EVP and CTO Abhay Parasnis shares his perspective on the future of customer experiences. This is a revised transcript of Abhay’s conversation with Jeremy White, executive editor of Wired, at EMEA Summit.
When you started at Adobe you re-architected the cloud platform for the next 10 years to include AR, VR and voice. What technologies are coming right now? Where are we going?
First, it wasn’t just me setting the direction for the platform. It is an extremely fast-moving industry – there isn’t a single business that moves like the software industry. You simultaneously need to take a long view of massive tech shifts, and also be nimble and humble enough to constantly adapt. I’m excited about the AI shift – we are just scratching the surface. We will look back 10 years from now and see that software at large was having its own transformation. AI, for example, has the potential to completely change the daily lives of millions of people.
The notion of autonomous agents is another area where we are doing a lot of research. Can you build autonomous agents that will make you more effective in your daily job? The convergence of hardware and software and the convergence of chips, all of that is super powerful. What we are looking at is if we can push the IP and magic that we do closer to the chip level.
Does it surprise you how few companies are preparing for voice?
A broader category is natural interfaces – and voice is probably the single most underappreciated shift in technology right now – when a computer can recognise interactions with humans. Today they are still very primitive, you have to speak carefully, and it’s not conversational. We have something in our research labs we’re working on – the cognitive ability of computers to have a conversation. Once that clicks, the interaction capabilities are going to grow exponentially.
The mouse and click, and then touch to voice, is an even bigger transformation. People will be genuinely and pleasantly surprised by voice.
You recently launched Adobe Sensei – and have been developing AI since the pioneering days of Photoshop. What were you trying to do? Tell us the history.
What is unique about Adobe is that at our core, we are an engineering company. Can we build something that hasn’t been built before? And can it have a sustained impact? We had machine learning and AI before people were even talking about it – features like content-aware fill are based on some of the most sophisticated algorithms built many years ago. This is a testament to our engineering teams that we are looking 10–15 years out at solving a problem.
AR and VR further out – can you foresee a time when this will bring us back to creativity, not repetitive tasks?
At Adobe, we talk about the future of digital being analogue – the human joy of interacting with the physical world. Project Gemini spent six years in our research lab recreating the visceral effect of painting on a canvas, so the artist can still get that joy. What we are doing with digital technology is the cycle back to analogue. We use a phrase internally that our job with technology is augmenting and amplifying human creativity. We truly believe that algorithms will never replace the human ability to be creative.
How will expectations of the customer experience change?
We are constantly going to see a raising of the bar when it comes to consumer experience. State-of-the-art will be tables stakes. There is a new generation of users in China and India skipping entire generations of devices. Things are at a completely different level and trying to predict without getting into the minds of the next generation of users is a failed attempt. Voice will play a huge role.
What is your holy grail – if money and resources were no object – what would you do at Adobe? What do you want to achieve?
I’ll bring it back. At Adobe we genuinely believe that our mission is to change the world through digital experiences. One of our core beliefs is that every single person has a story to tell, and we are building tools that are truly democratised. What gets us going is: Can we imagine creative tools that allow every single person – regardless of geography or purpose – to tell their story to the world? That’s what we get up every single day thinking about.