Microsoft is sprinkling OpenAI everywhere to try and keep software makers interested in its platforms
Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella speaks to attendees at Microsoft’s Build conference in Seattle on May 23, 2023.
Dan DeLong | Microsoft
If there’s one company that has popularized artificial intelligence in the past year, it’s the small but richly funded startup OpenAI, the entity behind viral chatbot ChatGPT.
This week at its Build conference for software developers, Microsoft made extensive use of its collaboration with the startup, in which it’s invested billions.
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Front and center on Tuesday, the first day of the show, was a onstage conversation between Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s co-founder and president, and Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s technology chief and the person credited with building the unusually close relationship between the two companies.
“You heard it from Greg,” Scott told the crowd assembled at the Seattle Convention Center near the end of the talk. “You all are the ones who are going to make AI great.”
Toward that end, Microsoft announced a slew of products for developers that draw on OpenAI’s technology:
- There are new Azure cloud tools for customized text summarization.
- A forthcoming chatbot promises to help developers work with data and prepare it for analysis.
- Developers will be able to build plug-ins that work inside of ChatGPT and the chatbots inside Microsoft’s own products, including one that will debut in Windows next month.
- Developers who receive coding suggestions through the GitHub Copilot feature will gain access to a chatbot inside of the Windows Terminal command-line program.
Generative AI will change software forever, says Nadella
OpenAI released ChatGPT to the broad world in November, sparking lots of interest from consumers. Shortly thereafter, companies such as Atlassian, Morgan Stanley and Salesforce rushed to show off integrations of OpenAI’s GPT-4 large language model, which powers the chatbot. GPT-4 and alternatives from the likes of Amazon and Google have been trained on extensive internet data sets and have become capable of spitting out chunks of natural-sounding text.
The technology is a popular form of what has come to be called generative AI, which can take human input and respond with a computer-generated output.
“Every layer of the software stack is going to be changed forever and no better place to start than the actual developer stack,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during his Build keynote address on Tuesday. “We as developers, how do we build is fundamentally changing.”
It’s crucial for third-party developers to enrich Microsoft’s own software properties, such as the Microsoft 365 productivity software bundle. Such work might help Microsoft’s Teams communication app, for example, to become a more obvious hub for an increasingly wide selection of processes and tasks that companies need to carry out. That can make companies less likely to switch to alternatives such as Google Workspace.
Microsoft highlighted dozens of plug-in developers on Tuesday, including Adobe, Asana, Canva, Cloudflare, Redfin, Spotify and TripAdvisor. A demonstration showed the Windows chatbot turning on a Spotify playlist, creating a company logo with Adobe Express and sending the logo to a person’s colleagues over Teams in response to a series of typed messages.
Greg Brockman, OpenAI president and co-founder, and Kevin Scott, Microsoft chief technology officer, speak onstage at Microsoft’s Build conference in Seattle on May 23, 2023.
Dan DeLong | Microsoft
At the same time, Nadella has pushed for Microsoft to incorporate GPT-4 directly into Teams and older Microsoft products, such as the Bing search engine, often resulting in bots branded with the name Copilot. The Copilot term emphasizes collaboration with people, in contrast with (for example) the Autopilot advanced driver-assistance system for Tesla vehicles.
“We are adding Copilot into everything,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft’s cloud and AI group, told CNBC in an interview last week. “It’s less of a top-down mandate, although we’re certainly pushing top-down. I think it’s something where we’ve actually evangelized internally and really got every team excited about. And we are building a common stack across Microsoft that the entire company is building on top of.”
Analysts responded favorably to the developer onslaught.
“The pace of MSFT’s GenAI innovation remains stunning to us,” Mizuho analysts with a buy rating on Microsoft stock wrote in a Wednesday note to clients.
Brockman hinted to developers that the cost of GPT-4, which runs in Azure, could come down.
“I think we did a 70% price reduction two years ago,” he told Scott. “Basically, this past year, we did a 90% cost reduction. A 10 times cost drop — like, that’s crazy, right? And I think we’re going to be able to do the same thing repeatedly with new models. And so GPT-4 right now, it’s expensive, it’s not fully available. But that’s one of the things that I think will change.”
WATCH: Microsoft Build 2023 unveils plugins and products that incorporate A.I.
