Microsoft's Satya Nadella tells Wharton how hubris brings down empires from Greece to Silicon Valley

Erin Arvedlund, on

Published in Business News

Nadella: From ancient Greece to modern Silicon Valley, the one thing that has brought down empires is hubris. So I approach it as confidence, but understand confidence with humility.

Grant: What's the role for A.I.?

Nadella: What's fascinating to watch when we launched Window 10 is eye-gaze. That's an input for someone who has ALS. They can type with their eyes. Learning tools can give dyslexic kids the ability to comprehend and read. A.I. can read tumors while doctors spend more time with patients. A.I. can help humans. That said, we should be clear-eyed about displacement. What are all the new jobs created?

Grant: Elon Musk -- a famous Wharton alum -- scares a lot of people, if A.I. lacks human ethics and goes off the rails. What do you say?

Nadella: The debate on AGI, when artificial general intelligence happens, let's leave that aside; let's not abdicate out control of how things are shaped. It's a design choice; start with people building the app. How do decisions get made? We should in fact -- like for user interface, we should have good guidelines. ... You have to have processes to ensure there aren't unintended consequences. Design for empowering humans.

Grant: Now the audience questions. What was your favorite class in college?

Nadella: My favorite class in middle school or high school was poetry, which is related to my love of computer science. Poetry, I learned about compression, expression, the abstract is so beautiful.

Grant: Why do you wake up so early?

Nadella: I wake up at 5 or 5:30 ... why? Because I got to get my run in before I go to work.

Grant: As CEO, you invited Bill Gates back into the company. A lot of people would have been terrified to do that. What's it like to work with him?


Nadella: For me, it's super important. A founder has a status in the company that can't be replicated. No one goes to Bill and has an average day. You prepare. He draws the best from folks. That's invaluable, even for me. He calls it as it is. That intellectual honesty is rare. He pushes me and sets high standards.

Grant: Your work-life balance. What's the challenge like with a special-needs child and a commute to Vancouver?

Nadella: I wish I had a formula. It's quality of time. How much time do you spend with your kids and you're not reaching for your phone?

Grant: Do you unplug from technology?

Nadella: I read before going to bed -- analog. No screens makes a real difference.


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