The US cleared the way for antitrust inquiries into Nvidia, Microsoft and OpenAI.

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Federal regulators have reached an agreement that allows them to move forward with an antitrust investigation into the key roles that Microsoft, OpenAI and Nvidia play in the artificial intelligence industry, in the strongest sign yet. How the powerful technology has increased regulatory scrutiny.

The Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission signed off on the deal last week, and it is expected to be finalized in the coming days, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Under the arrangement, the Justice Department will lead an investigation into whether the behavior of Nvidia, the largest maker of AI chips, violated antitrust laws, the people said. The FTC will play a central role in examining the conduct of OpenAI, which makes the ChatGPT chatbot, and Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in OpenAI and has deals with other AI companies, the people said.

The deal signals an acceleration of scrutiny by the Justice Department and the FTC into AI, a rapidly evolving technology that has the potential to affect jobs, information and people's lives. Both agencies have been at the forefront of the Biden administration's efforts to rein in the power of the biggest tech companies. Following a similar deal in 2019, the government investigated Google, Apple, Amazon and Meta and has since sued each of them on claims they violated antitrust laws.

For months, Nvidia, Microsoft and OpenAI largely escaped regulatory scrutiny from the Biden administration. But that began to change as Creative AI, which can produce human-like text, images, videos and audio, hit the scene in late 2022 and created an industry frenzy.

Regulators have recently signaled that they want to get ahead of advances in AI.In July, the FTC opened an investigation into whether OpenAI harmed consumers through its data collection. In January, the FTC also opened a wide-ranging investigation into strategic partnerships between tech giants and AI startups, including Microsoft's investment in OpenAI and Google and Amazon's investment in Anthropic, another young AI company.

Still, the US lags behind Europe in regulating artificial intelligence. European Union officials last year agreed on landmark rules to govern the rapidly developing technology, focusing on the most dangerous ways it could be used. In Washington last month, a group of senators released legislative recommendations for AI, calling for $32 billion a year to advance America's leadership in the technology but stopping short of calling for specific new regulations. stay

Talks between the FTC and the Justice Department about AI companies entered their final stages over the past week and have involved senior levels of both agencies, a person who is an FTC official said. He said that there is knowledge of communication.

The FTC's chair, Lena Khan, said in a February interview that when it came to AI, the agency was “trying to find potential problems at the beginning, rather than years and years and years later, when the problems are very deep.” It is more difficult to correct.”

Spokesmen for the FTC and the Justice Department declined to comment. Nvidia, Microsoft and OpenAI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Nvidia, OpenAI and Microsoft have been in the spotlight as the biggest winners of the AI ​​boom, raising questions about their dominance.

Nvidia, a Silicon Valley chipmaker, is the primary supplier of graphics processing units, or GPUs, components adapted to AI tasks such as machine learning. After AI took off, tech companies raced to get their hands on Nvidia's GPUs, doubling and tripling its sales. Nvidia's stock price has risen more than 200 percent over the past year, and the company's market capitalization surpassed $3 trillion for the first time on Wednesday, overtaking Apple.

Industry players have grown concerned about Nvidia's dominance, two people with knowledge of the concerns said, including how the company's software locks out customers from using its chips. , as well as how Nvidia distributes these chips to consumers.

Microsoft, the world's most valuable public tech company, has also become a leading purveyor of artificial intelligence. It owns 49 percent of OpenAI, which burst into public consciousness in 2022 with the release of ChatGPT. The chatbot's ability to answer questions, create images and generate computer code captivated people and quickly made the startup one of the most prominent companies in the tech industry.

Microsoft has built OpenAI technology into its products. AI now generates answers for users of its search engine, Bing, and can help create presentations and documents in PowerPoint and Word. (The New York Times has sued OpenAI and Microsoft, claiming copyright infringement for news content about AI systems.)

Microsoft's AI deals have drawn scrutiny for giving one of the biggest tech companies influence over the emerging technology, while some in the industry have raised questions about whether the deals as such which allows Microsoft to avoid direct review by regulators.

The Times reports that Microsoft has structured its minority stake in OpenAI to avoid antitrust scrutiny. Microsoft also inked a deal in March to hire most of the staff of another AI startup, Inflection AI, and license its technology. Because the deal was not a standard acquisition, it could be difficult for regulators to scrutinize.

Last week, the Justice Department's antitrust division hosted a conference about AI at Stanford University. In his opening remarks, Jonathan Cantor, the agency's top antitrust official, pointed to “structures and trends in AI that should give us pause.”

“AI relies heavily on data and computing power, which can give already dominant firms a substantial advantage,” he said.

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