Binance lawyers allege SEC Chair Gensler offered to serve as advisor to crypto company in 2019
SEC Chair Gary Gensler mocks putting a gun to his head in response to a “Blazing Saddles” reference by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., during the House Financial Services Committee hearing titled “Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission,” in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
SEC Chair Gary Gensler, who is in the midst of a hefty crackdown on crypto companies, offered to serve as an advisor to Binance’s parent company in 2019, according to the lawyers for Binance and founder Changpeng Zhao.
Documents filed by the SEC on Wednesday indicate that attorneys from Gibson Dunn and Latham & Watkins, two of Binance’s law firms, allege that Gensler offered to serve as an advisor to the crypto exchange in several March 2019 conversations with Binance executives and Zhao. He eventually met Zhao in Japan for lunch later that month, the filing claims.
At the time, Gensler was teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. He was appointed head of the SEC in 2021 by President Biden, and over the past year has come down hard on the crypto industry, suing numerous companies for allegedly selling unregistered securities.
Earlier this week, the SEC filed 13 charges against Binance and Zhao, alleging the company failed to register as an exchange and broker-dealer, improperly commingled funds and lacked critical internal controls over its businesses.
Before Gensler started going after Binance, he was trying to cozy up to the company, the lawyers say. The Wall Street Journal previously reported on Gensler and Binance’s relationship, citing internal Binance messages and a person close to the SEC chair. Both suggested that Binance approached Gensler.
In the latest filing, the Gibson and Latham attorneys say that Zhao continued to stay in touch with Gensler after the March meeting. And at the future SEC chair’s request, Zhao sat down for an interview with Gensler as part of a cryptocurrency course he was teaching at MIT.
The SEC on Tuesday described Zhao, who reportedly resides in the UAE, as a “foreign national” with a tendency for “geographic elusiveness.” Zhao’s lawyers now say that the Zhao understood that Gensler was “comfortable serving as an informal advisor.”
Later in 2019, the letter said, Gensler was slated to testify before the House Financial Services Committee, and he sent Zhao a copy of his intended testimony ahead of the hearing.
In July of that year, Gensler testified before the House over Facebook’s proposed and later canceled cryptocurrency Libra and its planned Calibra wallet.
“I do not advise any financial, technology, blockchain or other companies, nor do I own any cryptocurrencies,” Gensler’s prepared testimony read.
Gensler’s advice to lawmakers at the time was largely the same as his public statements today. He said that, with Facebook envisioning a wallet to store customer assets, rules needed to be in place “to guard against Calibra’s use or potential abuse of such customer funds.”
He also testified more broadly in language that’s resembles his latest pronouncements.
“We must guard against illicit activities, such as tax evasion, money laundering, terrorist financing and avoiding sanctions,” he said at the time. “We must protect individuals’ privacy.”
Because of Gensler’s ties to Zhao, Binance’s lawyers said they’d asked for his recusal from any actions regarding the company. They say they got no acknowledgement from SEC staff.
An SEC spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC that, “the Chair is very familiar with and full compliance with his ethical obligations including any recusal obligations.”
The SEC’s probes into Binance.US and Binance began in 2020 and 2021, respectively, well after Gensler and Zhao’s last alleged contact.
Google tells employees in New York and along the East Coast to work from home as smoke fills the air
People ride bicycles at 6th Avenue as haze and smoke caused by wildfires in Canada blanket New York City, New York, June 7, 2023.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Google is telling its East Coast employees to stay home as wildfire smoke fills the air in New York and other major cities.
Company site leads in New York wrote in a memo to workers in the area that air quality in many parts of the region had reached “unhealthy” levels, citing the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation. In New York, most employees have been expected to work from physical offices at least three days a week.
“We are advising Googlers to work from home if possible, and limit their exposure to outdoor air,” according to the note, which was obtained by CNBC. “Terraces across our New York campus will remain closed today.”
According to NBC, the company issued advisory notices to workers in the Detroit area, Washington, D.C., Reston, Virginia, Pittsburgh and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. In Canada, which is on track to experience its worst-ever wildfire season, Google notified employees in the Ontario cities of Toronto and Waterloo.
New York Mayor Eric Adams issued a statement Wednesday urging all New Yorkers to limit outdoor activity, and airports delayed flights as smoke from Canadian wildfires engulfed surrounding regions.
Google has dealt with this issue in the recent past.
In 2020, the company’s home state of California faced hazardous air quality issues for almost a month as a result of record-setting wildfires that burned across the state. Many people at Google and across the tech industry were already working from home because it was the height of the Covid pandemic.
Google has set up a so-called “go” link that directs employees to internal documents and information about wildfires and air filtering. It released similar resources during the 2020 wildfires. The company typically has “go” links for things like products, employee equipment, office information and some social causes.
