AI’s Marketing Push Gets An Assist from Congress

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI’s Marketing Push Gets An Assist from Congress
Sam Altman

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week about the promise and the potential drawbacks of AI, addressing concerns from lawmakers about whether the technology needs regulation and just what exactly that regulation might look like.

Senators expressed some common fears about AI. As a demonstration of how AI tools can already be used to create and spread misinformation, Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal opened the hearing with a fake recording of his own voice. Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan agreed, noting that AI “is a work in progress” and that “regulations can be incredibly important, but they have to be smart.” Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee – the heart of the country music industry – asked specifically about AI tools that draw on the previously published work of artists, singers, and songwriters. (Altman responded by pledging to work with artists on issues around rights and compensation.)

In fact, all parties present seemed to largely agree, at least in terms of these generalities, that AI needs a closer look. Altman, for his part, also noted the importance of regulation moving forward to determine just how these powerful AI tools will be developed and employed.

In his opening remarks, Altman referred to AI as a “printing press moment” that could potentially alter the course of world history, while suggesting that “regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models.” It may seem counter-intuitive for the CEO of a major AI company to support the idea of government regulation and intervention. (Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durban called a company coming to Congress to ask for regulation “historic.”) Still, there are several potential explanations for Altman’s point-of-view.

Most obviously (and least cynically), it’s possible he simply agrees that there are a lot of potential downsides to this technology. In recent interviews, Altman has suggested he agrees with other tech leaders – such as his former OpenAI co-founder Elon Musk – that “moving with caution and an increasing rigor for safety issues is really important.” In March, he told CNBC that he’s “a little bit scared” of AI. On Monday night, at a dinner with around 60 lawmakers in Washington, Altman reportedly expanded on this thought, telling them “my worst fear is we cause significant harm to the world.” Perhaps he’s simply voicing his real concerns, as an expert in AI technology.

It’s also possible that Altman just doesn’t believe there’s that much that the US government could really do to hold up AI development at this point, so there’s no reason not to be friendly and ingratiating. First off, this is very complex, cutting-edge technology that most lawmakers don’t fully understand. With new and more powerful tools being developed each day, all over the world, governments may ultimately find they’re better able to regulate AI applications and tools than the technology’s innate development. (The European Union is considering regulations that would apply to certain uses for AI, such as facial recognition, and would also ask companies to conduct their own internal risk assessments.) Most experts agree that real, effective regulation would require its own government agency, staffed with AI experts, which would take some serious time to mandate, organize, and establish.

Altman has also been very careful and studious in how he discusses AI publicly, from a marketing and public relations perspective. Insisting that AI is developing so quickly that it requires our political leaders to step in and thereby save the world once again reinforces the idea that this is groundbreaking software that’s already shifting the world around us. It’s a sales pitch as well as a warning that reinforces the same central theme: this is world-shifting technology that everyone needs to learn about, utilize, and get on board with today or risk being left behind.

Of course, these are also tropes the press is only too happy to pick up on and run with. “Will robots take over your job and/or the world” is a compelling and clickable headline, and with interest in AI already peaking among the public, it’s an easy way to score traffic. It’s unsurprising that the most viral tech phenomenon since “Pokémon Go” is getting a lot of press, particularly when the focus is on Doomsday scenarios.

Plus, by asking Congress to intervene and help regulate AI, Altman presents himself as a responsible steward for the technology with the public’s best interests at heart. When he specifically proposed a potential government agency to set rules around developing AI systems, Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana suggested that Altman would potentially be the right person to run it himself. So the narrative is already, in some way, taking hold.

To take an even more cynical tack, OpenAI and its products – including DALL-E and the ChatGPT-4 chatbot – are already considered industry leaders. At this point, hitting the brakes on new AI development could potentially help developers that already have a locked-in “first mover” advantage. Potentially slowing everyone down is a much bigger risk if you’re trailing at the tail end of the pack, instead of already being in first place.

Regardless of the specific strategizing behind Altman’s approach, it was undeniably effective in generating positive buzz and press from the hearings. While Congressional tech hearings can frequently be antagonistic – as we’ve recently seen with appearances by leaders from Google, Meta, and TikTokAltman emerged from his meeting with Senators “unscathed,” enjoying what Axios referred to as a “honeymoon phase” with lawmakers.

