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AI January 23, 2023

Microsoft CEO Talked Up Metaverse at WEF as Firm Shut Down VR Metaverse Unit

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Microsoft CEO Talked Up Metaverse at WEF as Firm Shut Down VR Metaverse Unit

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked up the metaverse as “game changing” at the just ended Word Economic Forum (WEF). He spoke as the U.S. tech giant shut down its virtual reality (VR) metaverse AltspaceVR, in a company-wide purge that will see 10,000 workers lose their jobs.

In a discussion with WEF founder and chairman Klaus Schwab, the Microsoft chief extolled the sense of presence realized when using the metaverse for everyday interactions and other meetings as “brilliant” and “game-changing.”

“For me, the thing that is most game-changing for this particular technology is the sense of presence one has, which is when you are even virtually interacting,” said Nadella.

He believes the metaverse is a “natural extension” of the virtual interactions and business meetings that gained momentum during the pandemic.

“Beyond video meetings, if you can have more immersive experiences where the presence can be felt, you can understand the impact of the [metaverse],” added the CEO.

Also read: Microsoft Makes Big Moves in AI – Is the Firm out to Dominate Our AI Future?

Microsoft closes metaverse arm AltspaceVR

The WEF annual meeting in Davos ran from Jan. 16 – 20, drawing much criticism from Twitter CEO Elon Musk. The billionaire questioned the legitimacy of the WEF saying it is “becoming an unelected world government that the people never asked for and don’t want.”

Itself, Microsoft is working with the World Economic Forum to develop what Klaus Schwab dubbed “Global Collaboration Village” – the idea of a metaverse that mirrors the Davos meetings, which, for some reason, will also involve Interpol.

While Satya Nadella praised the metaverse in Davos, Microsoft announced that its virtual reality metaverse unit AltspaceVR was shutting down.

AltspaceVR is a social VR platform founded in 2013. Microsoft bought the company in 2017 as part of its metaverse plans. At the time, AltspaceVR reportedly faced closure due to financial problems.

The platform features user-generated spaces called “Worlds” and allows users to chat, hang out and host events. AltspaceVR could be thought of as Microsoft’s equal to Meta’s idea of a metaverse.

According to the AltspaceVR team, the company is shutting down in order to “focus on the immersive experiences” at Microsoft Mesh, a new VR arm that Microsoft is launching for the company’s video conferencing platform Teams. AltspaceVR will shut down on March 10.

“The decision has not been an easy one as this is a platform many have come to love, providing a place for people to explore their identities, express themselves, and find community,” said the team, in a blog post.

“With Mesh, we aspire to build a platform that offers the widest opportunity to all involved, including creators, partners and customers.”

Microsoft cuts 10,000 jobs

AltspaceVR has been closed following huge job cuts at Microsoft. The Washington-based company announced recently that it is laying off 10,000 employees as consumer spending declines.

The move will affect up to 5% of Microsoft’s total workforce and cost the business around $1.2 billion in severance and reorganization costs.

The purge includes the company’s extended reality (XR) projects HoloLens and Mixed Reality Tool Kit (MRTK), under which AltspaceVR was housed. XR is an umbrella term for all virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

Several tech companies, including some of the industry’s biggest names such as Amazon, Google and Meta (formerly Facebook), have laid off thousands of workers in recent weeks. In November, Meta said it would let go a total of 11, 000 employees, or 13% of its workforce.

Earlier this month, Amazon revealed that it planned to cut more than 18,000 jobs because of “the uncertain economy.” More poignantly, Microsoft competitor Meta Platforms Inc. has had a hard time selling its idea of the metaverse experience.

Meta’s Horizon Worlds VR metaverse project is not going exactly according to plan, often lampooned over its graphics and lack of features. Its metaverse arm Reality Labs lost $9.4 billion in 2022, and was expected to continue operating at a loss going into this year.

At AltspaceVR, the company said it will pivot to a more business-focused platform following its closure.

“As we look to the future, we see the opportunity for VR expanding beyond consumer into business…” the blog post reads.

Bill Gates hates metaverse

Comments from Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO, are in contrast to Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ sentiments, who said recently he prefers artificial intelligence (AI) to metaverse and web3. As MetaNews reported, Gates believes AI is revolutionary.

“AI is the big one. I don’t think Web3 was that big or that Metaverse stuff alone was revolutionary, but AI is quite revolutionary,” the billionaire told followers during an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit on Jan. 11.

He was responding to a user who wanted to know whether there was any “mammoth tech shift” at a level similar to that of the Internet since the early 2000s. Gates also spoke about his admiration of AI that can create content, particularly ChatGPT.

“I think they will have a huge impact,” said Gates, adding he “really liked working with Nadella” but also admitted that “am not up to date on their hardware roadmap.” Microsoft is planning a $10 billion takeover of OpenAI, the parent company of the wildly popular ChatGPT.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.

