How companies are (or are not) communicating their AI strategies

June 20, 2023

Six months since the launch of ChatGPT, AI has quickly become one of the most talked about topics by many corporate executives. Corporate earnings calls showed a 77% year over year uptick in mentions of AI in Q4 2022, with the pace only intensifying since then. 

Several key messaging themes are emerging among top tech CEOs, investors and consulting firms.

  • Advocacy tied to business momentum: Difference in tone reflects the AI race hierarchy – with Microsoft and Nvidia showing full-steam-ahead enthusiasm, while Alphabet and Apple lean into the concerns and cautions with a more measured, thoughtful stance.
  • Engagement is widespread: With Apple as a notable exception, major tech companies are actively engaging with media and communicating to shareholders about their AI strategies. 
  • Technology described as revolutionary: Many statements are optimistic and forward-looking; keywords include “profound,” “invest substantially,” “promises,” “rebirth,” and “incredible,” “qualitative breakthroughs.”
  • Excitement tempered by cautious tone: Future-forward messages are often followed by caution and pragmatism, manifesting in phrases like “take our time,” “responsible AI,” and a “number of issues that need to be sorted.”

1. AI messaging balances opportunity and pragmatism

Here’s a look at how top tech companies and their CEOs have contributed to the AI dialogue. 


Shows cautious optimism rather than exuberance, wades into regulatory discussions

  • Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai is front and center on AI media engagements, appearing in primetime interviews and meeting with the UK prime minister to talk about regulation.  
  • While Pichai is direct about AI’s potential… “I’ve always thought of AI as the most profound technology humanity is working on. More profound than fire or electricity or anything that we’ve done in the past,” Pichai said on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” this month.
  • …He is clear that Alphabet is not rushing AI: “We’ve been cautious. There are areas where we’ve chosen not to be the first to put a product out. We’ve set up good structures around responsible AI. You will continue to see us take our time,” Pichai told Bloomberg.
  • Alphabet recently challenged OpenAI’s calls to form a central AI governing body, by voicing its preference for a “multi-layered, multi-stakeholder approach to AI governance.” The company cited the overarching impact AI will have on many regulated industries, such as finance and healthcare. 


Vows to take its deep machine learning experience to new heights

  • Amazon CEO Andy Jassy leans on the online retailer’s longstanding history of using AI to claim the company as a leader in this next wave of technology, noting that generative AI “promises to significantly accelerate machine learning adoption.”
  • Jassy said the company is “investing heavily” and “will continue to invest substantially” in generative AI, per a recent letter to shareholders. He noted Amazon has been working on its own large language models (LLMs) for “a while now,” and said he believes it will “transform and improve virtually every customer experience.” 


Takes the “show, don’t tell” approach + lets its products do the messaging

  • Apple, as a product company,  takes the practical approach on AI and lets its product features speak for themselves. Apple doesn’t often use the term “AI” – instead referring to “machine learning,” or simply talking about the features the technology enables.
  • CEO Tim Cook isn’t vocal about AI, so when he said AI is “huge,” but that there are “a number of issues that need to be sorted,” it was enough to make headlines


Talks about job displacements by AI + the need for upskilling

  • IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced a hiring freeze in the back office in May, saying “I could easily see 30% of that getting replaced by AI and automation over a five-year period.”
  • Recently, he tried to soothe nerves by pointing to declining working-age populations.

Having employees do routine tasks that A.I. could do is “not an option,” he said. “We are going to need technology to do some of the mundane work so that people can do higher-value work.” 


Subtly pivots away from Metaverse, envisions AI that can facilitate human interactions

  • Meta acknowledges playing catch up on AI after a heavy focus on the metaverse. 
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned AI 27 times in Meta’s Q1 earnings call in April. The company plans to commercialize its proprietary generative AI by December. Zuckerberg said in a company meeting that the “incredible breakthroughs” on generative AI will enable Meta to “build it into every single one of our projects.”
  • In a recent podcast interview, Zuckerberg also said the AI assistants he plans to launch will take on roles including “a mentor, a life coach, a cheerleader that can help pick you up through all of life’s challenges,” adding that AI can help people “express themselves better to people in situations where they would otherwise have a hard time doing that.” 


