The Tech World Changed by Artificial Intelligence: An Arms Race for Google, Microsoft, the Office of the Vice President, and the White House
The tech world was changed by it. Microsoft’s $1 billion gamble on Open AI was a masterstroke. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, with early access to OpenAI’s advances, quickly integrated the technology behind ChatGPT into its Bing search engine and pledged billions more of investment to its maker. This sparked an arms race. In order to push out a search-based bot that it bragged about being slow on releasing, Google went into a frantic Code Red. Hundreds of millions or billions of dollars have been raised by competitors like Anthropic and Inflection. But no company benefited more than Nvidia, which built the chips that powered large language models. The tech had a bad balance of power.
Millions of people tried to figure out how to use this tool to improve their work. Many more simply played with it in wonder. I can’t remember how many times the journalists asked the company for comment on an issue and it dutifully responded. It is not easy to say what they were trying to prove. Maybe one day human content is going to be a novelty.
It was a shrieking wake-up call that a technology with impact on the scale of the internet was about to change our lives, perhaps most significantly. Barack Obama was eager to talk about artificial intelligence when he guesthosted an issue of WIRED in 2016: Governments in the U.S., Europe and even China were nervously watching the technology’s rise for years. There was an executive order from the Trump White House. All of it was a lot of talk. Politicians realized after the start of the revolution that scientific revolutions do not care much about bluster, and that this was a revolution of the first order. The White House and Congress needed to address certain issues in the last year, which included artificial intelligence regulation. Joe Biden’s own, expansive executive order seemed to reflect the sudden urgency, though it’s far from clear that it will change the course of events.
At first it looked unbelievable, but Henry Kissinger had died. The news agencies had been planning for the resignation of Nixon’s secretary of state for a long time. When people were getting the news via texts, it seemed even more unbelievable. Everything does now. The metaverse has a story about the man who told advertisers to fuck themselves at a time when X might use the money. Even intelligence is artificial.
This is perhaps why there is a premium on genuineness. On the real deal. Monday, Merriam-Webster announced its word of the year: authentic. Like Spotify Wrapped, the announcement is something of an internet holiday. Like Wrapped, 2023’s word has ties to Taylor Swift, who is one of the most-streamed artists on the platform. Beyond Swift, searches for authenticity were up on M-W because of stories and conversations about artificial intelligence, celebrity culture, identity and social media.
That last one is tricky. Social media has become a key source of misinformation, but it also acts as a news source. New research from the think tank Pew notes that news consumption on social media is on the rise in the US; 43 percent of TikTok users, for example, now say they get their news from the app, up from 22 percent in 2020. If Gen Z members rely on creators to give them information, they are more likely to be lied to. Remember the death of hip hop artist-turned-drug-trafficker, Lil Tay?
Hand-wringing about truth and “fake news” is as old as the 2016 US election, but as a new presidential election looms in America—another one in which Donald Trump seeks office—these discussions are only going to heat up. The New York Republican was indicted on charges that he made false statements. Musk, who controls one of the largest social media platforms, is giving QAnon conspiracy theorists hope, and it’s not even 2024 yet.
What’s worse, AI wasn’t nearly as capable in 2016 as it is now. It was not unusual for deepfake videos to leak through Meta’s fingers, but now that scores of generative Artificial Intelligence tools are available to almost anyone with an internet connection, it feels like it will soon be awash in manipulated text and images. It is not possible to develop good bullshit detectors when people are unaware of the potential of an artificial intelligence system because it is already two steps ahead.
You might have heard that Moore’s law is dead. Nvidia cofounder Jensen Huang made that pronouncement this time last year. The New Yorker declared that the company was “powering theAI revolution” a few days before the word of the year was announced. The US electorate will choose what truth it wants to live in, when new Taylor Swift videos, or Tom Hanks movies, are generated by his chips. Twelve months is a long time, but it feels like it’s soon.