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Big Tech keeps spending billions on AI. There’s no end in sight.



SAN FRANCISCO — The biggest tech companies in the world have spent billions of dollars on the artificial intelligence revolution. Now they’re planning to spend tens of billions more, pushing up demand for computer chips and potentially adding new strain to the U.S. electrical grid.

In quarterly earnings calls this week, Google, Microsoft and Meta all underlined just how big their investments in AI are. On Wednesday, Meta raised its predictions for how much it will spend this year by up to $10 billion. Google plans to spend around $12 billion or more each quarter this year on capital expenditures, much of which will be for new data centers, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said Thursday. Microsoft spent $14 billion in the most recent quarter and expects that to keep increasing “materially,” Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said.

Overall, the investments in AI represent some of the largest infusions of cash in a specific technology in Silicon Valley history — and they could serve to further entrench the biggest tech firms at the center of the U.S. economy as other companies, governments and individual consumers turn to these companies for AI tools and software.

The huge investment is also pushing up forecasts for how much energy will be needed in the United States in the coming years. In West Virginia, old coal plants that had been scheduled to be shut down will continue running to send energy to the huge and growing data center hub in neighboring Virginia.

“We’re very committed to making the investments required to keep us at the leading edge,” Google’s Porat said on a Thursday conference call. “It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai added.

The biggest tech companies had already been spending steadily on AI research and development before OpenAI released ChatGPT in late 2022. But the chatbot’s instant success triggered the big companies to suddenly ramp up their spending. Venture capitalists poured money into the space, too, and start-ups with just a handful of employees were raising hundreds of millions to build out their own AI tools.

The boom pushed up prices for the high-end computer chips necessary to train and run complex AI algorithms, increasing prices for Big Tech companies and start-ups alike. AI specialist engineers and researchers are in short supply, too, and some of them are commanding salaries in the millions of dollars.

Nvidia — the chipmaker whose graphic processing units, or GPUs, have become essential to training AI — expects to make around $24 billion this quarter after making $8.3 billion two years ago in the same quarter. The massive increase in revenue has led investors to push the company’s stock up so much that it is now the world’s third-most valuable company, after just Microsoft and Apple.

Some of the AI hype from last year has come back to Earth. Not every AI start-up that scored big venture-capital funding is still around. Concerns about AI increasing so fast that humans can’t keep up seem to have mostly quieted down. But the revolution is here to stay, and the rush to invest in AI is already beginning to help grow revenue for Microsoft and Google.

Microsoft’s revenue in the quarter was $61.9 billion, up 17 percent from a year earlier. Google’s revenue in the quarter rose 15 percent to $80.5 billion.

Interest in AI has brought in new customers that have helped boost Google’s cloud revenue, leading to the company beating analyst expectations. Shares shot up around 12 percent in aftermarket trading. At Microsoft, demand for its AI services is so high that the company can’t keep up right now, said Hood, the CFO.

For Meta, the challenge is building AI while also assuring investors it will eventually make money from it. Whereas Microsoft and Google sell access to their AI through giant cloud software businesses, Meta has taken a different track. It doesn’t have a cloud business and is instead making its AI freely available to other companies, while finding ways to put the tech into its own social media products. This month, Meta integrated AI capabilities into its social networks, including Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Investors are skeptical, and after the company raised its prediction for how much money it will spend in 2024 to as much as $40 billion, its stock fell over 10 percent.

“Building the leading AI will also be a larger undertaking than the other experiences we’ve added to our apps, and this is likely going to take several years,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call Wednesday. “Historically, investing to build these new scaled experiences in our apps has been a very good long-term investment for us and for investors who have stuck with us.”

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