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Tech giants jockey for position at dawn of AI age



Google, the world leader in online advertising, is one of several tech giants investing in generative AI capabilities
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Whether they sell smartphones, ads or computer chips, the heavyweights of Silicon Valley have everything to prove to investors looking to see who is best placed in the race to dominate the generative artificial intelligence market.

“If you’re a company, and you don’t have an AI message, you’re not going to be in business very long,” says independent industry analyst Jack Gold.

“Everyone is focused on AI right now. And everyone’s trying to outmarket and out-hype everybody else. And there’s room for a whole lot of players.”

Over the past two weeks, tech’s top companies released their corporate earnings reports for the July-September quarter.

Most of them beat analyst expectations, but on Wall Street, all eyes were on plans for generative AI, popularized by the ChatGPT chatbot, OpenAI’s interface that was launched a year ago and dazzled the world.

The parent company of Google, the world leader in online advertising, saw its profit jump 42 percent in the third quarter to nearly $20 billion — well above market estimates.

Shares in Alphabet however dropped more than 10 percent over two sessions because Google Cloud, though expanding, was seen as disappointing.

For Max Willens, an analyst at Insider Intelligence, while the division’s credibility among AI startups could “bear fruit in the long run, it is not currently helping Google Cloud enough to satisfy investors.”

– ‘How fast it’s changing’ –

The cloud is where most generative AI systems — which can deliver content as complex as a poem or scholarly essay in just seconds — will be unfurled.

Generative AI, considered by many observers to be a seismic change similar to the advent of the internet age, is based on AI systems called large language models.

These models compile mountains of data that are the building blocks for “creating” content.

Microsoft — a major investor in OpenAI — along with Google and Meta have trained their own models.

Companies specializing in cloud services — led by Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud — are beginning to monetize AI, though the costs remain high for now, says Yory Wurmser, another analyst for Insider Intelligence.

“The excitement is on what’s possible, and how fast it’s changing,” Wurmser told AFP.

The main cost comes from the microprocessors needed to churn through the data.

Chipmaker Nvidia hit the jackpot by betting years ago on developing graphics processing units (GPUs), now a crucial pillar in the rapid development of generative AI.

But for Gold, one must understand “how AI is ultimately going to be used.”

He says “probably 80 or 90 percent of all workloads will be inference workloads,” meaning the usual functioning of AI models once they’ve been created.

US chip giant Intel has been working to catch up with its rivals, especially Nvidia, when it comes to powerful chips needed to handle AI’s processing demands.

“The inferencing use of those models is what we believe is truly spectacular for the future,” said Intel chief executive Pat Gelsinger.

“A huge amount of that is going to run right on Xeons,” he said, referring to the company’s processors.

– ‘Nobody’s late’ –

Amazon, which plans to invest up to $4 billion in Anthropic, a rival to OpenAI, is insisting on the importance of Bedrock, its service for building generative AI applications.

“It’s still complicated to actually figure out which models you want to use … and trying to make sure you have the right results” while keeping costs in check, said Amazon CEO Andy Jassy.

“Bedrock just takes so much of the difficulty out of those decisions in those variables, that people are very excited about Bedrock,” he said.

Even Apple, which is loathe to allow trends to dictate its agenda, was unable to escape questions about its AI plans.

“In terms of generative AI, obviously we have work going on,” said Apple chief Tim Cook. “I’m not going to get into details… but you can bet that we’re investing quite a bit.”

Observers are expecting big things from Apple with respect to its digital assistant Siri, which has not evolved all that much in recent years. Amazon recently announced it would gradually add AI capability to its Siri equivalent, Alexa.

For Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies, no one is behind — yet.

“Nobody’s late in a market that is just getting started and that will require investment and commitments,” Milanesi told AFP.

“It starts first from an enterprise perspective before it starts from a consumer perspective.”

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UAE sought to use COP28 to advance oil deals: report




COP28 climate change summit president Ahmed Al Jaber is also head of the UAE's state oil company and state renewable energy firm
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The United Arab Emirates planned to exploit meetings with foreign governments arranged due to its COP28 hosting role to strike fossil fuel deals, according to leaked documents obtained by the BBC.

The leaked briefing notes, obtained by journalists at the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) working alongside the British broadcaster, were prepared by the UAE’s COP28 team for summit president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber ahead of meetings with foreign governments between July and October this year.

Leaked “talking points” prepared for a meeting with China said that ADNOC, the UAE’s state oil company, was “willing to jointly evaluate international LNG (liquefied natural gas) opportunities” in Mozambique, Canada and Australia.

Briefing notes prepared for meetings with Colombia, Germany and Egypt suggested that ADNOC “stands ready” to support each country develop fossil fuel projects.

The documents showed the UAE prepared talking points for meetings with 20 countries, including the United States, UK and Germany, on commercial opportunities for state renewable energy company Masdar.

COP28 president Al Jaber is also CEO of ADNOC and Masdar.

