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Artificial intelligence pioneer calls for the breakup of Big Tech

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Yoshua Bengio, the artificial intelligence pioneer, says the centralization of wealth, power and capability in Big Tech is "dangerous for democracy" and that the companies should be broken up.

Why it matters: Bengio is a professor at the University of Montreal and a member of the three-man "Canadian Mafia" that pioneered machine learning, the leading method used in AI. His remarks are notable because of his influence in the AI community and because he or his peers all either directly lead or consult for Big Tech's AI programs. Says Bengio: "Concentration of wealth leads to concentration of power. That's one reason why monopoly is dangerous. It's dangerous for democracy."

The AI pioneers: Bengio consults for IBM and his colleagues Geoffrey Hinton consults for Google and Yann LeCun for Facebook. Ruslan Salakhutdinov, a protege of Hinton's, runs Apple's AI research effort.

Benigo said the concentration of resources, talent and knowledge among giant tech companies is only increasing and governments must act. "We need to create a more level playing field for people and companies," Bengio told Axios at an AI conference in Toronto last week.

In recent years, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have amassed a towering lead in AI research. But now, they are subject to growing scrutiny because of their outsized influence on society, politics and the economy. I asked Bengio if the companies should be broken up. He harrumphed and responded that anti-trust laws should be enforced. "Governments have become so meek in front of companies," he said.

"AI is a technology that naturally lends itself to a winner take all," Bengio said. "The country and company that dominates the technology will gain more power with time. More data and a larger customer base gives you an advantage that is hard to dislodge. Scientists want to go to the best places. The company with the best research labs will attract the best talent. It becomes a concentration of wealth and power."

When some of the young people gathered around him looked a bit dejected, Bengio responded, "Don't despair — fight."

Amy Harder 4 hours ago
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Climate change goes to business school(s)

Beautiful long entrance to Duke University, with the chapel at the end
Duke University Chapel. Photo: Lance King/Getty Images

More than a dozen business schools and some of Wall Street’s biggest firms are converging for the next two days at Duke University to discuss the business effects of climate change.

Why it matters: This conference is being billed as the first to bring together students from a range of business schools to address the issue. That reflects both how climate change is becoming more of a tangible business concern and that younger people care more about it than older generations.

Steve LeVine 21 hours ago
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The U.S. suburbs are hot again

The talk around the world is about the rise of the city. But in the U.S., suburbanization is accelerating, according to new Census data released today.

Data: Census Bureau, analysis by Jed Kolko at Indeed.com; Chart: Axios Visuals

What's happening: Since about 2011, the growth of the urban counties of large cities has been sliding. Population growth in their higher-density suburbs has been falling since 2015 as well. But, as you see in the chart above, lower-density suburbs had the highest growth among all places, and exurbs and small towns have also been on the rise, according to an analysis of the data by Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.