As CTO of Adobe, Abhay Parasnis oversees the company’s technology strategy, and he’s betting big on narrow but deep AI.
Now that every business worth its stock price has moved to “the cloud,” creating massive technology winners like Salesforce, Amazon, and Google along the way, the technology industry finds itself searching once more for a metaphor that can drive its seemingly endless cycle of identifying and building the “next big thing.” And while it seems almost too obvious to identify artificial intelligence, or AI, as that next thing, Abhay Parasnis, CTO of Adobe, makes a strong case for why the received wisdom may yet prove true.
Famous for betting the company on the cloud five years ago (and winning big), Adobe is making an even bigger bet on a certain kind of AI — what Parasnis calls “narrow AI.” Adobe’s goal is to leverage narrow AI across its core suite of products in creativity, marketing services, and business services, in the process simplifying them and making them accessible to a magnitude of order more potential customers. Forget Terminator references, where a generalized AI takes over the world, Parasnis told me at the recent NewCo Shift Forum. Think instead of the magical world of Harry Potter (minus Voldemort, of course). Below is the video and full transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity.
John Battelle: It’s time to talk about the future of technology with the CTO of one of the largest technology companies in the world. Adobe has made an extraordinary transition, now a classic Harvard Business Review case, of how you transition from a packaged goods software company that shipped shrink-wrap software to a cloud company.
But we’ll discuss what’s beyond that, not just for that company, but for the entire technology industry. Please join me in welcoming Abhay Parasnis to the Shift Forum stage, CTO of Adobe. [applause]
Abhay Parasnis: Thank you. Great to be here.
I mentioned that transition, it was a remarkable pivot for a very large company. But it’s part of what feels like an ongoing cycle: I started covering technology when mainframes were out, and client-server architecture was the cool thing. Then client server was out because networked PCs were the cool thing. Then networked PCs became the Internet, and that was the cool thing. Then mobile, then the cloud.
It seems like we’ve been in the cloud long enough to say, “OK, what’s next?” We must have another cycle or we are going to run out of ideas here! Let me put that to you as a senior technologist in one of the largest companies in the Valley. What might be past the cloud?
First, on the transformation — just to tee up, thanks for all the kind words — that transition will probably bridge a little bit to what we see from both Adobe’s perspective, but more broadly from the industry standpoint as we look at what’s beyond the cloud.