News In Context

Will AI’s Benefits Outweigh The Societal Burdens?

AI’s downsides were in the news week:

* Google said on May 14 that it will turbo charge its search engine with its AI model, drawing on the rapidly advancing technology to directly answer user queries at the top of results pages. “Google will do the Googling for you,” the company explained. That means users will soon no longer have to click on the links displayed in search results to find the information they are seeking. By the end of the year, more than a billion people will have access to the technology. For news publishers — many of whom are already struggling with steep traffic declines — the revamped search experience will likely cause an even further decrease in audience, potentially starving them of readers and revenue.

*Microsoft revealed that its emissions have risen by almost a third since 2020, as the push to build out the infrastructure behind AI threatens its climate goals. The nearly 30% increase in emissions was in large part due to the construction of the data centers that AI and cloud computing systems run on, Microsoft said in its annual sustainability report on May 15.

*Mark Read, chief executive of London-based advertising group WPP, was the target of a deepfake scam in which criminals used advanced AI-powered voice clone software and public YouTube footage to set up a video meeting with his executives. In an email to colleagues seen by the Financial Times, Read said that the scammers used a publicly available photo to set up a fake WhatsApp account under his name. This was used to arrange a Microsoft Teams call between one of his agency heads, another senior executive and the scammers. Once on the Teams meeting, a voice clone and YouTube footage of the other executive was used, he said, while scammers impersonated Read off-camera using the chat function to try and convince a WPP executive that Read wanted him to set up a new business. The goal was to extract personal details and money. It failed but similar deepfake scams have succeeded, fueling fears of how deep fakes could negatively impact business and elections around the world.

*OpenAI co-founder and long-time chief scientist Ilya Sutskever quit, increasing speculation and fear that Ai safety is being put on a back burner at OpenAI. Sutskever is the fourth key employee to recently leave. Hours after the announcement, Jan Leike, another senior researcher at OpenAI, resigned. He had worked closely with Sutskever on “alignment” — or ensuring that AI systems act in the human interest if and when they surpass human-level intelligence. Two others working on safety and governance also quit since the beginning of the year.“Whatever Ilya saw, he is leaving,” prominent AI researcher Gary Marcus wrote in a blog posting. “ I don’t think it’s about a scary new algorithm per se (as many people have speculated) – I suspect it is about an attitude: the company’s attitude towards AI safety,” wrote Marcus. “People don’t leave companies with $86 billion valuations for nothing.” Regulators are struggling to design rules with teeth to ensure that while big tech companies speed ahead, use of the technology does not cause societal harm.

*The use of AI in finance needs to be monitored and possibly regulated to prevent harm to consumers and ensure the proper functioning of markets, the European Central Bank (ECB) said on May 15. The ECB saw a number of opportunities from the use of generative AI by banks and other financial institutions, such as superior processing of information, more efficient customer service and even a greater ability to spot cyberthreats. But it also warned about risks including herding behavior, over-reliance on a limited numbers of providers and more sophisticated cyberattacks.”

*Meanwhile, AI is hitting the global labor market “like a tsunami” International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on May 13 at an event in Zurich. Artificial intelligence is likely to impact 60% of jobs in advanced economies and 40% of jobs around the world in the next two years, Georgieva said. “We have very little time to get people ready for it, businesses ready for it,” she told the event organized by the Swiss Institute of International Studies, associated to the University of Zurich. “It could bring tremendous increase in productivity if we manage it well, but it can also lead to more misinformation and, of course, more inequality in our society.”

Against the backdrop of all this negative news, The New York Times ran an opinion piece by investigative journalist and book author Julia Angwin that said that said AI is not living up to its hype. For more than a year, the world has been asking what will be the consequences if AI gets too powerful,she wrote on Twitter. But it’s time to start asking about the consequences “if AI stays as dumb as it currently is.”

“Should we as a society be investing tens of billions of dollars, our precious electricity that could be used toward moving away from fossil fuels, and a generation of the brightest math and science minds on incremental improvements in mediocre email writing?” Angwin asked.“We can’t abandon work on improving A.I.,” she wrote. “The technology, however middling, is here to stay, and people are going to use it. But we should reckon with the possibility that we are investing in an ideal future that may not materialize.”



Unilever Brand Partners With Animal-Free Egg Protein Pioneer

The EVERY Company—the first player to commercialize egg proteins produced by microbes instead of chickens—has teamed up with Unilever-owned brand The Vegetarian Butcher to incorporate its animal-free egg whites into select meat alternative products as a clean label binder. A leading player in the alt meat space with products in thousands of retail and foodservice outlets across Europe and beyond with partnerships with Burger King and Subway.The Vegetarian Butcher was founded by Jaap Korteweg and Niko Koffeman in the Netherlands in 2010 and acquired by Unilever in 2018. Like many players in the space, it has been exploring binders that can serve as alternatives to egg white (an animal-derived ingredient with notoriously volatile pricing and availability thanks to recurrent bouts of avian flu) and methylcellulose, a chemically modified binder 


Anthropic Releases Claude Chatbot Across Europe

Artificial intelligence startup Anthropic, which is backed by Alphabet’s  Google and , said it would release its generative AI chatbot Claude across Europe. European business customers will also be able to access the “Claude Team” plan, which will cost 28 euros ($30.21) per month before value-added tax.Anthropic was set up by former executives at OpenAI and siblings Dario and Daniela Amodei. Earlier this month, the firm jumped into the race to capture corporate dollars, launching a version of its chatbot aimed at businesses. Anthropic’s Claude is a direct competitor to Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the chatbot that broke records when it reached 100 million monthly active users just two months after launch.While the Claude chatbot was already freely available online in a number of countries, this is the first time it has been made available via the web and iPhones across the European Union, as well as a handful of non-EU countries in Europe such as Switzerland and Iceland.


AWS To Launch European Sovereign Cloud

Techcrunch reported that Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud computing business, revealed further details of its European “sovereign cloud,” which is designed to enable greater data residency across the region. The company said that the first AWS sovereign cloud region will be set up in the German state of Brandenburg and will go live by the end of 2025. AWS added that it plans to invest €7.8 billion ($8.5 billion) in the facility through 2040.AWS has long offered localized data storage and processing in the European region, but public sector bodies and organizations operating in certain highly regulated industries have been slower to transition to the public cloud due to data (mis)management concerns. The AWS European Sovereign Cloud comes with stricter data controls, allowing all qualifying customers to keep all their metadata within the EU — AWS employees based anywhere outside the EU would be unable to access anything contained within the bloc because the sovereign cloud will be “physically and logically separate” from all other AWS regions.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.