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1997: Speaker Lou Gerstner

IBM’s Gerstner: Computers Realize Human Dreams

By Kimberly Griffing
Posted May 19, 1997

Louis V. Gerstner Jr., chairman and chief executive officer with International Business Machines Corp., told the 1997 graduating class from Wake Forest University today that computer technology is a vehicle for human ingenuity.

“Computers are magnificent tools for the realization of our dreams, but they will never replace the dreamers. No machine can replace the human spark — spirit, compassion, love, and understanding,” said Gerstner to the 1,348 undergraduate and graduate students who received their diplomas during the commencement ceremony.

“A word processor might have made it easier to write the Declaration of Independence, but it required the genius of Thomas Jefferson to capture the American cause. Sophisticated technology made possible the triumph of the moon landing. It did not instill in us the dream to go there.”

Deep Blue, which defeated chess master Garry Kasparov, teaches us what’s possible through the brute power of massive processing, Gerstner said.

“If people can apply sheer computational mass to certain herculean tasks, why not? But we must never lose sight of the fact that what the machine can do and what people can do — are not the same.”

Even computers powerful enough to process 200 million possible brush strokes or scan 200 million notes per second, Gerstner said, will never be able to paint a Monet, compose a Beethoven symphony or write with the eloquence of Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou.

“Let us use this powerful, amazing technology to help us with the problems it can solve. But let us as a people choose the problems we must solve. … No matter where you go from here, no matter what you do next, don’t stop discovering. Don’t stop learning.”