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The Week in AI: Copilots, Unicorns and Calls for Oversight

We are still in the first innings of generative artificial intelligence (AI).

But the innovative and groundbreaking technology, which represents an entirely new computing paradigm, has already hit a home run in capturing the attention of both public institutions and private enterprises.

And for the markets, the commercialization of the technology has been more like a grand slam.

A Tuesday (Oct. 17) report by blue chip venture capital firm Accel says generative AI companies now make up nearly two thirds (60%) of new unicorns, or startups valued at and over $1 billion.

Underscoring the hockey stick valuations of AI companies, news broke Thursday (Oct. 19) that industry pioneer OpenAI is reportedly mulling a share sale that would value the company at $86 billion.

That figure would raise the ChatGPT-maker’s valuation to around triple what it was just six months ago.

As generative AI continues to generate excitement and accelerate change, these are the key stories PYMNTS has been tracking this week.

Everything Innovation Is Everywhere 

Many people have said many of things about generative AI, which is why PYMNTS on Tuesday put together a primer to help our readers get up to speed on the technology’s at-times bewildering bucket of new acronyms and industry-specific vocabulary.

And it isn’t just PYMNTS focused on AI education — IBM on Wednesday (Oct. 18) announced an expansion of its collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to assist mutual clients in operationalizing and deriving value from generative AI.

As part of this initiative, IBM Consulting plans to train 10,000 consultants in generative AI expertise on AWS by the end of 2024.

The initiative comes as AI’s rapidly evolving technology is ushering in a new era of automation and efficiency, offering opportunities for organizations to thrive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Mastercard on Thursday unveiled new AI-powered solutions to help banks provide “always-on” payments that are seamless and secure; while contract lifecycle and asset management firm Revnue debuted an AI-powered mobile app on Monday (Oct. 16) that is designed to streamline companies’ asset, contract, customer, supplier and services data management.

Joining the fray as well was Square, which on Wednesday (Oct. 18) launched 10 new generative AI features aimed at assisting businesses of all sizes automate operations, streamline workflows, and ultimately save time.

One of the key features is the Menu Generator, which allows restaurants to create a full menu on Square in just a few minutes. Another feature, called Photo Environments, enables eCommerce sellers to add hyperreal AI-generated backgrounds to their websites.

And lastly, PYMNTS Intelligence’s “Consumer Inflation Sentiment” report, the “Consumer Interest in Artificial Intelligence” edition finds that grocers and grocery technology providers alike are seizing on the AI opportunity to boost efficiency and drive engagement.

Copilots Look to Stick the Landing 

PYMNTS Intelligence in the report “Consumer Interest in Artificial Intelligence,” finds nearly two-thirds of Americans want an AI copilot to help them book travel.

And tech companies are scrambling to provide the AI solutions to help them.

On Thursday, one Meta top executives told the crowd at the WSJ Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach, California, that AI chatbots will help draw businesses as well as users.

“There’s a huge demand from business for better tools,” Chief Product Officer Chris Cox said.

That’s the thinking of Freshpet Director of Consumer Care Lisa Diehl, who chatted with PYMNTS on Monday about the positive impact her company’s AI chatbots have had and the compelling insights that are driving their future adoption of AI.

According to Diehl, Scout (the AI chatbot) is always learning new skills and is regularly evaluated with the questions and concerns that may have initially stumped it.

AI assisted help is also going global — as PYMNTS Intelligence notes that multilingual chatbots are boosting the appeal of voice AI, despite uneven adoption.

Balancing Regulation and Innovation 

But for all its gains, AI technology still exists — and continues to advance — in a relatively unregulated ecosystem.

This carries both risks and opportunities.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Gary Gensler said Oct. 15 that if AI technology is left unchecked, it will lead to a financial crisis within a decade.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, along with Inflection and DeepMind co-founder and AI pioneer Mustafa Suleyman, said on Thursday that they want to establish an international panel to oversee AI, the same as global nations already do for climate change.

Their call for an International Panel on AI Safety (IPAIS) to offer an objective body to help shape protocols and norms takes its inspiration from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), specifically the panel’s supranational approach of providing policymakers with “regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

“AI is here,” the two tech leaders wrote in an op-ed in the Financial Times. “Now comes the hard part: learning how to manage and govern it.”

New York City, however, thinks it may have a handle on the technology. Or, at least a good idea of how to leverage it within government offices.

That’s because on Monday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser announced the release of the city’s new AI Action Plan, a comprehensive initiative which is the first for a major U.S. city.

The AI Action Plan will help protect against the potential risks of AI while developing tools and knowledge to help city government employees effectively and responsibly use AI technology to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers.

Not everyone is all for regulation of the still nascent and relatively unproven technology. Meta’s chief AI scientist, for example, thinks the technology has less learning capacity than a cat and said Thursday that calls to regulate AI are premature and will only hinder competition.

Still, there are some dangers that exist when the tech is allowed to march forward freely.

On Wednesday, Universal Music sued well-funded AI startup Anthropic alleging that Anthropic scrapes the record companies’ artists’ songs without consent, using them to create “identical or nearly identical copies of those lyrics” using Anthropic’s generative AI chatbot Claude.

“This copyrighted material is not free for the taking simply because it can be found on the internet,” the legal filing says, arguing that Anthropic had “never even attempted” to license the songs in question.