A.I. takes center stage on the Hill
As the C.E.O. of OpenAI, Sam Altman has become one of the most prominent evangelists for the next generation of artificial intelligence offerings. ChatGPT, his company’s most notable product, has captured the public’s imagination like no tech product has in years, inspiring hopes and fears about its transformative powers.
As Mr. Altman prepares to testify before a Senate judiciary subcommittee today, his first appearance before Congress, expect plenty of questions about how his company and its rivals are rushing to create a new generation of technologies — and how they should be regulated.
Washington is racing to figure out A.I.:
Lawmakers in both parties have stressed the importance of reining in the rapidly growing technology, which can now generate realistic-sounding text and images and computer code. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said he was working on legislation that would address the risks that artificial intelligence poses while allowing innovation to flourish.
This month, Vice President Kamala Harris met with top A.I. executives, including Mr. Altman, as the Biden administration said it supported legislative efforts to create new rules and government investment.
Enforcement agencies are also staying vigilant: Lina Khan, the F.T.C.’s chair, warned recently of potential anticompetitive practices by tech giants pursuing A.I., as well as of potential fraud enabled by new products.
Mr. Altman has been frank about the potential dangers of A.I. “It’d be crazy not to be a little bit afraid, and I empathize with people who are a lot afraid,” he said in March. “The current worries that I have are that there are going to be disinformation problems or economic shocks, or something else at a level far beyond anything we’re prepared for.” He’s expected to say in his testimony that “the regulation of A.I. is essential.”
It’s an acknowledgment both that A.I. is growing by leaps and bounds — Microsoft researchers recently published a paper asserting that its technology has shown signs of human reasoning — and that it had worried some pioneers in the field.
It’s also a politically wise approach, potentially winning over nervous lawmakers — whose concerns include job losses and falling behind China — and helping steer forthcoming legislation away from cracking down on the fast-growing industry.
The stakes are high. Lawmakers have acknowledged that they must strike a delicate balance in constraining tech companies while allowing them to innovate.
Gary Marcus, an emeritus professor of psychology and neural science at N.Y.U. who is also testifying today, put it this way to DealBook: “My greatest concern is that we will miss this moment and let the shape of the A.I. landscape be formed by a bunch of short-term interests that we come to regret later.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Home Depot reports disappointing sales. Shares in the retail giant fell in premarket trading today after it badly missed analyst expectations and lowered its full-year revenue forecasts. The cause? Consumers are holding off on big projects and buying fewer expensive items like outdoor furniture.
Silicon Valley Bank’s former C.E.O. speaks. Greg Becker is expected to testify at a Senate hearing today about his regret over the lender’s collapse — and lay blame on Fed regulators and on “rumors and misconceptions” spread online that he says led to a ruinous bank run. Lawmakers will most likely press him about his close ties to the San Francisco Fed.
The E.U. approves Microsoft’s $69 billion bid for Activision Blizzard. Antitrust officials in Brussels said that pledges to make top Activision titles available on rival video game platforms would maintain competition. The decision breaks from efforts by American and British regulators who are seeking to block the deal.
Warren Buffett’s conglomerate bets big on Capital One. Berkshire Hathaway disclosed yesterday that it had acquired a $954 million stake in the credit card issuer last quarter. But Mr. Buffett’s investment vehicle was a net seller of stocks, reducing its stake in Chevron and selling off all of its shares in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.
Wells Fargo settles a class-action lawsuit for $1 billion. The payment is the latest stemming from a huge yearslong fraud in which representatives opened sham customer accounts to bolster their sales goals. In this case, plaintiffs had argued that Wells Fargo had overstated its progress in fixing unlawful practices.
Elon Musk is drawn into the Jeffrey Epstein mess
The ever-expanding Jeffrey Epstein legal affair has ensnared yet another prominent corporate titan: Elon Musk.
The U.S. Virgin Islands revealed in court documents yesterday that it had sought to subpoena the Tesla and Twitter chief over his ties to JPMorgan Chase, the bank it has accused of helping facilitate Mr. Epstein’s sex trafficking of young women.
U.S. Virgin Islands prosecutors said Epstein may have referred Musk to JPMorgan. Musk isn’t alone: The prosecutors have also sought to question the Google co-founder Sergey Brin, the Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz and the real estate billionaire Mort Zuckerman.
But Mr. Musk dismissed the Virgin Islands’ claim as “idiotic on so many levels,” tweeting that he never sought out that “cretin,” Mr. Epstein, for financial advice. The billionaire also had harsh words for JPMorgan, asserting that the bank “let Tesla down ten years ago, despite having Tesla’s global commercial banking business, which we then withdrew.” He added for good measure, “I have never forgiven them.”