Champions how AI will positively impact society, with a nod to risks

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks extensively on the positive societal changes that AI will bring about, from democratizing access to new skills to turbocharging productivity growth. While acknowledging risks such as biases, Nadella contends that the benefits of AI – Microsoft’s AI, at least – will outweigh the potential drawbacks. 
  • In a recent WIRED story, Nadella said: “I am haunted by the fact that the industrial revolution didn’t touch the parts of the world where I grew up until much later … So I’m not at all worried about AGI showing up, or showing up fast. Great, right? That means 8 billion people have abundance. That’s a fantastic world to live in.”
  • On risks… “It’s an abdication of our own responsibility to say this is going to just go out of control. We can deal with powerful technology,” Nadella said.
  • On competition… “At the end of the day, [Google is] the 800-pound gorilla in [search],” Nadella said in an interview. “I hope that, with our innovation, they will definitely want to come out and show that they can dance. And I want people to know that we made them dance.”


Touts AI as a social equalizer that will usher in the “rebirth of the computer industry” 

  • Nvidia co-founder and CEO Jensen Huang boldly claims that AI has closed the “digital divide” because “everyone can be a programmer” – all they need to do is speak to the computer. 
  • “A.I. has reinvented computing from the ground up,” Huang said during a recent commencement speech in his birthplace of Taiwan. “In every way, this is a rebirth of the computer industry.” 
  • Nvidia, as a chip maker, is one degree removed from the AI tools that it powers. Thus, the company stays above the fray when it comes to regulation. Huang has made no notable mentions of AI’s risks. 


Stresses the need for “trust layer,” carves out niche as custodian of safe AI deployment

  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has described the new age of generative AI as more revolutionary than any technology innovation in this lifetime, or any lifetime, but he also openly discusses the risks and importance of creating tools that keeps customers safe.
  • The company isn’t looking to win on building the models themselves; instead, Salesforce’s role is as custodian and guide to make AI useful and safe. To that end, they launched an enterprise product called AI Cloud that can be incorporated into business operations.
  • “Trusted and responsible AI” is the most important goal for Salesforce, Benioff said. Regarding risk considerations, he noted “we understand the burden there must be on us as we’re trying to take this forward.”

2. How major investors have weighed in on AI

  • Bill Ackman, founder of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital, predicted that Alphabet would be a “secular winner” in AI and pumped $1 billion into its shares
  • Stanley Druckenmiller snapped up $430 million of Microsoft and Nvidia stocks, saying that “unlike crypto, I think AI is real.”
  • Altimeter Capital’s Brad Gerstner says “AI tech tools will be bigger than the Internet.” He describes himself as a pragmatic optimist. “Yes we need to prepare more for white collar job displacement,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that he is also optimistic and a believer “that the net benefits to humanity far outweigh the potential harm. AI will unleash a massive wave of human productivity.”
  • Cathie Wood, the founder of Ark Invest and best known for investing in disruptive innovation, unloaded her Nvidia positions after the stock’s astronomical ascent, citing growing competition. She instead scooped up Meta shares, saying the company is “able to deliver better” using less computing power and more data, adding that she likes “the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is now prioritizing artificial intelligence as opposed to the metaverse.”
  • Roundhill Investments launched the first pure play ETF in generative AI. Chief investment officer Tim Maloney said: “We haven’t seen anything really like it in recent history, or history generally.” 
  • Last fall, VC giant Sequoia Capital took a novel approach and posted a blog on their website to invite AI founders to email their pitches directly. Hundreds of responses ensued, which they fielded through weekly Zoom calls. “Generative AI is well on the way to becoming not just faster and cheaper, but better in some cases than what humans create by hand,” Sequoia wrote.
  • At this year’s annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting, Warren Buffett expressed his doubts about AI. “There won’t be anything in AI that replaces Ajit [Jain, Berkshire vice chairman of insurance],” Buffett said. “And, when something can do all kinds of things, I get a little bit worried,” he added. “Because I know we won’t be able to uninvent it.”

3. Other AI trends + hot topics

  • Generative AI may be able to fully automate half of all work activity in just 22 years, including decision-making, management and interfacing with stakeholders, according to a new McKinsey report. Per McKinsey’s research, generative AI could add “$2.6 trillion to $4.4  trillion annually” to the global economy, close to the size and productivity of the UK. 
  • The E.U. took a major step toward passing what would be the first laws to regulate AI, which would severely curtail uses of facial recognition software and require AI system makers to disclose more about the data used to create their programs.
  • Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) revealed a new AI chip to challenge Nvidia’s dominance, but did not share details on who plans to buy it or how it will bolster company sales. Amazon reportedly may be a potential customer.
  • Singer Paul McCartney said AI helped create one last Beatles song using a demo with John Lennon’s voice, amid ethical questions around authorship and ownership when it comes to creating music with voices of established artists.

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