April 15, 2024
Finding the soul of AI on an NYC rooftop at sunset | The AI Beat


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As the senior reporter covering AI at VentureBeat, I often feel buried by the sheer scale of AI news, and occasionally left in the dust by the speed of the news cycle. I began my tenure in April 2022, the same week OpenAI launched its game-changing text-to-image generator DALL-E 2. From that moment on, it feels like I have barely stopped trying to catch up to the pace of development and trends in the space. I know I am far from alone — many in the AI community have shared with me that they feel the same way.

I also work remotely in the New York City metro area, which I love. But mostly being on my own — interacting with my colleagues and editors on Slack, and chatting with sources on email, Twitter/X, Zoom, Teams, Meet, etc. — and living outside of San Francisco and Silicon Valley means only rarely getting a sense of the AI community in real life. Even the occasional conference is typically too overwhelming, with so many sessions, keynotes and workshops to attend, to get to meet people in a relaxed, casual way.

Yet, I often long to do just that. There are so many issues and trends at play right now in AI — everything from potential risks of generative AI and regulatory efforts to workplace issues, research developments, debates around open and closed source AI. In addition to the move towards an AI-focused technology stack to help companies and enterprises begin to address possible use cases.

Sometimes I just want to get a group together and, well, talk about it all.

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Let’s talk AI

That’s why I was so amazed by the response I got to a simple, throwaway post on X back on August 10. Our editorial director, Michael Nuñez, was coming to New York City from San Francisco the week of August 25. Would anyone be up for a drink hang? Perhaps a dozen might meet us at a local bar to talk AI, I suggested.

Instead, the response was overwhelming, on social media, email and in direct messages. Clearly, we needed a bigger boat — that is, a venue for an actual meetup. I reached out to William Falcon, CEO of Lightning AI, for a suggestion — he immediately offered up his building’s beautiful Manhattan rooftop. And we were off and running to quickly plan an AI event, called AI Loves NY, for the following week. In just a few days (thanks to the amazing team at Lightning AI, shout out to Surya!) we had more than 800 RSVPs, Michael was on a plane across the country, and we were ready to go.

Sunset, wine and AI

I can only describe the result as magical — a moment not just for the NYC tech community to come together, but also a welcome break from the normal networking routine of panels, workshops and discussions. I know plenty of Silicon Valley folks are at Burning Man this week, but for me, a laid-back evening with a Manhattan sunset and a view of the Empire State Building would have to do.

I met programmers and researchers, startups and Big Tech folks, journalists and marketers, established brands and VCs. I felt the kind of energy and connection that is uniquely human — the antithesis of AI, really — and necessary, I think, to the success of any community or industry.

Look, maybe I had a little too much wine. Perhaps I had a little too much adrenaline and excitement. But as cheesy as it may sound, I almost felt like I had discovered the soul of AI — no, not the endless talk about “sentience” or “AGI” — but the community of people involved in bringing this technology into the mainstream.

I’ll pause for a minute, and acknowledge the thousands and thousands of human beings who often do not get acknowledged when it comes to thinking about the “magic” of AI — the veritable army of overseas, often exploited workers supporting the development of generative AI. Today’s article in the Washington Post about low-paid workers in the Philippines is just the latest example of a frustrating and nauseating trend that needs to be acknowledged more fully by companies and enterprises looking to profit from generative AI.

But I can’t deny that on this Manhattan rooftop at sunset, on a late-summer evening with a slight breeze in the air, I felt a connection that I hope to experience more of: A vibrant, thriving AI community, in New York and beyond.

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