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Reid Hoffman

Anjali Sundaram | CNBC

Three weeks after OpenAI’s board briefly pushed out CEO Sam Altman without providing a specific reason for its decision, former director Reid Hoffman says he’s still puzzled by what took place and why.

“Reading the blog post was like, ‘What’s going on?'” Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent startup investor, said onstage at Wired’s LiveWired conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. “I still don’t think we fully know.”

Altman was ultimately brought back to lead the high-profile artificial intelligence startup after a major push by top investors and the threat of a mass exodus among the company’s workforce. The board is now undergoing a facelift, which includes the departure of some longtime directors, but all the parties involved have remained largely mum on what led to the initial chaos.

Bloomberg reported that Altman had been looking to raise money for a new AI chip startup. The New York Times said OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sutskever thought Altman wasn’t focused enough on the potential risks of the company pushing forward with its technology. Reuters pointed to a technical breakthrough that the board had learned about from employees. The New Yorker described a disagreement between Altman and Helen Toner, one of the directors who subsequently left.

One OpenAI executive told employees that the board didn’t send Altman walking because of “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.”

The mystery has left an aura of uncertainty around one of the world’s most highly valued startups. OpenAI continues to operate the popular ChatGPT chatbot and, through a broad partnership with Microsoft, its services are functioning inside software from big companies like AT&T and Mercedes-Benz.

However, rivals have used the period of uncertainty to their advantage. Last week, Adam Selipsky, head of Amazon’s cloud unit, which competes with Microsoft Azure, told a crowd of 50,000 conference attendees in Las Vegas that the events demonstrated why people wouldn’t want a cloud vendor to be tied to just one provider of AI models.

Hoffman was one of OpenAI’s original donors. In 2017, he joined Microsoft’s board following the $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn. He stepped down from OpenAI’s board in March and said he hasn’t spoken with any of the board members, though he said he did communicate with Altman.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella offered to hire Altman, OpenAI president Greg Brockman and their colleagues in a new advanced AI research group. But Altman was quickliy reinstated at OpenAI.

“I do think that we’re in a much better place in the world” to have Altman in the CEO seat again, Hoffman said. “He’s very competent with that.”

The relationship between OpenAI and Microsoft, which provides cloud infrastructure to the startup and has been plugging OpenAI services into its Windows and Office software, will be taught in business schools, Hoffman said.

Nadella’s attitude about the situation, Hoffman said, is probably, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“Satya is a very high-integrity, genuine leader,” Hoffman said. “And I think he would have hired everybody from OpenAI and then kept going if that was the only path that was left open.”

WATCH: Sam Altman returns as OpenAI CEO and Microsoft secures nonvoting board seat

Sam Altman returns as OpenAI CEO and Microsoft secures nonvoting board seat

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Nvidia briefly surpasses $2 trillion in market cap during intraday trading

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Nvidia briefly surpasses  trillion in market cap during intraday trading

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City on Nov. 29, 2023.

Slaven Vlasic | Getty Images

Nvidia briefly surpassed $2 trillion in market cap during intraday trading Friday following the company’s rosy earnings report Wednesday — but it was short-lived.

After rising earlier in the day, shares of Nvidia were down about 1% at 11 a.m. ET. Nvidia stock closed up 16% Thursday.

Nvidia posted $22.10 billion in revenue for its fiscal fourth quarter, a 265% increase from a year ago and above the $20.62 billion expected by analysts polled by LSEG, formerly known as Refinitiv. Nvidia reported $12.29 billion in net income during the quarter, up a staggering 769% from $1.41 billion last year.

The company has benefited from the tech sector’s insatiable demand for artificial intelligence capabilities over the past year. Nvidia makes the pricey graphics processors for the servers that power large AI models.

Nvidia is clearly in a bullish trading cycle, says OptionPlay's Jessica Inskip

Nvidia said it expects $24.0 billion in sales in the current quarter, surpassing the $22.17 billion expected by analysts.

“Fundamentally, the conditions are excellent for continued growth,” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said during the company’s quarterly call with investors Wednesday.

— CNBC’s Kif Leswing contributed to this report.

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AI can ‘disproportionately’ help defend against cybersecurity threats, Google CEO Sundar Pichai says

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AI can 'disproportionately' help defend against cybersecurity threats, Google CEO Sundar Pichai says

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks in conversation with Emily Chang during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on November 16, 2023 in San Francisco, California. The APEC summit is being held in San Francisco and runs through November 17.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Munich, GERMANY — Rapid developments in artificial intelligence could help strengthen defenses against security threats in cyber space, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Amid growing concerns about the potentially nefarious uses of AI, Pichai said that the intelligence tools could help governments and companies speed up the detection of — and response to — threats from hostile actors.

“We are right to be worried about the impact on cybersecurity. But AI, I think actually, counterintuitively, strengthens our defense on cybersecurity,” Pichai told delegates at Munich Security Conference at the end of last week.

Cybersecurity attacks have been growing in volume and sophistication as malicious actors increasingly use them as a way to exert power and extort money.

Cyberattacks cost the global economy an estimated $8 trillion in 2023 — a sum that is set to rise to $10.5 trillion by 2025, according to cyber research firm Cybersecurity Ventures.

A January report from Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre — part of GCHQ, the country’s intelligence agency — said that AI would only increase those threats, lowering the barriers to entry for cyber hackers and enabling more malicious cyber activity, including ransomware attacks.

