AI Takes Center Stage at Tech Live 2023 – Tech News Briefing – WSJ Podcasts – The Wall Street Journal

WSJ’s Tech Live will feature some of the biggest names in artificial intelligence including the CEOs of OpenAI and Arm. WSJ Live Journalism news editor Sara Castellanos joins host Zoe Thomas with a preview of what to expect. And, WSJ reporter Patience Haggin explains how U.S. government agencies used commercially available cell phone data for intelligence operations.
This transcript was prepared by a transcription service. This version may not be in its final form and may be updated.
Zoe Thomas: Welcome to Tech News Briefing. It's Monday, October 16th. I'm Zoe Thomas for the Wall Street Journal. Today marks the start of the WSJ's annual Tech Live, marking the event's 10th year. Big names in AI, crypto, and investing will be on stage with WSJ staff, who will be asking them some of the most pressing questions in tech right now. Live Journalism Editor Sara Castellanos joins us to discuss what you can expect to hear this week. But starting with some news on how data from your cell phone could be used for government surveillance. The Wall Street Journal identified a network of brokers and advertising exchanges whose data was flowing from apps to intelligence and other government agencies through a company called Near Intelligence. Our Reporter Patience Hagen joins us now for more on this. Patience, tell us about some of the agencies that have purchased this data and how it's been used.
Patience Haggin: Agencies like Department of Defense and the NSA have purchased this kind of data from data brokers. It's been used for all manner of uses related to law enforcement, counterintelligence, and public safety. And one incident, the Department of Homeland Security relied on this kind of information to figure out the location of a tunnel at the border that was being used for illegal border crossings. In another instance, the IRS has obtained this kind of data and used it to try to find some of the suspects who are suspected of tax evasion.
Zoe Thomas: And your reporting identified a network of brokers and advertisers that were exchanging this data and that it was being funneled through a company called Near Intelligence. Can you tell us a bit about Near Intelligence and how this system worked?
Patience Haggin: Near Intelligence is one of many, many location data brokers, Near bought data from other data brokers. They obtained data from ad auctions. They bundled it and repackaged it and sold it to other data brokers, all kinds of businesses, and they sold it to a lot of government agencies as well.
Zoe Thomas: Is it legal for a company like Near Intelligence to do what it does?
Patience Haggin: Near collected data in ways that violated European Union privacy law. They collected data about European Union residents through digital ad auctions, even though the European Union residents had never consented to have their data collected and sold that way.
Zoe Thomas: That was our Reporter Patience Haggin. And we should add that Near Intelligence told the Securities and Exchange Commission last week that several executives have been placed on administrative leave, while the company's board investigates allegations of financial wrongdoing, a spokesman didn't say whether the matter was related to the sale of ad tech data to government contractors. In a statement, Near said it's continuously improving its systems for preventing misuse of data by customers. Microsoft finally closed its $75 billion purchase of video games publisher Activision Blizzard on Friday. The deal which has been subject to global regulatory hurdles is the biggest in Microsoft's nearly 50-year history and positions the software giant at the center of the gaming industry. Our Reporter Sarah Needleman has more.
Sarah Needleman: Microsoft will absorb Activision's business, and what we know so far is that Activision's longtime chief executive Bobby Kotick put out a memo saying that he's agreed to stick around until the end of 2023 to help with the transition and that he'll report to Microsoft CEO of gaming Phil Spencer during that transition period. Adding Activision would make gaming overall about 10% of Microsoft's revenue in the latest fiscal year, which would be from the 7% the company actually reported. This means that Activision stable bestselling franchises, which include Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Warcraft, that will help strengthen Microsoft's video game business by more than half to above $24 billion. But like I said, gaming is still a small part of Microsoft's business, this is certainly a boon for Microsoft in terms of its portfolio.
Zoe Thomas: Coming up, some of the most influential voices in AI will be speaking at the WSJ's Tech Live. What can you expect to hear from them and what else will the event offer? We've got the inside scoop, after the break. The Wall Street Journal's annual Tech Live event kicks off today. We'll have coverage all week, including highlights from the main stage conversations, but to get us ready for it, we're joined now by Sara Castellanos, WSJ Live journalism news editor. Sara, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of AI conversations slated for this year's Tech Live. What are some of the different topics surrounding AI we can expect to hear about?