Whether the company can maintain that kind of warm relationship with Washington moving forward – particularly if tools like ChatGPT, DALL-E or others really do start influencing elections costing millions of Americans their livelihood – remains to be seen.

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Creandum’s Carl Fritjofsson on the Differences Between the Startup Ecosystem in Europe and the U.S.

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Carl Fritjofsson
Carl Fritjofsson

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Creandum General Partner Carl Fritjofsson talks about his venture journey, why Generative-AI represents an opportunity to rethink products from the ground up, and why Q4 2023 and Q1 2024 could be "pretty bloody" for startups.

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AI Is Rapidly Advancing, but the Question Is, Can We Keep Up?

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI Is Rapidly Advancing, but the Question Is, Can We Keep Up?
Evan Xie

One way to measure just how white-hot AI development has become: the world is running out of the advanced graphics chips necessary to power AI programs. While Intel central processing units were once the most sought-after industry leaders, advanced graphics chips like Nvidia’s are designed to run multiple computations simultaneously, a baseline necessity for many AI models.

An early version of ChatGPT required around 10,000 graphics chips to run. By some estimates, newer updates require 3-5 times that amount of processing power. As a result of this skyrocketing demand, shares of Nvidia have jumped 165% so far this year.

Building on this momentum, this week, Nvidia revealed a line-up of new AI-related projects including an Israeli supercomputer project and a platform utilizing AI to help video game developers. For smaller companies and startups, however, getting access to the vital underlying technology that powers AI development is already becoming less about meritocracy and more about “who you know.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk scooped up a valuable share of server space from Oracle this year before anyone else got a crack at it for his new OpenAI rival, X.AI.

The massive demand for Nvidia-style chips has also created a lucrative secondary market, where smaller companies and startups are often outbid by larger and more established rivals. One startup founder compares the fevered crush of the current chip marketplace to toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. For those companies that don’t get access to the most powerful chips or enough server space in the cloud, often the only remaining option is to simplify their AI models, so they can run more efficiently.

Beyond just the design of new AI products, we’re also at a key moment for users and consumers, who are still figuring out what sorts of applications are ideal for AI and which ones are less effective, or potentially even unethical or dangerous. There’s now mounting evidence that the hype around some of these AI tools is reaching a lot further than the warnings about its drawbacks.

JP Morgan Chase is training a new AI chatbot to help customers choose financial securities and stocks, known as IndexGPT. For now, they insist that it’s purely supplemental, designed to advise and not replace money managers, but it may just be a matter of time before job losses begin to hit financial planners along with everyone else.

A lawyer in New York just this week was busted by a judge for using ChatGPT as part of his background research. When questioned by the judge, lawyer Peter LoDuco revealed that he’d farmed out some research to a colleague, Steven A. Schwartz, who had consulted with ChatGPT on the case. Schwartz was apparently unaware that the AI chatbot was able to lie – transcripts even show him questioning ChatGPT’s responses and the bot assuring him that these were, in fact, real cases and citations.

New research by Marucie Jakesch, a doctoral student from Cornell University, suggests that even users who are more aware than Schwartz about how AI works and its limitations may still be impacted in subtle and subconscious ways by its output.

Not to mention, according to data from, high school and college students already – on the whole – prefer utilizing ChatGPT for help with schoolwork over a human tutor. The survey also notes that advanced students tend to report getting more out of using ChatGPT-type programs than beginners, likely because they have more baseline knowledge and can construct better and more informative prompts.

But therein lies the big drawback to using ChatGPT and other AI tools for education. At least so far, they’re reliant on the end user writing good prompts and having some sense about how to organize a lesson plan for themselves. Human tutors, on the other hand, have a lot of personal experience in these kinds of areas. Someone who instructs others in foreign languages professionally probably has a good inherent sense of when you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary vs. drilling certain kinds of verb and tense conjugations. They’ve helped many other students prepare for tests, quizzes, and real-world challenges, while computer software can only guess at what kinds of scenarios its proteges will face.

