Events are a great way to help stay abreast of tech trends. But what’s the secret to identifying great gatherings worth your time? In this week’s edition of “The AI Economy,” meet Jeremiah Owyang, a general partner at Blitzscaling Ventures and the architect behind an innovative event fostering AI development in Silicon Valley. Gain insight into why he launched this initiative, the criteria for startups to showcase their innovations, and details on how you can attend an upcoming event.
Plus, learn about the latest efforts by government regulators, law enforcement and tech companies to put a halt to deepfakes.
During my early years residing in San Francisco, startup events thrived. There were so many in some weeks that you could hop from one gathering to another in a single night. From vibrant launch celebrations to insightful panel discussions and beyond, the atmosphere was ripe with the excitement of uncovering groundbreaking innovations.
Over the past decade or so, there has been a noticeable shift in the atmosphere. While there were still occasional startup parties, their frequency dwindled. However, with the rise of artificial intelligence, the Bay Area is experiencing a revival of these social gatherings. Entrepreneurs are once again enthusiastic about showcasing their products to potential customers and investors.
At the center of these AI events: Jeremiah Owyang.
A former analyst who transitioned into entrepreneurship and later became an investor, Owyang is the organizer of the Llama Lounge — which has no connection to Meta. The event allows startups to showcase their AI while giving attendees a chance to network with one another.
Owyang says he drew inspiration for the Llama Lounge after attending Hugging Face’s “Woodstock of AI” event. It was there where he derived the name for his showcase — it was the icon the industry needed, he once tweeted. Plus, having a unicorn was so 2013.
“When markets are in formation mode, hosting meetups to enable the relationships to foster is a critical role,” he tells me. As more Llama Lounge events were held, it started allowing curated startups to set up tables. “Several events have had 10 AI startups demo, which has been a key draw.”
What are the requirements for selection? “The founder should be working on this project full-time. There’s a website, users and a working demo. The product solves a business goal. The founder is verbally articulate and can present,” Owyang explains.
There have been seven Llama Lounge events to date. However, not all were in the San Francisco Bay Area — one was held in New York City. There are plans to hold five in San Francisco and one in Palo Alto in 2024. As for bringing the event to cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin or Chicago? Owyang says not right now: “They don’t have AI founders to support this type of event style.”
Response to the Llama Lounge has been positive to date. Owyang revealed some statistics for his most recent event last November:
- 1,332 registered attendees with 760 admitted
- More than 30 AI founders and builders showed up along with an estimated 80 investors
- 3 speakers
Owyang has long been deeply engaged in major technological trends, spanning from social media to the on-demand/collaborative economy and Web3. When asked about similarities between those markets and AI, he reflects on their shared pattern of innovation: “They all follow a similar trajectory of questions posed by the market: What is it? Why is it important? How do I begin? What are the best approaches? And how do I incorporate it into my life, business, or society?”
To aid him in market research, Owyang states he attends an average of three AI events each week while also subscribing to newsletters like Sythedia and the Neuron. Moreover, “I read and have alerts about AI setup and my social network feeds are trained on AI…Hosting events gives me greater depth into the market, as teams expose information to me.”
And Llama Lounge isn’t the only AI event in Silicon Valley. There’s a resurgence in hackathons, panels, conferences and other social gatherings. The home of the tech industry is certainly seeing a renaissance and you can bet that Jeremiah Owyang will be right there, front and center.
The next Llama Lounge event will be held on Feb. 29. Those interested should request an invite as soon as possible. Space is limited with priority given to AI startup founders and investors.
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A Closer Look
In last week’s edition of “The AI Economy,” I covered the growing number of deepfakes. The newsletter highlighted two major incidents that happened recently: the explicit images of Taylor Swift and the fake robocalls targeting New Hampshire primary voters.
Underscoring the impact of these synthetic media, this week we learned of a finance worker tricked into paying out $25 million to fraudsters through the use of a deepfake phone call.
Even still, some progress has been made in response to these incidents. Law enforcement authorities have identified potential suspects, while regulatory bodies have taken action.
New Hampshire’s Attorney General traced the fake Joe Biden robocalls to a Texas company, and regulators quickly declared the use of voice-cloning technology in robocalls illegal. As for those Swift deepfakes? Research firm Graphika says they originated from the notorious message board 4chan.
Silicon Valley has progressed in adopting protective measures, with OpenAI, Google and Meta announcing they’re either adding tools to watermark AI-generated images or joining a coalition to prevent deepfake creation.
It’s great to hear action is being taken to beef up protection, but it’s still a reminder for everyone to be doubly suspicious about calls and what you see online.
Today’s Visual Snapshot
During last year’s Hollywood writers’ strike, one of their main issues was about how artificial intelligence was being used. Though studios acquiesced to writers’ demands, concerns remain.
Variety found in a survey of entertainment workers, a majority of respondents said generative AI will be effective at creating realistic sound effects for film, TV or games, and also autocompleting code for game programming. Additionally, there’s now a plurality who say AI will do a good job developing artwork for film, TV or game storyboards.
Even if folks think gen AI will get better over the next two to three years, it doesn’t ease people’s worries about job displacement. Yet, it shows how quickly AI is progressing.
Are consumers interested in AI-generated media? Another survey conducted by Morning Consult indicates there’s a mixed reaction. Between February and August 2023, respondents expressed a growing interest in gen AI creating social media captions, ads, deepfakes, TV series, company spokespeople and actors. However, there’s less appeal for virtual travel agents and customer support, tools to replicate voice and speech patterns, along with AI-generated movies and social media personalities.