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ChatGPT Makes History With Fastest 100M Users as StackOverflow Stumbles

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ChatGPT Makes History With Fastest 100M Users as StackOverflow Stumbles

ChatGPT, the popular chatbot from OpenAI, is now the fastest growing Internet application in history with a record 100 million monthly active users in January, according to a new report by Swiss investment bank UBS.

This comes as web traffic at developer knowledge-sharing platform StackOverflow slumped 11.5% to 247 million since the launch of ChatGPT. OpenAI, a private company backed by Microsoft Corp., launched ChatGPT as a free web interface in late November.

Also read: OpenAI Develops Tool to Spot AI-Written Texts

The AI-powered chatbot became incredibly popular with users thanks to its ability to perform a variety of tasks within seconds. In the U.S. tech hub of Silicon Valley, the conversation tool has virtually sparked off an artificial intelligence (AI) ‘arms race.’

13M ChatGPT users per day

Citing data from analytics firm Similarweb, UBS said in its report that the number of people using ChatGPT averaged about 13 million per day in January – double the number recorded in December. These are all distinct individuals, or unique users, it stated.

“In 20 years following the internet space, we cannot recall a faster ramp in a consumer internet app,” UBS analysts noted, according to Reuters.

By comparison, TikTok took about nine months after its global launch to get to 100 million users and Meta’s Instagram two and half years.

ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI. It has been trained on a diverse range of internet text to generate human-like responses to user prompts. The tool is based on OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 language technology, an upgrade of the GPT-3 model released in 2020.

The chatbot was trained with a lot of data, from books and articles to conversations. It can understand a variety of topics and contexts, and can be fine-tuned for multiple language tasks such as question answering, language translation, and text summarization.

ChatGPT accumulated more than one million users within its first week. The bot has transformed several industries since it was released just over two months ago. It can write complex essays, poetry, code and even pass MBA exams at the Wharton School of Business.

While ChatGPT is popular with some, others are concerned about the impact it will have on education and other industries. Gmail creator Paul Buchheit said recently ChatGPT-like tech will destroy Google’s $149 billion search engine business and dominance in two years.

StackOverflow traffic declines

Meanwhile, the rise of ChatGPT has started to affect rival StackOverflow, the Naspers-owned question and answer website for professional and enthusiast programmers.

According to Similarweb, the number of people visiting the StackOverflow website fell 11.5% just weeks after the launch of ChatGPT. On average, users dropped from almost 279 million in November 2022 to 247.4 million by the end of December 2022.

StackOverflow dropped 30 positions in the “Programming and Developer Software” websites category, falling from the 202nd position in October 2022 to 229th by the end of December 2022. It is the company’s lowest ranking in that category since October 2019, the data says.

The website serves as a platform for users to ask and answer questions, and, through membership and active participation, to vote questions and answers up or down similar to Reddit. They can also edit questions and answers in a fashion similar to a Wiki.

In December, StackOverflow banned the use of answers generated using ChatGPT, citing concerns about the accuracy of such responses.

“…because the average rate of getting correct answers from ChatGPT is too low, the posting of answers created by ChatGPT is substantially harmful to the site and to users who are asking or looking for correct answers,” the company said in a statement.

As MetaNews previously reported, the computational resources required to run ChatGPT over large scales are very costly. OpenAI has now launched a paid subscription service known as ChatGPT Plus for $20 per month, hoping that will help to cover costs.

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Microsoft Warns Employees Not to Share Sensitive Data with ChatGPT

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Microsoft Warns Employees Not to Share Sensitive Data with ChatGPT

Microsoft has warned its employees not to share sensitive data with an artificially intelligent (AI) chatbot, ChatGPT from OpenAI. Employees of American multinational tech giants had asked in an internal forum whether ChatGPT or any other AI tools from OpenAI were appropriate to use at their work, Business Insider reported.

Also read: 30% of College Students Use ChatGPT

In response to that inquiry, a senior engineer from Microsoft’s CTO office allowed to use ChatGPT but couldn’t share confidential information with the AI chatbot.

“Please don’t send sensitive data to an OpenAI endpoint, as they may use it for training future models,” the senior engineer wrote in an internal post, per Insider.

ChatGPT, here only for two months, is already raising concerns in the academic sector. Microsoft has become a partner of OpenAI, the parent company of ChatGPT, and has confirmed an investment of ten billion dollars.

Microsoft is planning to integrate OpenAI’s technology into its products, including the Bing search engine and other software, to enhance their capabilities, as reported previously.

The major concern of Microsoft regarding “sensitive information” may include sharing internal software code and seeking checks and advice from the chatbot.

Amazon’s Same Concern

ChatGPT has continuously made headlines since its launch last November but has also faced bans, especially in the academic sector as it became the cheating partner for students’ schoolwork. Recently, the tech giants have also raised their concerns over its use.

