This article is part of our special section on the DealBook Summit that included business and policy leaders from around the world.
For last week’s DealBook Summit in New York City, The New York Times invited leaders in an array of disciplines to gather together to talk about some of the most pressing challenges they see in their areas of expertise. The Times asked them similar questions in advance. Their answers have been edited and condensed.
On balance, do you believe humanity would be better off with or without A.I.? How do you navigate any doubt?
Rohit Prasad: Senior vice president and head scientist, artificial general intelligence, Amazon
Humanity always benefits from technological leaps forward and A.I. will be no different. Every day, different teams across Amazon are thinking about how to innovate with A.I. responsibly on behalf of our customers. Responsible deployment of rapidly improving A.I. for human interest and safety is paramount to get this right.
Michael Abramowitz: President, Freedom House
Advances in A.I. are supercharging censorship, surveillance and disinformation — but that doesn’t have to be the case. When designed and deployed safely and fairly, A.I. can help streamline democratic processes and support democracy’s defenders. We must ensure A.I. is a tool for democracy, not a weapon against it.
Annie Dorsen: Playwright
Tech companies present A.I. as a boon to innovation, but the reality is quite the opposite. Because A.I. works with statistical prediction, its outputs inevitably revert to mediocrity. When we outsource our thinking and imaginations to A.I., we are left with an impoverished culture: We lose out on the idiosyncratic, the unpredictable, the never-before-seen.
If you could turn the clock back (or forward) on A.I., would you? If so, where would you go?
Brando Benifei: Member, European Parliament
I would want to go forward in time to see if we will manage to develop a significant amount of international law and agreements around A.I.: As the technology advances, the risk of dangerous and even uncontrollable weaponization exists, and this cannot be tackled without global cooperation.
Lila Ibrahim: Chief operating officer, Google DeepMind
I’d go forward, to see how A.I. is helping tackle some of society’s most fundamental unsolved challenges, like disease and climate change. A.I. is an incredibly powerful tool that’s helping humanity unlock our understanding of the way the world works, to achieve breakthroughs that today we can only dream of.
Francesca Rossi: Fellow and A.I. ethics global leader, IBM; president, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
I would not turn the clock back or forward on A.I. because I believe our current time and reality is the most important to learn from A.I. and continue advancing it responsibly. We should all focus today on ensuring this technology continues to serve everyone safely and equally.
John Roese: President and global chief technology officer, Dell Technologies
I would turn time back a few years to reshape the data management ecosystem to focus on enabling GenAI [generative A.I., which includes chatbots such as ChatGPT] as the North Star. GenAI requires data that is organized and accessible to A.I. systems. That would have created focus and mobilized enterprises to move faster, with clarity today.
The Creator Economy
Do creators, brands or consumers hold the greatest power in the creator economy? Why?
Myisha Moore: Vice president, influencer marketing, Edelman
Creators are an authentic voice directly connected to consumers, which the brands want access to. Consumers determine the trends and the top products. Meanwhile, brands aim to seamlessly integrate into the chat without being overbearing or unnatural. Hence, they need the creator, which puts them at the top of the funnel.
Stephen J. Dubner: Co-author of “Freakonomics”; host, “Freakonomics Radio”
All of the above are winners, but I’d say brands (or, often, platforms) easily have the most power. Consumers get choice and value, but are subject to manipulation. Creators get access to an audience, but are easily co-opted. Brands and platforms write the rules, and if things go sideways, they get to rewrite them.
Eva Serrano: Global brand president, Calvin Klein
In the creator economy, each — creators, brands and consumers — yields influential power. Creators drive trends and engagement, brands wield resources and marketing prowess, while consumers steer demand and market shifts. Their interplay and mutual reliance define the ecosystem’s strength.
Sima Gandhi: Co-founder and chief executive, Creative Juice
Creators are disrupting the traditional commerce model by bypassing brand and advertiser conduits to get straight to consumers. However, creators still rely on brand spend to earn a living — advertising dollars make up about 80 percent of the creator economy. That means brands still hold power. As creators shift reliance on brand advertising to direct consumer dollars, the balance of power will also shift.