“AI disproportionately helps the people defending because you’re getting a tool which can impact it at scale.

Sundar Pichai

CEO at Google

However, Pichai said that AI was also lowering the time needed for defenders to detect attacks and react against them. He said this would reduce what’s known as a the defenders’ dilemma, whereby cyberhackers have to be successful just once to a system whereas a defender has to be successful every time in order to protect it.

“AI disproportionately helps the people defending because you’re getting a tool which can impact it at scale versus the people who are trying to exploit,” he said.

“So, in some ways, we are winning the race,” he added.

Google last week announced a new initiative offering AI tools and infrastructure investments designed to boost online security. A free, open-source tool dubbed Magika aims to help users detect malware — malicious software — the company said in a statement, while a white paper proposes measures and research and creates guardrails around AI.

Pichai said the tools were already being put to use in the company’s products, such as Google Chrome and Gmail, as well as its internal systems.

U.S. lawmakers reiterate support for Ukraine as President Zelenskyy calls for more aid

“AI is at a definitive crossroads — one where policymakers, security professionals and civil society have the chance to finally tilt the cybersecurity balance from attackers to cyber defenders. 

The release coincided with the signing of a pact by major companies at MSC to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent AI tools from being used to disrupt democratic votes in 2024’s bumper election year and beyond.

Adobe, Amazon, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, TikTok and X, formerly Twitter, were among the signatories to the new agreement, which includes a framework for how companies must respond to AI-generated “deepfakes” designed to deceive voters.

It comes as the internet becomes an increasingly important sphere of influence for both individuals and state-backed malicious actors.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday described cyberspace as “a new battlefield.”

“The technology arms race has just gone up another notch with generative AI,” she said in Munich.

“If you can run a little bit faster than your adversary, you’re going to do better. That’s what AI is really giving us defensively.

Mark Hughes

president of security at DXC

A report published last week by Microsoft found that state-backed hackers from Russia, China, and Iran have been using its OpenAI large language model (LLM) to enhance their efforts to trick targets.

Russian military intelligence, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the Chinese and North Korean governments were all said to have relied on the tools.

Mark Hughes, president of security at IT services and consulting firm DXC, told CNBC that bad actors were increasingly relying on a ChatGPT-inspired hacking tool called WormGPT to conduct tasks like reverse engineering code.

However, he said that he was also seeing “significant gains” from similar tools which help engineers to detect and reserve engineer attacks at speed.

“It gives us the ability to speed up,” Hughes said last week. “Most of the time in cyber, what you have is the time that the attackers have in advantage against you. That’s often the case in any conflict situation.

“If you can run a little bit faster than your adversary, you’re going to do better. That’s what AI is really giving us defensively at the moment,” he added.

Germany has been benefitting from a 'peace dividend' for years, defense minister says

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Ride-hailing giant Grab posts first profitable quarter, announces $500 million share buyback

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Ride-hailing giant Grab posts first profitable quarter, announces 0 million share buyback

A attendee walks past a banner with a Grab logo before a bell-ringing ceremony as Grab begins trading on the Nasdaq, in Singapore, on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.

Ore Huiying | Bloomberg | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Grab posted its first-ever profitable quarter, raking in $11 million in profit, the Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant said in its fourth-quarter earnings report Thursday.

This compares with a $391 million loss recorded in the same period a year ago. The boost was “primarily due to the improvement in Group adjusted EBITDA, fair value changes in investments, and lowered share-based compensation expenses,” the company said.

Revenue for the quarter hit $653 million, exceeding LSEG analysts’ estimates of $634.86 million.

Losses for full year 2023 came to $485 million, down 72% from $1.74 billion a year ago.

In addition to ride-hailing, the company also provides financial services like payments and insurance, as well as deliveries for food, groceries and packages.

“We exited [2023 with] mobility exceeding pre-Covid levels. We are seeing a very strong demand in the mobility space,” Grab CFO Peter Oey told CNBC in an exclusive interview on Friday, adding that tourism is “growing very much.”

“If you look at the deliveries business, we have another record 13% year-over-year growth. We have now more users on our platform also at the same time. So we have really strong momentum,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

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Grab announced Thursday it would be repurchasing up to $500 million worth of class A ordinary shares for the first time.

Grab was largely unprofitable during its years of operation, having amassed billions of dollars in losses since its inception in 2012.

In the initial years of business, tech startups tend to prioritize growth over profitability, which usually means burning a lot of cash. But with global macro uncertainties slowing growth, they have been forced to renew their focus on profitability and be more prudent with costs.

During the fourth quarter, total incentives — which include partner and consumer incentives — were further reduced to 7.3% of total value of goods sold, Grab said in its report. That’s compared to 8.2% in the same period a year ago “as we continued to improve the health of our marketplace.”

Grab had been doling out incentives to attract drivers and passengers to its platform but that’s tapering now as the company moves to drive up profitability.

On whether Grab would reach a time where it wouldn’t need to incentivize people to stay on the platform, Oey said incentives will “always be a lever” for the business.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a world where there’s no incentive whatsoever,” he told CNBC, adding that incentives help “to make sure we have enough supply” of drivers and attract price-sensitive customers.

For 2024, Grab expects revenue to come in between $2.70 billion and $2.75 billion, lower than LSEG analysts’ consensus of $2.8 billion.

Grab’s shares closed 8.41% lower on Thursday. Its share price has plummeted 75.8% from its $13.06 opening price in December 2021, when the firm first listed on the Nasdaq.

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