Amazon warned its employees to beware of ChatGPT last week, as reported by Insider. Insider claims that an Amazon lawyer has urged employees not to share code with ChatGPT via an internal communication form.

“This is important because your inputs may be used as training data for a further iteration of ChatGPT, and we wouldn’t want its output to include or resemble our confidential information (and I’ve already seen instances where its output closely matches existing material),” the lawyer wrote.

The lawyer placed more emphasis on requesting that employees not share “any Amazon confidential information” (including Amazon code they are working on) with ChatGPT via Slack.

Personal Data Concern

As concerns about data privacy grow among large corporations, an OpenAI representative has directed questions about the company’s data and privacy policy to ChatGPT’s FAQ page. The terms of service of OpenAI grant the company the right to use all input and output generated by ChatGPT users, with the stipulation that personally identifiable information (PII) is removed from the used data.

However, it’s quite impossible for OpenAI to identify and remove all the personal information from the data provided to ChatGPT, says Emily Bender, who teaches computational linguistics at the University of Washington.

“OpenAI is far from transparent about how they use the data, but if it’s being folded into training data, I would expect corporations to wonder: After a few months of widespread use of ChatGPT, will it become possible to extract private corporate information with cleverly crafted prompts?” said Bender.

Vincent Conitzer, a computer science professor and director of an AI lab at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “All of us together are going to have to figure out what should be expected of everyone in these situations. Is the responsibility on employees to not share sensitive information, or is the responsibility on OpenAI to use information carefully, or some combination?”

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Gmail Creator Says AI Will Replace Search Engines Like Google in 2 Years

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Gmail Creator Says AI Will Replace Search Engines Like Google in 2 Years

Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, said artificial intelligence (AI) will replace search engines such as Google in two years.

“My prediction is that AI (not necessarily ChatGPT) will replace search, maybe within the next two years (current AI not yet good enough),” Buchheit tweeted on Feb. 1.

Google facing ‘total disruption’

The software engineer said this as a form of clarification on an earlier statement he made regarding ChatGPT, the widely popular OpenAI bot. He believes that his comments were taken out of context and “sensationalized” by the media.

Also read: AI Could Kill Everyone, Researchers Warn MPs

However, the argument remains fundamentally the same in that Paul Buchheit’s prediction will still impact his former employer. Google is already reacting to the threat with plans to release 20 new AI related products to improve search this year, according to reports.

In his original comments from early December, Buchheit stated: “Google may be only a year or two away from total disruption. AI will eliminate the search engine result page, which is where they make most of their money,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Even if they catch up on AI, they can’t fully deploy it without destroying the most valuable part of their business.”

Google gets much of its revenue from search through online advertisements. The tech giant, which dominates the search business, charges advertisers a fee for ad placements that sit next to the search results. This improves the chances of ads being seen by consumers.

In 2021, Google reported revenues rose 41% to $258 billion from a year ago, its biggest to date. Ads made up 81% of total revenues that year. However, Google is grappling with a slowdown in online ad spending amid mounting antitrust lawsuits.

According to market research firm Insider Intelligence, the company’s share of total online advertising income in the U.S. fell from 37% in 2016 to 29% in 2022. Alphabet-owned Google controls up to 90% of the search business’ total market share.

Killing Web search ChatGPT way

Culture is now a sanctuary in this posthuman future. But the upcoming dominance of AI in search has even the most cultured corporate organizations in panic, and none more so than Google. OpenAI’s buzzy chatbot ChatGPT has been all the rage since its launch in November.

It can write complex essays, poetry, code and even pass MBA exams at the Wharton School of Business. OpenAI has also received a reported $10 billion cash boost from Microsoft, which is looking to add the chatbot’s abilities into its own search engine.

ChatGPT is shaking things up. It has spawned an AI arms race of sorts in Sillicon Valley. As Paul Buchheit said, tech like AI can remove the need for search engine result pages. He elaborates on how search businesses like Google could become useless, in exactly the same way that the company “killed” pre-internet business The Yellow Pages.

“The way I imagine this happening is that the URL/Search bar of the browser gets replaced with AI that autocompletes my thought/question as I type it while also providing the best answer (which may be a link to a website or product),” he explained.

“The old search engine backend will be used by the AI to gather relevant information and links, which will then be summarized for the user. It’s like asking a professional human researcher to do the work, except the AI will instantly do what would take many minutes for a human.”

Google joins AI race

The new artificial intelligence technology has been a wake up call for Google. CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly declared a “code red”, steamrolling over the company’s existing plans to kickstart AI development, The New York Times reports.

Google is now targeting to release around 20 new products and “demonstrate a version of its search engine with chatbot features this year,” it said, quoting sources with knowledge of the plans.

One of these projects is “Apprentice Bard,” as per a CNBC report. Apprentice Bard is a chatbot that is able to provide responses to questions asked using natural language. It uses Google’s conversation technology called Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA). The model is similar to the GPT language model utilized by ChatGPT .

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