Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning , Next-Generation Technologies & Secure Development , Standards, Regulations & Compliance

US Regulators Intensify Antitrust Scrutiny of AI Developers

DOJ and FTC to Launch Antitrust Investigations Into Microsoft, OpenAI and Nvidia
US Regulators Intensify Antitrust Scrutiny of AI Developers
U.S. antitrust enforcement agencies are poised to investigate major industry players. (Image: Shutterstock)

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are set to spearhead antitrust investigations into Microsoft, OpenAI and Nvidia that could potentially reshape the burgeoning commercial artificial intelligence industry.

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The probes were first reported Thursday after U.S. regulators seemingly reached an agreement on how to move forward with investigating Microsoft's $13 billion investment into the ChatGPT maker, as well as whether Nvidia violated antitrust laws in its development of next-generation AI chips.

The FTC will lead the investigation into OpenAI and Microsoft, which first invested $1 billion in the AI startup in 2019 and has since assumed a 49% stake in the company. The Justice Department will oversee a separate probe into Nvidia, which the industry increasingly relies on for high-performance semiconductors to power AI products, according to The New York Times.

Neither the FTC nor Justice immediately responded to requests for comment. Nvidia, Microsoft and OpenAI were silent about the news on Thursday, though all three companies have previously confirmed their AI operations were the subject of regulatory scrutiny in other regions, including the European Union.

The news comes after the FTC previously opened an inquiry into leading AI startups such as OpenAI, Amazon, Google and Microsoft in January as part of a broader effort to determine whether tech giants were exerting undue influence over the emerging technology industry. FTC Chair Lina Khan said at the time that the commission would examine "the investments and partnerships being formed between AI developers and major cloud service providers" (see: US FTC Launches Investigation Into Tech Giants' AI Influence).

The FTC then sent orders to Microsoft, Google, Amazon, OpenAI and AI startup Anthropic, demanding information about the development of their business relationships.

It remains unclear how the antitrust investigations could affect operations at Nvidia, OpenAI and Microsoft, though the three companies have gained dominant roles across the AI landscape. Since Microsoft began investing in OpenAI several years ago, the two have launched public-private sector initiatives such as the Societal Resilience Fund, a $2 million effort to promote AI education and literacy throughout vulnerable communities. Both companies have partnered with the White House in pushing for voluntary AI commitments and signed onto the Tech Accord to Combat Deceptive Use of AI in 2024 Elections.

Nvidia's stock market value surged past $3 trillion Wednesday amid ever-increasing demand in the United States for its AI chips. Nvidia is becoming one of the most valuable S&P 500 companies, according to The Associated Press.

News of the investigations comes just days after nearly 16 current and former OpenAI employees signed a letter that raises concerns about the "serious risks" posed by AI technologies and the "strong financial incentives to avoid effective oversight" of the growing industry.

"AI companies possess substantial non-public information about the capabilities and limitations of their systems, the adequacy of their protective measures, and the risk levels of different kinds of harm," the letter says. It also says that "broad confidentiality agreements" block employees from voicing their concerns.

The DOJ will reportedly maintain investigatory powers over Google, and the FTC will retain its authority over Amazon as part of the agreement. Politico first reported in January that the FTC and the Justice Department were working on an investigatory agreement. The outlet reported that the new agreement could become official as early as this week.

About the Author

Chris Riotta

Chris Riotta

Managing Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Riotta is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president. His reporting has appeared in NBC News, Nextgov/FCW, Newsweek Magazine, The Independent and more.

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