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Inside an AI extravaganza

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

About 50,000 AI enthusiasts descended on San Francisco this week. They talked about AI for business, AI for retail, AI for everything. The extravaganza included everything from game shows to the biggest names in the industry. NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr was there.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Downtown San Francisco was transformed. The streets were cleared and laid with bright green Astroturf. Tall, leafy trees were brought in, and even a fake waterfall was assembled. There's pop-up cafes, lounge areas, music. But the real scene-stealer - artificial intelligence.

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MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Welcome to the biggest AI event of the year. Welcome to Dreamforce.

KERR: Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey opened Dreamforce, which is hosted by the software company Salesforce. It's an annual promo event that's normally like a company trade show. But this year it's all about AI, the technology that's exploding in popularity and anyone with a smartphone can play with. Now it seems AI is working its way into every facet of our lives.

CHARVI GAUR: I flew all the way from Brisbane to attend this.

KERR: That's Charvi Gaur, who's a business analyst at Queensland University of Technology. She's interested in how AI is trained.

GAUR: The way they collect data and how they are breaking the data boundaries - it's pretty exciting to learn about that.

KERR: AI enthusiasm is everywhere here. Signs say things like, peace, love and AI. In the conference hall, there's kale salads, mochi doughnuts and an emcee inviting people to play around with Salesforce's AI tool, Einstein.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I don't know if you guys know, but this space is all about Einstein. And we have a really cool game show happening called Do You Want To Be An Einstein?

KERR: Panels include topics like AI revolution and calling AI heroes. The technology even came up when California Governor Gavin Newsom spoke with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: I'm glad people applauded about San Francisco. We've been in this little doom loop for too long, so I appreciate a little positivity.

(APPLAUSE)

NEWSOM: Man, but we've moved from a doom loop to an AI boom loop.

KERR: Some speakers at the event warned about unleashing the technology too quickly. AI ethicists on one panel all agreed it's important to be aware of the risks. Stanford professor Rob Reich said that can be hard with such a new field.

ROB REICH: AI ML people are like 19-year-olds. They're newly aware of their great power in the world. But their frontal cortex is massively undeveloped, and they're socially irresponsible.

KERR: One of those on the forefront of this new AI era is Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, which created ChatGPT. Onstage, he was asked to name the scariest thing he's seen with AI, given the technology's potential to impersonate, make things up and just generally go off the rails.

SAM ALTMAN: Honestly, nothing super-scary yet. We know it'll come. We won't be surprised when it does.

KERR: Soon, Altman left for Washington, D.C., where lawmakers are hashing out ways to put guardrails on the fast-growing industry. That came up at Dreamforce, too, including in Matthew McConaughey's welcome video.

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MCCONAUGHEY: Because if AI is the Wild West...

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MCCONAUGHEY: ...Who's the sheriff around here?

KERR: In the convention hall, it seems like no one wants to be the sheriff. Instead, people are busy taking selfies with placards that say, AI, captain. Dara Kerr, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONSTARR'S "DETRIOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.