Dara Treseder: Chief marketing officer, Autodesk
While strong partnerships between creators and brands can guide the creator economy, it’s ultimately consumers who hold the greatest power. Their dollars define the outcomes for businesses and for the creators who partner with them. Any brand or creator that ignores or misjudges their audience will ultimately pay the price.
Marc D’Amelio: Co-founder and chief executive, D’Amelio Brands
Ultimately, consumers have the greatest power. Brands and creators have to do the work to best control their own destiny, but ultimately it’s the consumer that decides to support the brand, follow the creator or purchase the product.
The U.S. Economy
If you could change one thing about how the economy works, what would it be?
Glenn Hubbard: Professor, economics and finance, Columbia Business School
We need renewed emphasis on opportunity and economic participation for more Americans. With it can come mass flourishing. Without it comes greater social unrest and political dysfunction, threatening prosperity and democracy. Ingredients include support for work preparation and work’s wages, thoughtful consideration of technology’s effects on work’s future, realigning government budget priorities.
Isabella Weber: Associate professor, economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst
We need a new economic stabilization paradigm for our age of overlapping emergencies. More shocks are likely to come. It is neither feasible nor desirable to react to sectoral disruptions by macroeconomic tightening. Instead, we need disaster preparedness for systemically important areas like energy and food to increase economic resilience.
Bethany McLean: Contributing editor, Vanity Fair; co-author of “The Big Fail”
Free markets demand morality. Because markets move faster than laws, laws can only do so much. There are some things, such as the sale of destructive subprime mortgages or the looting of hospitals and nursing homes by private equity, to which society needs to say no.
Joe Nocera: Columnist, The Free Press; Co-author of “The Big Fail”
Nothing has damaged the economy more than the phrase “maximizing shareholder value.” It has given us scandals (Valeant) and disasters (Boeing 737 Max); exacerbated income inequality and caused too many C.E.O.s to obsess about their paycheck. We would be far better served if companies cared less about shareholders and more about customers and employees.
Martin Whittaker: Founding chief executive, JUST Capital
We need more people to believe American capitalism is working for them, not against them. With politics bereft of long-term vision and serving only to divide, the private sector must lead. An economy in which companies compete by creating value for all their stakeholders is a powerful uniting force.
What’s the hardest thing about working with entrepreneurs? What’s the most rewarding?
Rebecca Lynn: Co-founder and general partner, Canvas Ventures
[The hardest thing is] teaching them to say “no” to things. Sometimes founders have to hear “no” more as “not now.” They have a huge vision and they want to do it all — immediately. But the fastest way to kill a company is to do everything all at once. You have to walk before you can run. We are along for the whole ride, and we see the struggles and failures. So, when you see someone start from nothing and then make it big, it’s huge. You see all their hard work pay off and their family’s life change for the better. There’s nothing more rewarding.
Pegah Ebrahimi: Co-founder and managing partner, FPV Ventures
Getting to work with founders who have 100-year plans is incredibly rewarding, and our expertise lies in helping others understand their genius when it’s too early to grasp. When they succeed it’s like watching your kids grow up — it’s quite the journey.
As an entrepreneur, how do you handle fear of failure?
Dylan Field: Co-founder and chief executive, Figma
I learned early on in my career to not look at things in finite terms like “failure” or “success.” It’s far more productive, I’ve found, to approach things like products and companies as works in progress. It lowers the stakes and reframes setbacks as opportunities to learn and get better.
Kwame Onwuachi: Chef and owner, Tatiana
I handle the fear of failure at this stage by using fear as fuel. I actually have a tattoo based on that; literally, “fear is fuel” in an artistic expression! Fear is a natural emotion, and courage stands for pushing forward through something that is fearful, scary or intimidating. At this point in my career, if something isn’t scary, it’s not worth doing.
What’s the biggest challenge in public health, and how would you tackle it?