Sara Castellanos: So the interviews at Tech Live are going to touch on everything from how AI is influencing online gaming to social media and even how celebrities are thinking about AI. You'll also hear about what's in store for possible AI regulation in the US and you're going to hear about a lot of the risks of artificial intelligence as well. So two of our guest speakers at Tech Live have written new books that talk about the real dangers of advanced AI systems, and those are AI leaders, Mustafa Suleyman, who is Google DeepMind's co-founder, and Fei-Fei Li, who's a renowned Stanford AI researcher. And one of the highlights of the event is that we'll hear straight from OpenAI founder Sam Altman and his CTO Mira Murati about where they think AI is headed. So you can expect this technology will certainly be a thread throughout every conversation we have at Tech Live.
Zoe Thomas: Right, certainly some big names in the AI space at the moment, but apart from AI, are there some themes that folks should expect to hear about?
Sara Castellanos: Yeah, so there are a lot of other themes aside from AI, but I'll call out three here. So we will have a discussion about the fate of the crypto industry with crypto optimist, Anthony Scaramucci, and Charlie Shrem, who is a crypto compliance advocate. Tech Live is happening against the backdrop of a crypto meltdown. FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is on trial for allegedly stealing billions of dollars from customers. And it's worth noting that he joined us virtually at Tech Live last year where he was still touting the health of FTX and the wider crypto industry. And then three weeks later, his company filed for bankruptcy. We're also going to be discussing climate technology with Mike Schroepfer, who is the former CTO of Meta, and Victoria Beasley, a longtime climate tech investor. And we will also have a session on social media and mental health. This is a topic that the journal has covered very extensively, especially in the Facebook Files series. Just a few months ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a public health warning about the risks of social media to young people.
Zoe Thomas: And that's something too, we've talked about a lot on the show, so it'll be fascinating to hear what they have to say. Two of the first speakers we're going to hear from today as Tech Live kicks off are John Legend and Arnold Schwarzenegger. These aren't two people typically associated with tech. Can you tell us about each of their sessions?
Sara Castellanos: Yeah. So many of us are familiar with John Legend as a 12-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, but he is also an entrepreneur and a social impact investor. I don't want to spoil too much here, but he is going to be talking about the work he's doing in the consumer tech space with Venture capitalist Nicole Quinn, who is a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. And he'll also be discussing the role he's playing in Praxis Labs, which is a startup founded by Elise Smith that uses virtual reality as a tool for diversity training at major tech companies. And as for Arnold Schwarzenegger, look, he has so much experience in so many different facets of life, really as an actor, as a bodybuilder, as the former governor of California. And technology has really influenced all of those areas. So he'll be joining us in a wide-ranging conversation about the future of the planet and aging and how technology has shaped American culture.
Zoe Thomas: Sarah, Tech Live over the years has really been a place where news has broken. Obviously, we don't know what that might be ahead of time, but what are some of the sessions you'll be watching out for to see if there's breaking news?
Sara Castellanos: I will be paying close attention to Sam Altman and Mira Murati, as well as Chris Cox, who is Meta's chief product officer. They will all be interviewed by Joanna Stern, who's our personal technology columnist. Vinod Khosla should be really interesting to listen to as one of the very first investors in OpenAI. I'd also pay close attention to the session with Rene Haas, who's the CEO of British circuit designer Arm, whose technology is widespread across smartphones. That company recently went public at a $54 billion valuation, so he's going to discuss the outlook for the chip industry and how he's thinking about artificial intelligence. So stay tuned.
Zoe Thomas: That was Sara Castellanos, news editor for our live journalism team. If you want to check out this year's event, head over to techlive.wsj.com. WSJ subscribers get access for free. You can also read real-time updates on our website, wsj.com. All right, that's it for Tech News Briefing. Today's show was produced by Julie Chang with supervising producer Melony Roy. I'm Zoe Thomas for The Wall Street Journal. We'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.
Zoe Thomas is the host of Tech News Briefing. Before joining The Wall Street Journal, she was a producer and reporter for BBC News. Zoe has covered business, economics and technology stories across North and South America and Asia. She has been based out of bureaus in San Francisco, Mumbai and her hometown of New York. When not at work, you can often find her searching for new culinary delights or food trends to test out.

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