A recent Forbes editorial by academic Thomas Davenport suggests that, while AI is getting all the hype right now, other forms of computing or machine learning are still going to be more effective for a lot of basic tasks. From a marketing perspective in 2023, it’s helpful for a tech company to throw the “AI” brand around, but it’s not magically going to be the answer for every problem.

Davenport points to a similar (if smaller) whirlwind of excitement around IBM’s “Watson” in the early 2010s, when it was famously able to take out human “Jeopardy!’ champions. It turns out, Watson was a general knowledge engine, really best suited for jobs like playing “Jeopardy.” But after the software gained celebrity status, people tried to use it for all sorts of advanced applications, like designing cancer drugs or providing investment advice. Today, few people turn to Watson for these kinds of solutions. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. In that same way, Davenport suggests that generative AI is in danger of being misapplied.

While the industry and end users both race to solve the AI puzzle in real time, governments are also feeling pressure to step in and potentially regulate the AI industry. This is much easier said than done, though, as politicians face the same kinds of questions and uncertainty as everyone else.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been calling for governments to begin regulating AI, but just this week, he suggested that the company might pull out of the European Union entirely if the regulations were too onerous. Specifically, Altman worries that attempts to narrow what kinds of data can be used to train AI systems – specifically blocking copyrighted material – might well prove impossible. “If we can comply, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll cease operating,” Altman told Time. “We will try, but there are technical limits to what’s possible.” (Altman has already started walking this threat back, suggesting he has no immediate plans to exit the EU.)

In the US, The White House has been working on a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” but it’s non-binding, just a collection of largely vague suggestions. It’s one thing to agree “consumers shouldn’t face discrimination from an algorithm” and “everyone should be protected from abusive data practices and have agency over how their data is used.” But enforcement is an entirely different animal. A lot of these issues already exist in tech, and are much larger than AI, and the US government already doesn’t do much about them.

Additionally, it’s possible AI regulations won’t work well at all if they aren’t global. Even if you set some policies and get an entire nation’s government to agree, how to set similar worldwide protocols? What if US and Europe agree but India doesn’t? Everyone around the world accesses roughly the same internet, so without any kind of international standard, it’s going to be much harder for individual nations to enforce specific rules. As with so many other AI developments, there’s inherent danger in patchwork regulations; it could allow some companies, or regions, or players to move forward while others are unfairly or ineffectively stymied or held back.

The same kinds of socio-economic concerns around AI that we have nationally – some sectors of the work force left behind, the wealthiest and most established players coming in to the new market with massive advantages, the rapid spread of misinformation – are all, in actuality, global concerns. Just as the hegemony of Microsoft and Google threaten the ability of new players to enter the AI space, the West’s early dominance of AI tech threatens to push out companies and innovations from emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Central America. Left unfettered, AI could potentially deepen social, economic, and digital divisions both within and between all of these societies.

Undaunted, some governments aren’t waiting around for these tools to develop any further before they start attempting to regulate them. New York City has already set up some rules about how AI can be used during the hiring process while will take effect in July. The law requires any company using AI software in hiring to notify candidates that it’s being used, and to have independent auditors check the system annually for bias.

This sort of piecemeal figure-it-out-as-we-go approach is probably what’s going to be necessary, at least short-term, as AI development shows zero signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Though there’s some disagreement among experts, most analysts agree with Wharton professor and economist Jeremy Siegel, who told CNBC this week that AI is not yet a bubble. He pointed to the Nvidia earnings as a sign the market remains healthy and not overly frothy. So, at least for now, the feverish excitement around AI is not going to burst like a late ‘90s startup stock. The world needs to prepare as if this technology is going to be with us for a while.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe took to Instagram last weekend to answer questions from the public about his company and its future. Topics covered included new colors, sustainability, production ramp, new products and features. Speaking of which, viewers also got a first look at the company’s much-anticipated R2 platform, albeit made of clay and covered by a sheet, but hey, that’s…something. If you don’t want to watch the whole 33 minute video, which is now also on Youtube, we’ve got the highlights for you.

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