Tom Oxley: Founder and chief executive, Synchron
Providing equitable access to transformative innovations like brain computer interface technology. These advancements offer hope for millions of patients with severe paralysis who can’t communicate. The development of a simple, scalable device remains pivotal. Bridging this gap requires cross-industry collaboration, ethical considerations and clear regulatory frameworks sensitive to patients’ needs.
Newsha Ghaeli: Co-founder and president, Biobot Analytics
The biggest challenge is a lack of consistent government support and investment, especially during “peacetime” when there is no immediate crisis. To be better prepared for the next pandemic, governments around the world should treat public health with the same urgency and importance as national security.
Karen Nelson: Chief scientific officer, Thermo Fisher Scientific
There are several big challenges on a global scale including cancer, Alzheimer’s and chronic disease. The lack of health equity is a critical issue that compounds these other challenges. To address this, leveraging new, advanced and emerging technologies; fostering awareness; and increasing diverse representation in clinical studies is imperative. Diverse population involvement will unlock valuable insights for the development of more effective treatments and equitable health solutions.
Kris Brown: President, Brady
Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children in the United States, and eight children a day die from unsecured firearms. By changing America’s culture around guns, we can turn the tide on this uniquely American epidemic.
Eriona Hysolli: Head of biological sciences, Colossal Biosciences
The highest mortality rates come from diseases acquired as people age. There is an accumulation of somatic mutations and dysregulation of epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation in aged cells and tissues. Deploying genome editing tools that precisely edit both somatic mutations that modulate DNA methylation in a multiplexible fashion could potentially aid aged cells and tissues to regain vitality. These technologies that are currently being used to target monogenic diseases can in the future be leveraged to prevent or delay age-associated diseases.
As a worker, what is the single most important thing you expect from an employer? What do you offer in return?
Will Coleman: Co-founder and chief executive, Alto
I am not a “worker” but an “owner.” Ownership means I am incentivized to create value and am accountable to results. My team at Alto are owners, too, and should expect that we win together and fail together. No one is ever punished for failing as long as actions have positive intent.
Porter Braswell: Founder and chief executive, 2045 Studio
My formative professional experiences made me realize how important it is for employers to foster a sense of belonging to encourage upward mobility and retention, especially for employees of color.
Erica Smiley: Executive director, Jobs With Justice; co-author, “The Future We Need”
I expect employers to provide safe environments, where worker insights are valued as essential contributions. With mechanisms to genuinely listen to worker voices, this is how management truly works alongside workers — fostering not only a greater, more productive workplace, but a society that values everyone’s dignity, rights and contributions.
News and the Election
As another highly charged election approaches, what is your strategy for remaining objective — is that even a goal?
Ben Smith: Co-founder and editor in chief, Semafor
To not get too caught up in grand theories about the media’s world-historic role, and cover the story accurately and to include multiple perspectives.
Lesley Stahl: Correspondent, CBS News
Having a “strategy for remaining objective” implies I can’t rely on a natural inclination to be fair after all these years of practice. But there is a new treachery: that (in our politics) we can no longer rely on a shared reality. It seems that truth is no longer necessarily truth. I will have to be ever conscious (and respectful) of that.
Dana Canedy: Managing editor, Guardian US
It’s hard not to have strong views on the topics that will be top of mind for most Americans in the next election, such as abortion, the economy, immigration and foreign policy. But the job of every journalist is timeless: report and present the news accurately, fairly and without fear or favor. That will always be my focus.
Anna Wolfe: Reporter, Mississippi Today
I will write stories that help readers understand the world better, not simply those that elicit strong emotions. My goal is to provide answers to hard questions — the “why” behind what communities are experiencing. When politics enter my reporting, it will be in the context of accountability and solutions, not personalities.
V Spehar: News creator, Under the Desk News
Objectivity is reserved for the primaries, providing facts and letting the people choose. After that it’s respect for humanity and democracy versus authoritarianism. You can’t “both sides” that.
