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CloudWorld 23 - Larry Ellison’s Oracle AI vision extends well beyond the enterprise, it’s a vision for big world problems

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez September 19, 2023
Summary:
Ellison has a reputation for delivering an interesting keynote, but the past two years have felt very different for the Oracle co-founder and CTO. Generative AI is pushing Ellison’s vision beyond the four walls of the enterprise.

An image of Larry Ellison on stage at Oracle CloudWorld 2023
(Image taken by diginomica)

Larry Ellison’s keynote at CloudWorld 2023 built significantly on his healthcare vision from last year. Whilst 2022’s keynote was focused on the Cerner acquisition and Ellison’s ambition for national and global healthcare databases - which was grandiose in itself - this year went further and gave us a taste for how Oracle hopes it will play a role in a world dominated by AI. 

Ellison essentially spent the best part of an hour and a half tackling some of the world’s big problems - healthcare, security, agriculture. There were of course mentions of the enterprise and how organizations will take advantage of AI (particularly generative AI), but the overarching feeling from the session was an attempt to get people in the audience to understand the scale of what is coming our way - and what is possible. 

Now, of course, it’s worth stating that generative AI is in its infancy and there are huge challenges in its effective adoption (ownership of data, IP concerns, hallucinations, and the changing nature of jobs…to name a few). However, if we for a second buy into the idea that AI, and generative AI in particular, are going to have a big impact on businesses, sectors, economies and society - it’s worth taking note of what Ellison has to say. 

The impression is that Ellison is viewing Oracle’s technology foundations, which have been built up over the years and now consist of wide-scale cloud infrastructure, autonomous databases, and some of the world’s largest datasets, as being drivers of significant societal change over the coming years. Ellison said: 

Most cool tech does not get the attention of heads of state and heads of government. Everybody knows about generative AI. We’re concerned about the risks this new technology poses. Everybody wants to know what comes next. 

I’m going to start by telling you what I think comes next, which is a worldwide race to build what comes next. To build better AI and build a better future. It will have significant associated risks, but all new technologies can be misused. However, by and large technology has made our lives better. It has made human beings more prosperous and more comfortable. 

Is generative AI the most important new computer technology ever? Probably. One thing’s for certain, we’re about to find out, because countless billions of dollars are being invested in generative AI and Large Language Models. 

Ellison provided some imminent examples of how AI is going to bring innovation into the world, including self-driving cars and new therapeutic drugs that he claims are just around the corner. In terms of Oracle’s imminent input, he highlighted the vendor’s clinical voice digital assistant, which will allow a physician to say ‘Show me Larry Ellison’s X-rays and point me to any problems’, as opposed to a doctor having to find and analyze them themselves. 

The foundations are important

However, it’s worth pointing out that Ellison’s plans - which we will talk about in a minute - are theoretically only possible because of the vendor’s technology investments in recent years. He pointed to Oracle’s cloud and the speed at which the company can move and analyze data (Ellison said that “time is money” and cloud providers that can more quickly train models will have an advantage because of the scale of data required). 

Ellison also pointed to Oracle APEX, the company’s low-code platform, which is generating applications for the company. Ellison said that security becomes less of an issue, for instance, because human error will no longer be a factor. This is also the case for the company’s autonomous databases, which Ellison said all of Oracle’s relevant applications are now moving to. He said: 

If you don’t have human labor, yeah you save money, but you don’t have human error. The only way you can build a truly secure system is to eliminate human error. Automation is much more reliable, safer, more predictable. 

Ellison also said that most customers are not going to be building foundational Large Language models themselves - such as those provided by OpenAI, Cohere, or xAI. Instead, organizations should think of their own models as “graduates” that then go on to specialize in specific fields, such as medicine, law, etc. Ellison said organizations will by and large use the foundational models (the graduates) from other providers, and then take them off to college to learn what’s relevant to their field based on their organization’s own data. However, he said it’s important to note that using Oracle to do this means that the data remains private to your organization - a key concern for buyers. 

In essence, Ellison said that Oracle’s technology provides an economic solution to the world’s problems, because of the scale of the cloud, its ability to automate, and its ability to generate technology securely. In years gone by this would have been too expensive, the scale wouldn’t have been possible, and the manpower would have been prohibitive. 

The big picture

The best example Ellison gave of how these Oracle foundations can now attempt to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, builds on his vision for healthcare that we started to hear about last year. The example this year centered around Oracle’s Cloud Data Intelligence Platform, which Ellison said is a combination of Oracle Analytics and generative AI. 

The specific example he gave, which is being built upon Cerner technology, is of Oracle’s Public Health Data Intelligence Platform. Ellison said: 

I’m not sure there’s anything more important that we’re working on right now. We’ve unified national population scale health data. This is designed to take all of the EHR data for a country, for all the patients for a country, and put it together. All the diagnostic, laboratory data, everything, and put it into a single Oracle autonomous database for the entire population of a country. 

This pertains to what Ellison was talking about last year with national and global health databases, but we got a better idea today about what this could mean. Ellison added: 

When you do that, when you take all this health data and put it in one place, you get enormous benefits. The first benefit is that when you go to train the AI models, you have a thousand times more data than you used to have. You have all the data. 

Often for a drug the best data that you can obtain is during the clinical trial. But once the clinical trial is over, they don’t gather nearly as much data. This is like a clinical trial that goes on forever. We keep collecting all this data and then we use it to train models. The answers that we get from those models enable detailed, personalized medicine. 

You have this enormous wealth of data to help doctors make much better decisions about what therapeutics to give. And that will deliver better outcomes at much lower cost. The stakes are very positive in terms of human suffering, human life, and money. 

Definitely big picture, right? Ellison said that the cloud allows nations to do this at a cost that is acceptable and could mean that organizations now don’t have to choose whether or not they get rid of critical data held in images and scans, which has sometimes been the case. He added that he’d like to get to a place where it’s not just patient health data that’s being permanently stored, but also hospital inventory, which could be achieved through an IoT system that collects data from RFID tags. 

These are solutions that Oracle is working towards and it’s clear that Ellison believes Oracle has a role to play in fixing what is often a broken healthcare system for patients. A system that is facing increased pressure on a number of fronts and has been placed under scrutiny since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, it’s not just healthcare that Ellison pointed to, he also gave examples of how autonomous systems, cloud, robotics and generative AI could also be used in agriculture to reduce the amount of water and land mass required to grow crops and limit CO2 production. 

The key takeaway from Ellison’s keynote was that he believes that Oracle provides an economic solution to these big world problems, with data held in one place to utilize the forthcoming AI tools that will be hitting the market. 

My take

As ever with an Ellison keynote, there was so much detail that it’s hard to digest into one story - so we have attempted to provide you with the key message the Oracle co-founder was trying to convey. We will be diving into some of these topics, particularly the healthcare one, in more detail over the coming days. 

What’s evident is that Ellison believes Oracle has a role to play in not only the ‘AI revolution’, but the societal challenges that AI could potentially address. Now, it’s obvious that Oracle isn’t the only one vying for this role. But it’s incredibly interesting to me - having sat in a number of Ellison keynotes over the past decade - the change in tone from this company. We weren’t treated to the latest and greatest generative AI trends to hit sales and marketing, we were being sold a vision for how Oracle is going to fix healthcare. That’s significant and we should be paying attention. 

Whether or not Oracle can convince organizations and governments that it’s the right choice, remains to be seen. But what’s clear is that Ellison believes it has all the components to do this effectively - and as we know, Ellison’s not someone we should underestimate. There will be more to come from Oracle CloudWorld 2023, an event that is proving to be very interesting. V

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