The memo on Wednesday advised employees to remain indoors, “avoid vigorous physical activity” and run their air conditioners with clean filters. The site leads assured those who are already working on site that the campuses’ HVAC and air filtration systems “maintain a high quality of air inside our offices even in these circumstances.”
WATCH: FAA pauses all flights into LaGuardia due to limited visibility from smoke
Amazon is pursuing ‘too many ideas’ and needs to focus on best opportunities, analyst says in letter to Jassy
In its quest to upend everything from health care and grocery stores to internet satellites, Amazon has become too unfocused and is missing out on opportunities in its core businesses, according to Bernstein analysts, who on Wednesday published what they called an “open letter” to CEO Andy Jassy and the board.
Amazon remains dominant in e-commerce and cloud computing with Amazon Web Services. In some other areas, however, the company has spent heavily without seeing the results, the analysts said.
“We fully support Amazon’s efforts to uncover and capture the next AWS-sized opportunity,” wrote Bernstein’s Mark Shmulik, who has an outperform rating on the stock. “But what we’ve seen recently is a company simply pursuing too many ideas, with weaker ideas taking away the oxygen, capital, and most importantly focus from the truly disruptive initiatives that ‘only Amazon can do.'”
Amazon’s stock performance compared with its “closest mega-cap peers” — Apple, Microsoft and Google — has also left investors wanting, Shmulik said. Amazon shares are up 50% year to date, but they’ve underperformed top peers by about 52% over a five-year period, he said.
The stock was down 3.6% to $122.12 as of early afternoon New York time.
Shmulik urged Amazon to get back to its “Day One” mentality, referring to a phrase championed by Amazon founder and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos, who was succeeded by Jassy in July 2021. Bezos famously said a Day One mentality would help Amazon stave off its demise, and described it as continuing to innovate rapidly like a startup, no matter how large the company becomes.
“Day 2 is stasis,” Bezos said in a 2017 shareholder letter. “Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
Amazon should “divest, seek outside funding, or trim spend” in health care and its nascent low Earth orbit satellite venture, called Project Kuiper, Shmulik wrote. He pointed to Amazon’s multiyear effort to break into health care, before abandoning efforts like its Care telehealth service, Halo health and fitness band, and a joint health-care venture called Haven.
Kuiper “appears even more extreme as an investment area,” according to Shmulik, with Amazon committing $10 billion to build out the initiative. Google’s lack of success with its Project Loon, Fiber and Fi efforts signals “capital intensive low-margin utilities aren’t worth the effort regardless of how ‘cool’ the technology may be,” he wrote.
Amazon should even take a page out of Alphabet’s book and strip out Kuiper, health care and possibly Alexa into “other bets,” Shmulik said. Doing so, he says, would show a “far healthier and more profitable core business” and wouldn’t detract from the company’s effort to “build the next AWS.”
Shmulik is also skeptical of Amazon’s ongoing efforts to expand in international markets like Brazil, Singapore and India, where competition remains stiff. He calls it a case of throwing “good money after bad,” despite the strategic value that those markets may hold.
When it comes to Whole Foods, Fresh supermarkets and Go cashierless convenience stories, Amazon needs to “make a call on physical grocery,” Shmulik wrote. Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017, and has continued to build out its grocery offerings on its website, while launching other experimental shops. Recently, the company paused further expansion of its Fresh and Go stores as Jassy looks to cut costs.
Instead of continuing to “tinker with” its Fresh and Go stores, Shmulik said Amazon should “purchase a proven concept such as potential divested KR/ACI stores,” referring to the stores Kroger and Albertsons’ are selling off as part of their planned merger.
Amazon should focus on its core strengths and keep pushing into other areas where it’s gained traction, Shmulik said, encouraging a continued build-out of its advertising and media arms, as well as its Buy With Prime service, which allows websites off of Amazon to take advantage of its Prime delivery benefits.
The current scattershot approach is confusing to shareholders and needs to be cleared up to stem continued underperformance, Shmulik added, calling out uncertainty around where Amazon falls in the artificial intelligence race.
“We get investor questions today asking ‘is AWS in last place in AI?’, ‘is retail actually a profitable business?’, and even ‘do we want Andy on the earnings call?'” Shmulik wrote. “It points to one underlying issue: Amazon doesn’t own its own narrative.”
Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
WATCH: Amazon workers plan to walk out over ‘lack of trust’ in leadership
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