A COP28 spokesperson told AFP that the documents cited by the BBC “are inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings. It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body responsible for the COP28 summit, which starts on Thursday, told the BBC that the “cardinal principle” for hosts was “the obligation of impartiality”.

Climate campaigners have raised concerns about the influence of fossil fuel interests at the talks in Dubai, noting Jaber’s role as head of an oil company.

In an interview with AFP on Saturday, Jaber defended the large presence of heavy emitting industries including the oil and gas sector.

“Everyone needs to be part of this process and everyone needs to be held responsible and everyone needs to be held accountable,” he said.

COP28, which will be held until December 12, is due to be attended by 167 world leaders, including King Charles III and Pope Francis.

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Alberta proposes more open definition of software engineer in new bill

Tech companies and the APEGA feud as the Alberta government prioritizes tech growth



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Software engineers build technical programs — but not unless they’re regulated and certified. At least, that has been the stance of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). 

Tech companies in Alberta like Neo Financial and Helcim recently petitioned to Premier Danielle Smith for a more open interpretation of the job title “software engineer,” as they were faced with lawsuits over job ad verbiage from the APEGA. 

It seems the government listened. 

Fast forward to November 2023? The Government of Alberta has proposed changes to legislation, specifically the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act, to open up the legal definition of software engineer, as many tech companies use the title without actually seeking a professional engineer’s professional designation or certification. 

The proposed changes fall under the new Bill 7, which has generated approval from the tech industry

“This is an important development for the innovation sector in the province and will give companies and their employees the freedom to use titles that have long been universally accepted in the tech industry.”

  • Sam Pillar, Chief Executive, Jobber

However, the APEGA sees the initiative as a threat to public safety: 

“Title protection is vital to preserving public safety and maintaining high standards of practice and ethics.”

  • Jay Nagendran, Registrar, APEGA

Sure, tech companies could retitle job descriptions to “software developer” instead; however, studies show that these job ads receive significantly less applicants and interest than those titled with “software engineer.” The main goal? Supporting the tech industry in attracting and retaining top talent.

Experts predict similar issues will arise in the ever-evolving tech industry. For example, growing popularity of generative AI like Chat-GPT will create a demand for “prompt engineers” — see the dilemma? The legislative changes (if passed) are thought to foster tech company growth, improve the economy, and reduce red tape. 

Learn more about the proposed bill here.

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Nissan accelerates UK electric car production




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Japanese auto giant Nissan announced Friday it would invest up to £2 billion in UK electric car manufacturing, which the government touted as a sign of confidence in the sector.

Nissan said it will produce electric models of two best-selling cars, Juke and Qashqai, at its facility in Sunderland, northeast England, which is its biggest factory in Europe, building on UK net zero plans to switch away from dirty fossil-fuel vehicles.

The carmaker will plough £1.12 billion ($1.4 billion) into its UK operations and wider supply chain for research and development and manufacturing of the two new models, it added in a statement.

That will also spark further investment in infrastructure projects and the supply chain, including another electric car battery factory, bringing total investment to as much as £2 billion ($2.5 billion).

Nissan’s investment will support its UK workforce of 7,000 employees — and 30,000 jobs in the nation’s broader supply chain.

– Carbon neutrality plans –

“Exciting, electric vehicles are at the heart of our plans to achieve carbon neutrality,” said Nissan President and CEO Makoto Uchida.

“With electric versions of our core European models on the way, we are accelerating towards a new era for Nissan, for industry and for our customers.”

Uchida declared in September that there was “no going back” on the group’s electrification plans as it aims for 98 percent of European sales to be electric vehicles by 2027.

The news comes as Britain looks to take a leading role in the production of electric cars as companies and governments shift away from high-polluting automobiles.

The UK government confirmed Friday that it has awarded £15 million of funding towards a collaborative R&D project for zero-emission vehicles led by Nissan.

“Nissan’s investment is a massive vote of confidence in the UK’s automotive industry, which already contributes a massive £71 billion a year to our economy,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who will attend a formal announcement at the site later on Friday.

“This venture will no doubt secure Sunderland’s future as the UK’s Silicon Valley for electric vehicle innovation and manufacturing.

“Making the UK the best place to do business is at the heart of our economic plan.”

Finance minister Jeremy Hunt pledged Wednesday in his budget update to invest £4.5 billion in strategic sectors including the auto industry.

– Net zero targets –

However, earlier this year Sunak softened policies aimed at reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, delaying a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035.

That still means however that the country’s largely foreign-owned car manufacturing sector must switch to producing fully-electric vehicles.

Nissan had previously warned that a no-deal Brexit would threaten the Sunderland site, but committed to its future after the government agreed a trade deal.

Yet the nation’s car industry has warned that automakers will soon face a damaging 10-percent hike in customs duties on electric cars crossing the Channel.

Britain left the European Union in 2021 after clinching a last-gasp free trade agreement which removed tariffs on cars.

But under the deal, from January 1, 2024, at least 45 percent of the value of car parts must originate from Britain or the European Union to be exempt from customs duties.

That hits electric carmakers because their batteries often originate from China, despite UK efforts to establish production.

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