is all around you and helping you every single day,” he said. “When you’re talking to Siri and asking ‘hey Siri, can I get an Uber?' that’s AI.”
Salesforce isn’t your usual tech show, as Benioff likes to bring in individuals from all walks of life.
One such featured guest was Will.i.am, who has invested heavily in philanthropy, particularly in the southern California neighborhood of Boyle Heights where he grew up. He argued for more investment in inner cities so children there can pursue the same type of dream that those from better backgrounds also share — getting excited about technology and its potential.
“There’s a tsunami every day in the hood,” he said. “A tsunami of crime, drugs, rape and kids getting recruited at an early age into the gangs because there’s nothing to do there. That gain is a family that sold a product to them: a product to survive.”
He said the alternative is creating access and leveling the playing field for students. He cited his own upbringing where he was able “bussed out to a great school.”
Many of the moments were less serious. Harris even summoned Einstein to the stage through a bit of cinematic magic.
That wasn’t the only bit of antics. During a presentation by Schneider Electric, the lights were killed in a mock power outage. The two hours of stage time was the ideal synopsis of the atmosphere that Salesforce sets up for Dreamforce: lots of celebration, antics and then a few drops of social activism.