Mr. Musk suffered a separate legal setback yesterday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit threw out his bid to end an S.E.C. consent decree requiring a Tesla lawyer to review any of his tweets related to the company. That guardrail was put in place in 2018 after Mr. Musk tweeted that he had secured money to take the carmaker private, a move that invited S.E.C. action and shareholder lawsuits.
Neither the agency’s requirement nor yesterday’s ruling has deterred Musk from posting inflammatory tweets on other matters, including his comments yesterday likening George Soros to Magneto, the longtime comic-book villain (who is actually less of a villain these days, but we digress).
Mr. Musk is likely to have an easier time today at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting: Just one shareholder proposal, on succession planning, is up for a vote. But investors have protested the decision to push up the event by three months, saying it gave them less time to file any dissident shareholder proposals.
Mr. Musk joined other business leaders in France yesterday for a business investment summit. The country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, later tweeted that the two had discussed the electric vehicle market, the energy sector and digital regulation.
Coinbase’s chief wins backing for his longevity bet
Brian Armstrong co-founded Coinbase as a way of disrupting traditional finance systems by making it easier to trade cryptocurrencies. But he has also been busy helping create NewLimit, a start-up focused on breaking past traditional limits of human longevity.
That company is now taking a big step toward advancing its goals: It has raised $40 million in Series A financing, DealBook is first to report, to help fund its research.
NewLimit is looking at reprogramming cells to be young again. By essentially reversing aging through a combination of genetic manipulation and machine learning, the hope goes, scientists would be able to eliminate the underlying causes of many major diseases. “If it works, it will change the arc of humanity,” Mr. Armstrong told DealBook.
Mr. Armstrong, who with the venture capitalist Blake Byers founded NewLimit in 2021 with $100 million of their own money, is the latest tech mogul to be fascinated by longevity. Peter Thiel, OpenAI’s Sam Altman and Oracle’s Larry Ellison are among those who have poured millions into companies researching it.
NewLimit’s approach has won prominent backers. Investors in the new financing round include the venture capital firms Dimension, Kleiner Perkins and Thiel’s Founders Fund, as well as Eric Schmidt, Google’s former C.E.O., and Fred Ehrsam, Coinbase’s other founder.
The question is whether the science will pan out. Epigenetic programming is in its infancy, and it’s unclear how long it will take to develop applications that actually reverse aging. But Mr. Armstrong asserted that the promise was worth betting millions on: “There’s smoke,” he said.
America’s hugely indebted consumers
An important measure of the financial health of the U.S. consumer, retail sales data, is scheduled to be released today. Forecasters expect the latest stats to show that despite rising prices, consumers — the engine of the American economy — are continuing to spend.
But information released yesterday shows that while consumers are keeping their wallets open, that’s coming at a major cost.
Total U.S. household debt hit a record $17.05 trillion last quarter, according to data published by the New York Fed yesterday. Ballooning mortgage payments and student and car loan obligations are the big culprits. One silver lining: Credit card debt levels remained fairly stable, economists at Nomura wrote in an investor report yesterday.
Consumer debt levels began to soar during the coronavirus pandemic, after rising steadily for the past decade. According to the Fed, total household debt has jumped by nearly $2.8 trillion since the first quarter of 2020, a gain of nearly 20 percent.
With interest rates at a near 16-year high, this could put more pressure on indebted consumers to pull back on spending, potentially increasing the likelihood of a recession.
THE SPEED READ
The F.T.C. reportedly plans to to sue to block Amgen’s $27.8 billion takeover bid for Horizon Therapeutics. (Bloomberg)
Investors are increasingly worried that a wave of corporate buybacks isn’t benefiting shareholders. (FT)
The tennis star Serena Williams and the veteran M.&A. banker Mark Shafir are joining Consello, the financial advisory firm started by Declan Kelly. (WSJ)
Silicon Valley Bank quietly deleted a measure of how rising interest rates would hurt its business from its most recent annual report, published just weeks before it collapsed. (Bloomberg Tax)
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida reportedly plans to gather his top donors next week, just before he officially files to run for president. (Politico)
Best of the rest
3M said it had fired its president, Michael Vale, citing “inappropriate personal conduct and violation of company policy.” (WSJ)
The right-wing television network Newsmax beat CNN in prime-time ratings for the first time on Friday. (Mediaite)
“Flexible work is feminist” (Fortune)
A start-up is betting that Americans will want free 55-inch TVs — that are supported by ads. (Hollywood Reporter)
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