SAN FRANCISCO — Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff is practically a folk hero in the global tech community. He has earned his reputation innovating new technology, questioning the status quo and lobbying for societal change. (And, maybe even, squabbling with competitors now and then).

This week, his company's user conference, Dreamforce, is forecasted to bring as many as 170,000 of his followers to town. Benioff will, in turn, deliver first time experiences to many attendees.

Innovation on the Conference Floor

Many of the public restrooms at the conference, for example, are gender neutral. 

Buddhist monks associated with Vietnamese Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Han, have reportedly been flown in from France to lead walking meditations. 

Pop culture icons like Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, rapper and super model Christy Turlington Burns will be there, too. 

To call the conference unique is an understatement.

So How Innovative Is Einstein?

And though the technology introduced at Dreamforce will be innovative and edgy as well, some of it has been pre-announced and has already written about here at CMSWire and elsewhere, so it may not be quite as eye-popping or disruptive as Benioff might like it to seem.

Take Salesforce Einstein, the company's new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, for example. 

Salesforce officially unveiled it last month, on a Sunday evening, just before rival Oracle’s OpenWorld conference began. It is hard to imagine that Benioff was doing anything other than trying to preempt Oracle's debut of its own AI-type technology Adaptive Intelligence Applications.

Not a bad move, perhaps, because Benioff probably would not have wanted to stay mum the following week either as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave a visionary;AI-centric keynote address at Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta or during IBM's unveiling of Watson-powered DataWorks at an off-site event during Strata & Hadoop World in New York City the following day.

AI for Everyone

Step it back a little further to last July, that is when OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea made grand claims about his company's forthcoming AI predictive analytics engine Magellan. Take it back still another month, that’s when Salesforce competitor Sugar CRM  introduced its brand of Intelligent CRM which is being designed to leverage the company's Sugar Intelligence Service, combining data from best-in-class external sources with company CRM data to provide a comprehensive view of the customer.

With all of that AI activity, how can Salesforce stand out? How is it actually different from everything else?

Constellation Research AI overview

It's too soon to tell, Constellation Research vice president and senior analyst Holger Mueller told CMSWire. "Keep in mind what Benioff talks about happens two years later," he explained, noting that if Salesforce's typical pattern continues, Einstein won't yet be ready at next year's Dreamforce either.

'Conceptual, Working Prototype'

Constellation Research founder R."Ray" Wang more or less, agreed.

"Einstein is now where Chatter was when it launched (2010). A conceptual, working prototype. The technology is there but the software will need to be completed by a future release date," he told CMSWire.

The technology Wang was referring to includes Salesforce acquired products like RelateIQ, which combines CRM with data science; smart calendar app Tempo AI; MinHash, which offers assistive intelligence and data science for enterprises; PredictionIO for machine learning, MetaMind for deep learning, and yesterday's acquisition of data management platform (DPM) Krux.

Wang also noted that Salesforce is far from alone in talking big about something that it hasn't finished building. Everyone wants to talk about their AI products it seems, even though, in some cases, they are merely ideas.

"As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to move from the summer of hype to the fall tech conference news cycle, mass confusion has begun on what AI can be used for," said Wang., noting that it ranges "from fears of Skynet to hopes for the computer in Star Trek and Jarvis in Iron Man. The value will come from defining the proper outcomes he said.

AI = $1B by 2025

But don't dismiss AI as a fad he warned, predicting its market size to be $100 billion by 2025. Constellation sees the AI subsets of machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and cognitive computing taking the market by storm," he explained.

Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky noted that there might be something really special about Einstein though.

"What I like about what Salesforce is doing is that they are not pitching Einstein as yet another product, but instead they are talking about adding a layer of assistance to their products," he told CMSWire, adding that in presentations he has seen, the CRM company has done a good job at defining the benefits vs. just talking about the technology.

That being said, Lepofsky isn't completely sold yet.

"What is unclear is the strength, quality, accuracy and scalability of Salesforce's AI, compared to IBM Watson, Microsoft Cognitive Services, Google AI platform and so on," said Lepofsky.

Title image by Lacie Slezak