Weekly Brief: Big Tech’s Chatbot War Has Begun

Weekly Brief: Big Tech’s Chatbot War Has Begun

about 1 year ago3 mins

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You could ask a chatbot to summarize the best tech news stories of the week, expertly weave a connecting thread through them, and wow you with a couple of mic-drop long-term projections at the end. But so far they’re still spitting out some garbage, so maybe the old-fashioned human route’s best for now.

🕰 Recap

  • More firms are joining the bot wars, with Baidu unveiling Ernie on Tuesday
  • Then on Wednesday, Uber – another firm with artificial intelligence (AI) ambitions – dropped off its latest tasty results
  • In the meantime, Disney’s first-quarter results (and not exactly mouse-sized cost cuts) sent a clear message to circling activists

✍️ Connecting The Dots

AI excitement reached fever pitch this week as major tech firms sent their bots out onto the field to initial rapturous shareholder applause. Microsoft and Google’s parent Alphabet have been spieling locker-room boasts about their own chatbots, and now Chinese giant Baidu’s Ernie has entered the competition. That’s just the starter round, mind you: there could be plenty of new challengers gearing up on the sidelines.

Now, Facebook-parent Meta has already spoken about its own AI work during a recent earnings conference call. But Apple and Amazon – both tipped to have AI projects waiting in the wings – have been conspicuously quiet on the subject. It’s probably only a matter of time before we hear more about their visions, but one thing’s for sure: if and when they do pull back the curtain, they’ll want to avoid Alphabet’s massive faux pas. The firm’s chatbot Bard gave an incorrect response to a question during a demo on Wednesday, sending its stock price plunging 8%. Lesson learned: focus more on the intelligent, and less on the artificial.

Bot mishaps aside, it’s clear that the AI race is underway. What’s less clear, though, is when it’ll all start to really matter. Big Tech’s dog and pony shows might’ve hyped up investors, but more non-tech industries will need to adopt AI for it to become a real moneymaker. Thing is, those firms tend to be more like tortoises than hares when it comes to adopting new technologies. So sure, AI might be huge – but the race will be a marathon, not a sprint.

🥡 Takeaways

1. My bot’s better than your bot.

Microsoft’s CEO Nadella hasn’t been pulling any punches lately, asserting that Google Search’s envy-inducing profit margin is all its to lose and Microsoft’s to win. He also said that while Google will want to show off its own robotic dance moves, he’s happy to be the one “making them dance”. But this new combative style could be a worrying signal: CEOs are usually calm and collected when asked about the competition, but something’s got Nadella rattled. Microsoft’s investors will be hoping it’s just genuine excitement, but there’s always the chance that it’s a distraction tactic to cover up cracks inside the firm’s walls.

2. This doesn’t end at tech.

AI-curious investors seem focused on the technology sector right now, which makes sense: it’s where the tech’s being cultivated, after all. But in the longer term, the technology could design and optimize machines in a whole host of industries. It could help consumer-facing companies conceive of the best and brightest products, for one. And just imagine how AI could aid drug discovery, say, and propel a number of healthcare firms to success. So thinking long and wide could reap some major returns in the future.

🎯 Also On Our Radar

The UK’s FTSE 100 index hit an all-time high on Wednesday – a pretty remarkable feat. See, the index might be made up of multinational firms that do a lot of business outside the UK, but they’re still Britain-based at the end of the day. And when you think about the litany of challenges the UK economy’s been up against, most investors probably wouldn’t have bet on the country’s index breaking records this year.

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