Nov 28, 2023 - Technology

How ChatGPT rewired the tech world

Illustration of a silver robot hand touching a surface and creating a glowing green ripple

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The lay of the Big Tech landscape has profoundly shifted in the year since OpenAI released ChatGPT on Nov. 30, 2022.

Why it matters: Tech's own innovation — rather than government or any other external force — has once again driven a massive transformation of the industry.

  • By contrast, five years of techlash — including hundreds of congressional hearings and bills, a barrage of lawsuits and precipitous drops in public trust — failed to unseat, or even slow, any of the industry's five dominating companies.

Of note: Two previous industry-led waves of new tech — the cryptocurrency-Web3 vision and the dream of building a metaverse — have yet to cross over from geeky niche enthusiasm to mass-market adoption. ChatGPT did so faster than any previous tech offering.

What's happening: Every one of tech's giants has begun to reorder its world around generative AI, which most of Silicon Valley now views as the biggest new-platform opportunity since the iPhone arrived in 2007.

Google quickly started putting AI-written summaries at the top of its search results, even as leaders and investors worried about how the change could undermine the search giant's ad-based profit machine.

  • Google also moved to transform DeepMind, which it acquired in 2014, from a research-oriented think tank into a product-focused operating unit.
  • The giant's internal progress on generative AI matched or exceeded OpenAI's before ChatGPT's release — but Google had approached public deployment more cautiously, concerned over potential risks and harms.
  • That ambivalence still looms over its strategy, despite reports of "code red" mobilization inside Google to meet the moment.

Microsoft — OpenAI's closest partner and biggest investor — rushed to wrap ChatGPT-style assistants, which it called copilots, into every corner of its enterprise-dominating office tools and operating systems.

  • Microsoft is now "the copilot company," CEO Satya Nadella told a developer conference this month. In the future, he said, "there will be a copilot for everyone and everything you do."

Meta is talking much less about building the metaverse — an initiative around which Mark Zuckerberg renamed the company just two years ago — and much more about the ways generative AI will drive growth in social media engagement and advertising.

  • Meta has built its AI strategy around releasing open source models that, it hopes, will prevent its rivals from controlling the AI platform the way Apple and Google owned the smartphone through their operating-system control.

Amazon hopes to parlay its Amazon Web Services subsidiary's dominance of cloud computing into a commanding position in generative AI.

  • With its Alexa voice assistant, the retail giant was a leader in the previous generation of conversational AI. But Amazon has yet to put a strong stamp on the consumer end of the new chatbot boom — though it, like Google, hopes the current AI boom will revitalize its voice-assistant business.

Apple remains Big Tech's most conspicuous laggard in the AI race ChatGPT set off.

  • While its Siri assistant introduced the public to voice-activated computing, and the firm is rumored to be at work on its own generative AI projects, Apple's biggest product rollout of 2023 involved its next-generation Vision Pro headset, rather than AI.

Yes, but: Apple remains tech's most valuable company.

  • Historically, Apple has waited to swoop in and seize markets only when it believes emerging tech and public demand have perfectly aligned — and its own innovations can provide margin-boosting added value.
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