Wednesday, May 31, 2023

AI Hits 'Mania' Phase

By Herb Greenberg (View Archive)

Artificial intelligence ('AI') is everything, everywhere, all at once, and it's happened so fast that it's hard to keep up...

We've reached the point where every public company suddenly is an AI play, almost out of nowhere.

It's so reminiscent of the dot-com days, when every company became a dot-com, regardless of what it did.

Or during the blockchain frenzy, when even Long Island Iced Tea Corporation conveniently rebranded itself to Long Blockchain Corporation. (Never mind that a year later the Nasdaq delisted it and three years after that, the Securities and Exchange Commission delisted it, too.)

And, wait, this just in from Seeking Alpha: "AI is coming to restaurants," as they add AI to drive-thru ordering.

Or as former tech analyst Roger McNamee said on CNBC the other day...

The mania that's going on here and right now it is a mania because journalists, politicians and corporations have all embraced this stuff without thinking through the lessons we've already learned through recent technologies that have the same roots.

Roger's comments are especially worth heeding. As a Silicon Valley veteran and an early investor in the likes of Meta Platforms (META), back when it was called Facebook, he has the perspective that comes from decades of analyzing and investing in tech companies.

I used to interview Roger decades ago, when he was the tech analyst at T. Rowe Price (TROW)...

He was a voice of reason back then, but even more so today, for one simple reason: He's not trying to sell anything. He's not an investment banker or even a full-time analyst. These days, he spends most of his time focused on music. In other words, he's not conflicted.

Among the highlights from his CNBC interview as it relates to AI...

  • Today's things they're calling AI, particularly the generative AIs – these are literally just B.S. generators, they have no verified content in them, and the results totally unreliable.
  • The notion we're going to apply these to things like search... it's going to result in one bad outcome after another.
  • The guys at OpenAI [the company behind ChatGPT] are trying to create the illusion that what they're doing is inevitable. Yet there is no way to monetarize this other than surveillance capitalism – [monetizing user data] – and we know from social media how much harm that causes.
  • What you're looking at is a battle between the OpenAI guys trying to create this sense of inevitability, and market saying, "Wait a minute guys, interest rates are now 5%, it costs a half a billion dollars in parts [the cost of Nvidia's AI Chips] to do each training session. That's too high in a 5% interest-rate environment when you have a business with no obvious business model."
  • [Using chatbots] you have to do fact-checking on a search engine, that literally defeats the purpose of a search engine. That isn't progress.
  • AI has enormous potential... the trick is you need to change the incentives. Executives who lead these projects have an incentive to protect the people who use it and ensure that the content produces accurate results. Until you see those things driving the industry, the products will suck.

His bottom line, however, is the best...

There are corporations and journalists that have completely bought into this. Before investors buy into this we should just ask: How are you going to get paid? How are you going to get a return on something that is effectively a half million dollars each time you do a training set... in a 5% environment.

None of this matters, of course, as long as the mania is in full swing and stocks are going up...

But if we learned nothing else during the SPACs, the crypto, the meme stocks, and whatever else fueled the market's last run – you know, the one when stocks were the only place to put your money because rates were so low – it's that when this stuff reverses, it's always brutal.

There's no question the latest iteration of AI is real, but so is crypto, the blockchain, and whatever else drove the last bubble, including (I suppose) a meme or two.

This is a market that needed a catalyst. With rates where they are, the economy what it is and inventors as uncertain as they've ever been, along came ChatGPT.

Buckle up.


Herb Greenberg
May 31, 2023