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AI will reshape the business world — here’s where it’s hitting first: Chart of the Week

In Technology
April 13, 2024

This is an excerpt from today’s Morning Brief, which you can sign up to receive in your inbox every morning along with:

There seems to be little doubt that artificial intelligence’s transformative power will change the world significantly — but it isn’t going to do it all at once, and it looks to be coming for the ad business first.

This week, Google (GOOG) announced a chip that could rival Nvidia’s (NVDA) tech. And in chorus, Meta (META) also announced a chip of its own, giving both of these companies vertical integration to accomplish their objectives. You know what they are.

As Bank of America’s Justin Post wrote in a research note on the move, Meta’s main AI benefits are getting people to use the product more, with better video recommendations to increase ad spend via better ads that are better measured.

In April 2024, this is the vanguard of AI.

Much has been made about where our physics PhDs go after they graduate. As Zachary Quinto’s rocket-scientist-turned-banking-analyst character in Margin Call explained to his boss’s boss: “The money here is considerably more attractive.”

Big Tech has long since taken the economic pole position from other industries (like banking) with higher profits, pay, and prestige. Look at the “Magnificent Seven” and it’s not hard to see how they can pay for both top talent and as much R&D as the talent can handle.

People have mused that if Allen Ginsberg had lived past 1997, he might have said something like, “I saw the best minds of my generation were employed by Google to sell programmatic advertising.” Or, as early Facebook investor Peter Thiel put it in 2013, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

But past the “kids these days” anguish of our forebears — who put people on the moon, laid telecommunications cables across oceans, and made medical breakthroughs — is the simple fact that the cutting edge of tech is often happening at companies that are trying to serve you more personalized advertising in line with your interests.

Whether Meta has the ambition to spread its cutting-edge AI technology across the industry remains to be seen. But as Mark Zuckerberg once described his business, “Senator, we run ads.”

For Google, the journey from the core product of ad sales (Search and Gmail) to cloud computing will be an interesting one. Ditto for Microsoft, whose OpenAI ChatGPT alliance could be considered a marketing tool for its computers.

All of this goes into a theory we’ve written about in these pages. Last year, Myles Udland wrote that we’re thinking either too small or too big about AI. And it’s hard because the technology will thread a needle through a specific industry before it expands across the economy.

As another Bank of America analyst, Alkesh Shah, wrote this week, “Investors frequently overestimate the magnitude of tech disruption in the near-term and underestimate it over the longer-term.”

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