Illustration by TIME; reference image courtesy of Clara Shih

If generative AI is going to revolutionize the future of work, Salesforce’s Clara Shih will almost certainly be among those leading the charge.

Shih, as CEO of the cloud computing giant’s AI division, drives its efforts to help companies use new AI technology, while minimizing the risks of doing so. Those risks aren’t trivial: not only do off-the-shelf tools like ChatGPT sometimes make things up, but unless users opt out, OpenAI can use the data that people put into ChatGPT to train its own models. “People understand that there’s tremendous upside, and that businesses will be transformed by AI,” Shih says, but adds, “The first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is how do I use generative AI safely?”

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Shih’s task is to prove Salesforce—a company whose customer relationship management technology is already used by 150,000 corporate customers—can do for AI what it already did for the cloud. Storing customer data anywhere other than on company-owned hardware was “kind of a crazy idea” until Salesforce convinced companies there was a secure way to do it, Shih says. “What we’re doing now with generative AI, it’s just a continuum,” she adds. (Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is the owner and co-chair of TIME.)

This is Shih’s second stint at Salesforce. She first began at the company in 2006, when she led the team building its app platform. She left in 2009 and started her own business, Hearsay Systems, which helps financial-services and insurance companies use social media in a compliant way. Now Hearsay’s chair, Shih said her experience as a business owner has helped inform her understanding of what clients need since her return to Salesforce in 2020. The company has developed AI products that, for instance, automatically mask sensitive information in users’ prompts, and prevent prompts from being retained to train AI models later. These safeguards are built into products that can automatically draft sales emails, and another that can generate summaries of customer interactions.

While Salesforce is developing its own models, it’s also partnering with existing companies, including OpenAI, and investing in a slew of AI startups, from Anthropic to Hugging Face. Building up the AI ecosystem will benefit Salesforce customers, Shih says. “There’s space in the market for multiple models, and there’s going to be different models that are right for different tasks at different price points,” she says.

Shih remains “cautiously optimistic” about the impact all of this technology will have on jobs. She views AI not as a replacement for workers, but as a way to take some of the load off. “There’s no business or team where people feel like they don’t have enough to do,” Shih says. “There’s no shortage of undone tasks.”

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