William Kristol: Editor at large, The Bulwark
I’m not sure what “remaining objective” really means in these circumstances, and in any case it’s not something I think I can do. I’m just going to try to tell the truth as I see it.
What makes you hopeful about the impact of your work? What discourages you?
Dustin Yellin: Founder and director, Pioneer Works
The transformative potential of accessible, multidisciplinary cultural experiences inspires hope. By breaking down silos and making culture universally accessible, we can foster diverse perspectives while transcending our differences. I am discouraged by the slow rate of progress. How can we forge a common understanding of our world to become a more harmonious, connected and open-minded species within our lifetime?
Jake Wood: Founder and chief executive, Groundswell
I’m hopeful about the pace of technological innovation combined with its rapidly declining price to drive social change across continents and usher in a new era of opportunity — but discouraged by the prospects of poor government and toxic politics.
La June Montgomery Tabron: President and chief executive, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Courageous leaders committed to working in solidarity across differences give me hope. The transformation of the systems and structures we need to ensure all children can thrive must be rooted in a DNA-level understanding of solidarity.
Ken Oliver: Executive director, Checkr Foundation
What gives me hope is having business leaders calling me every week wanting to learn about fair-chance hiring — every conversation a pathway to life-changing possibilities for people. The bubbling narrative against D.E.I. [diversity, equity and inclusion] is discouraging — that we have to continue to fight for a more inclusive society inside corporate America that reflects the social fabric of America.
What mobility challenge keeps you up at night and why?
David Risher: Chief executive, Lyft
Getting people out of their houses and together with one another. Technology makes it almost too easy to stay at home. As the surgeon general has said, “social connection is a fundamental human need, as essential to survival as food, water and shelter.” So, what can we do to bring people together more?
Cynthia Williams: Global director of sustainability, homologation and compliance, Ford
Transitioning to zero-emissions solutions, quickly. It will take all sectors participating. We need governments to harmonize environmental requirements; we need one framework to drive a resilient grid faster; we need to grow the infrastructure and educate the consumers on the benefits of zero-emissions vehicles.
What advice would you give President Biden on the United States’ relationship with China?
Jing Tsu: Professor, East Asia studies, Yale; 2023 Pulitzer finalist
China is still evolving and experimenting, and its future is its people. The U.S. should build on long-term expertise beyond the national security lens to gain a wider context for gauging how the Chinese think and the diverse ways in which they feel and relate to the world.
Rana Mitter: Professor and S.T. Lee chair, U.S.-Asia relations, Harvard
The U.S. needs to improve its knowledge base on China. One of the best ways to do this is to get more students to study in China — learn the language, understand the politics and history, and become an expert on the challenges that are emerging from the world’s newest superpower.
Dan Wang: Visiting scholar, Paul Tsai China Center, Yale
The U.S. is in a protracted and multidimensional contest with China. Headlines today are focused on China’s overwhelming challenges, but this sentiment has flipped before and can again. What will not change is that China is a manufacturing superpower that still has plenty of growth potential it can tap into. To meet this challenge, President Biden has to strengthen America’s ability to build the future, from basic infrastructure to advanced technologies.
Wendy Cutler: Vice president and managing director, Asia Society Policy Institute
We must recognize that we are in the long haul in relationship with China, requiring Washington to be strategic in its approach. We need to “pick our battles” with China. While we have disagreements with China across a wide range of security, economic, ideological and human rights issues, it’s important to prioritize those matters that have the greatest impact on the U.S., China, the region and the world, and those where our actions and words can influence outcomes.
Desmond Shum: Investor and author, “Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption and Vengeance in Today’s China”
While it’s not possible to change the adversary nature of the relationship, the U.S. can look to extract concessions from Xi [Jinping, the Chinese leader]. I would suggest Biden to demand immediate market access to China for exports in swing states and cooperation on U.S. initiatives regarding Ukraine and Israel. In exchange, the U.S. would stand still on new economic sanctions and tech control measures in the coming year. This would be a moratorium on the intensive rivalry of the past years for political expediency.