Regarding media and entertainment, it seems AI will soon excel in tasks, but there’s uncertainty if consumers will fully embrace the end result, as they’re still unsure about how much they want to embrace AI’s role in the creative process.
“This is how we’ve always approached search, in the sense that as search evolved, as mobile came in and user interactions changed, we adapted to it. In some cases we’re leading users, as we are with multimodal AI. But I want to be flexible about the future, because otherwise we’ll get it wrong.”
— Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai on why Google’s Gemini launch is not a replacement for search but “an alternative to see what sticks”
🏭 Industry Insights
- Amazon’s cloud boss Adam Seplinsky compares gen AI to the dotcom bubble, saying leading companies back then were “dramatically overhyped” (Wired)
- IBM has outpaced Microsoft, Google, and OpenAI in acquiring AI-related patents over the last five years (Axios)
- Police departments turn to AI to sift through millions of hours of unreviewed body-cam footage (ProPublica)
- A look at OpenAI’s $1 million grant program investing in teams developing ways to protect democracy from AI (Time)
- One of the “Godfathers of AI,” Yann LeCun, explains how open source could shape AI (Time)
🤖 Machine Learning
- Mark Zuckerberg says Meta will use publicly shared data on Facebook and Instagram to train its AI, claims it’s larger than Common Crawl which contains an archive of 250 billion web pages and is used to train ChatGPT (TechRadar)
- Understanding Common Crawl and its impact on generative AI (Mozilla)
- How symmetry can aid machine learning (MIT.edu)
- Abacus AI’s Smaug-72B tops Hugging Face’s rankings as the best LLM (VentureBeat)
- Perplexity AI partners with Vercel, letting third-party apps access its LLM (VentureBeat)
✏️ Generative AI
- OpenAI forms team to explore child safety enforcement (TechCrunch)
- Augie Storyteller launches, making AI movie magic accessible for everyone (My Two Cents)
- Hugging Face launches customizable gen AI chatbots, powered by Llama 2 and Mixtral, to rival OpenAI’s GPT Store (Voicebot.ai)
- OpenAI reportedly developing a form of agent software to automate complex tasks by taking over your device (The Information)
- AI is remodeling the fantasy home (The New York Times)
- Google launches its ChatGPT-rival Gemini, replacing Bard and Duet, and releases a dedicated Android app (The Verge)
- The AI companions you can have conversations with (BBC)
- What’s it like wearing Meta’s AI-powered Ray-Ban glasses? (Axios)
- AMD unveils Embedded+ architecture fusing Ryzen and Versal chips for power-efficient edge AI (VentureBeat)
- Nvidia develops ChipNeMo AI system to help accelerate chip production (Business Insider)
🔬 Science and Breakthroughs
- Researchers leverage AI to read letters preserved in ash from the AD79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius (The Guardian)
- How AI helps us learn about birds (The Markup)
- Scientists using machine learning to decode the language of chickens (Inverse)
- New AI circuitry mimicking the human brain makes models smarter (Scientific American)
💼 Business and Marketing
- Ad agency Pereira O’Dell launches Silderside AI, a marketing lab connecting brands with Silicon Valley startups, focusing on gen AI, machine learning and developing new models (Ad Age)
- Microsoft sets higher ambitions after investing in an AI-powered Bing search engine (The Verge)
📺 Media and Entertainment
- Microsoft teams with Semafor on a project using AI to curate news stories (The Verge)
- Confessions of an AI clickbait kingpin (Wired)
- OpenAI CEO Sam Altman reportedly in talks to raise trillions to develop a semiconductor factory (AFP)
- Cimba.ai raises $1.25 million for its enterprise AI agent development platform (Geekwire)
- AI-text-to-video platform Colossyan raises $22 million in new funding (Tech.eu)
- Healthtech startup Ezra, which offers AI-powered full-body MRI scans for early cancer detection, raises $21 million (AlleyWatch)
⚖️ Copyright and Regulatory Issues
- How AI is changing everyday life and what Washington is doing about it (Politico)
- President Biden taps White House aid to helm new AI Safety Institute, which is tasked with establishing AI testing standards (Associated Press)
- The UK government, AI companies, and creative organizations have been unable to reach consensus on guidelines for training AI models using copyrighted materials (The Next Web)
- Apple joins Meta, Google, Amazon, IBM and others on U.S. AI safety initiative (Apple Insider)
- California senator introduces bill aiming to force companies to test AI models before releasing them (Washington Post)
💥 Disruption and Misinformation
- Inside the underground site using ‘neural networks’ to generate fake IDs (404 Media)
- Health insurance companies cannot use AI to determine care or deny coverage to Medicare members, U.S. regulator rules (Ars Technica)
- How generative AI is being used in Indonesia’s election (Reuters)
🔎 Opinions and Research
- Survey: American workers fear ChatGPT and AI will make them obsolete and could replace them (Axios)
- Rewriting the startup playbook for the age of AI (NEA)
- As gen AI proliferates, a look at its impact on our ability to be authentic across social media (Deloitte/The Wall Street Journal)
- How AI will change phones — and the whole internet (Vergecast/The Verge)
I hope you enjoyed diving into the latest articles on “The AI Economy!”
I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this edition. What struck a chord with you, and what left you scratching your head? Leave a comment or shoot me a message on LinkedIn with your feedback — it’s the secret sauce that makes this journey worthwhile.
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