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In today’s edition, we have a dispatch on how the views of startup founders and tech executives on t͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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June 16, 2023
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Technology

Technology
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Reed Albergotti
Reed Albergotti

Hi, and welcome to Semafor Tech, a twice-weekly newsletter from Louise Matsakis and me.

We previously highlighted the fact that the Bay Area is home to a critical mass of AI startups. But it was eye-opening to travel to Europe and the U.K. this week and talk with business leaders and entrepreneurs about the technology and where it’s headed.

AI looks like it will be the foundation for a new wave of innovation as profound as the internet. But unlike the internet, which was dominated by the U.S. market for many years, the impact and development of AI will include global participation. Read below for the takeaways from my trip.

Move Fast/Break Things
Getty Images/Greg Baker/AFP

➚ MOVE FAST: Sincere engagement. Bill Gates appeared with Xi Jinping earlier today as part of a rare one-on-one meeting between the Chinese leader and a Western business executive. The trip may help ease tensions between Beijing and Washington — Xi called Gates “the first American friend I’ve seen this year,” according to state media.

➘ BREAK THINGS: Hurling insults. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman compared the unpaid, volunteer moderators who work on the social media platform to a “landed gentry.” Huffman’s comments, made in response to an ongoing moderator-led protest, were not exactly a great start to Reddit’s rumored plan to go public.

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Artificial Flavor

A Toronto mayoral candidate appears to have used AI to generate campaign imagery featuring homeless people and tent encampments, which showed up alongside a pitch to “step up police patrols.” Former Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey’s use of the technology was discovered after voters noticed another since-deleted picture on his website of a woman with three arms.

Anthony Furey for Mayor
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Reed Albergotti

Sober optimism about AI

THE NEWS

LONDON - The European Parliament voted to move forward on the A.I. Act, a sweeping set of proposed measures to mitigate some of the harms caused by the technology.

In what would be one of the first major global rules on artificial intelligence, it would put limits on facial recognition technology and require makers of services like ChatGPT to disclose details about the data used to create them.

American companies are leading the way in deploying generative AI, but the rest of the world will also have a say in what that will ultimately look like.

And other artificial intelligence hubs have emerged like London, where I’m wrapping up my overseas trip. There are 50 generative AI startups here, according to a database maintained by the venture firm NFX, the second-highest tally for any city in the world.

Reuters/Yves Herman

REED’S VIEW

From Silicon Valley, it can sometimes appear as if Europeans see only the negative aspects of AI and that regulations are an attempt to slow down American efforts to move fast (and potentially break things).

In contrast, U.S. lawmakers seemed enamored with OpenAI founder Sam Altman when he testified on Capitol Hill last month.

If there is one big takeaway from my conversations with people on this side of the pond, it’s that they are generally a lot more bullish on AI than one might expect. But it’s a more sober optimism than the San Francisco variety.

Discussing AI here is less likely to lead to discussions that border on science fiction and fantasy.

The people I spoke with, (executives at tech giants, startup founders, and advisers on tech regulation) were generally most excited about things like how AI could help cure disease and mitigate climate change, for instance.

Most of them see Europe’s efforts to regulate AI as necessary, not because it’s a threat to humanity, but because it is too important. If there’s a consensus view, it’s that unregulated AI might go so off the rails that it would create a backlash against the technology, which would really hurt innovation.

“We need the world to see all the good that can come from AI,” one executive told me.

Nobody is under the illusion that this will be easy, however.

Regulating technology is always difficult because by the time laws are passed, the technology has moved on. That is especially true of AI. The landscape seems to change week-to-week.

The AI Act itself illustrates this problem. It’s been years in the making and didn’t initially include any provisions dealing with the new generative AI technologies like ChatGPT.

It was mainly focused on “narrow AI” such as facial recognition technology, where the issues are clear and well understood. In a rush to keep the law up-to-date, regulators added provisions addressing the “foundation models” behind ChatGPT and other products.

For Room for Disagreement and the rest of the story, read here.

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Semafor Stat

The number of ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram this week that mentioned semaglutide, the active ingredient in weight loss medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy, which have become a cash cow for online pharmacies. Most of the ads disappeared after NBC News sent an inquiry to Meta. The social media giant requires companies to demonstrate they have required health care licenses before promoting prescription medications.

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In The Cannes

Semafor’s Ben Smith and Max Tani will be in France next week for the Cannes Lions festival — a hub for advertising, marketing and tech news, and where Apple and Netflix will be marking their arrival to the ads business.

Sign up with one click to get their daily newsletter, which will be packed with insights and intel from the French Riviera.

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Evidence

Software developers are rapidly adopting AI in their work, according to an annual global survey of the industry conducted by Stack Overflow. Respondents who said they don’t use AI and aren’t planning to this year are more likely to be senior developers with more than six years of experience, who may be less likely to benefit from the technology in the short term.

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One Good Text

Rahul Roy-Chowdhury is the CEO of Grammarly, an AI-powered typing assistant that has raised $400 million in venture capital funding.

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