Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on the rise of A.I.: 'The future we will invent is a choice we make'

  • Speaking in front of an audience at the VivaTech conference in Paris, Nadella said artificial intelligence (AI) is the "defining technology of our times."
  • "The future we will invent is a choice we make, not something that just happens," he stated Thursday at the event.
  • The Microsoft CEO was quick to cover topics like data privacy and cyberattacks in his speech.
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella
Saumya Khandelwal | Reuters
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave a philosophical response Thursday to the major challenges that are currently being faced by tech companies, underling the guiding principles that he and his firm follow.

Speaking in front of an audience at the VivaTech conference in Paris, he said artificial intelligence (AI) is the "defining technology of our times."

Rather than fear the rise of this technology, which could be something that transcends even human capability, Nadella said that his developers, and their rivals, follow a set of human values and principles that guide the choices they make.

"The future we will invent is a choice we make, not something that just happens," he said.

The Microsoft chief executive was quick to cover topics like data privacy and cyberattacks in his speech. He joined French President Emmanuel Macron Wednesday at a "Tech for Good" event alongside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, IBM's Virginia Rometty and Intel Corp's Brian Krzanich. The topic of privacy has made headlines this year with Facebook, in particular, engulfed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Nadella said the big tech had a "tremendous responsibility" that it had to scale, recognize and act upon.

"When we think about the responsibility, let's think about privacy, I mean on May 25 the world will change with GDPR — we will now have to operate recognizing that privacy is a human right," he said, name-checking new EU rules coming into effect on Friday.

"Just this week, we announced that the core subject data rights that are at the core of GDPR is something that we will take to every part of the world that we operate in," he added.

On security and cyberattacks, Nadella said it was the the citizens of the world and the small businesses that get most impacted.

"We have to as a tech industry — and governments — really step up to ensure that those vulnerable populations and organizations are protected."

The focus on privacy protection and a responsibility to do good was echoed by Cisco Systems Chief Executive Chuck Robbins, who called GDPR — the EU's General Data Protection Regulation — "exemplary," speaking to CNBC's Karen Tso at the same event.

"Everybody can debate details, but I think it's been a very positive process for us," said Robins, who heads the multinational technology conglomerate with more than 70,000 employees worldwide. "I applaud what's going on here and we're happy we're prepared for tomorrow."

The networking hardware and telecommunications equipment developer recently established a chief privacy issue specifically for that issue.

Robbins also pointed to AI as the sole tool with which companies can effectively counter today's security threats, stressing that there will be "no other way." Speaking about AI and algorithmic data processing, he said there will be "more and more of that, because that's the only way we're going to solve" the issue of cyber threats.

At the same time, he acknowledged the need for tech firms to hold themselves accountable for the power they hold.

"Every technology that you build, you have to step back and understand what's the responsibility that we have," Robbins said, stressing the need to act responsibly. But he added, "I think the reality is, as tech evolves so quickly, we're going to have to figure some of this stuff out as we go."