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The Best of Times (for AI), the Worst of Times (for Your Bank)

Hi, welcome to your Weekend!

Deep breath, everyone. The last 10 days have been a doozy. First came the Great Regional Bank Panic of 2023, which essentially wiped out the previous weekend for anyone operating in the startup ecosystem. In the cover story below, our team recorded the stories of two dozen tech leaders, including Rippling CEO Parker Conrad, who not only spent the week raising $500 million for his own firm, but also helped protect his sister’s goat farm as well. A literal GOAT! 

Then came the polar opposite of a bank collapse: A major new product launch by OpenAI, which unveiled its scarily smart new GPT-4 model on Tuesday. Arielle had a front-row seat to the excitement, attending an AI meetup at Maverick Ventures in San Francisco the following day. It was a euphoric capstone to her three-month reporting tour of the city’s feverish AI scene.

And lastly, we heard growing death knells for TikTok, as the federal government stepped up threats of a national ban. This is a big concern for the app’s investors and employees, obviously, but it is also a mega opportunity for every social media company whose lunch has been eaten by the Chinese-owned business the last few years.

That sound you hear? A thousand Silicon Valley entrepreneurs scraping together new algorithmic video apps using GPT-4-powered generative AI. But that is a story for another weekend.

the big read

‘We’ve Got to Take Care of Our People’: The Instant Oral History of the Silicon Valley Bank Collapse

Founders with cash stuck in SVB. Fintech CEOs profiting from the upheaval. Venture capitalists acting as both arsonists and firefighters. An SVB employee watching everything unravel from the inside. We present a collection of uniquely harrowing stories from two dozen people directly affected by the banks meltdown. 

first look

Seeking Cerebral Valley: A Photographic Tour of San Francisco’s AI Underground

Yet another tech renaissance is gathering strength in the city, complete with a new generation of transplants, a new “it” company and a new (if disputed) nickname. Arielle and photojournalist Laura Morton document the “Cambrian explosion of AI” happening right beneath our feet. 

Meltdown memoir

Five Years in Five Days: How I Panicked, Pivoted and Ultimately Survived as My Bank Melted Down

The Information’s founder and CEO Jessica Lessin on following her journalistic instincts—while making far too many wire transfers—in a  moment of crisis for her business.

Listening: An audible Ambien
We’ve all had some sleepless nights lately. But rather than turn to some fancy sleep tech as a remedy, I suggest a new weekly podcast, “Drifting Off with Joe Pera.” In each episode, Pera, a stand-up comic and Adult Swim alum, meanders pleasantly from a central topic (soup, clocks) to many tangential ones (favorite “comfort watch” movies, a 16th century battle between feuding Swiss factions). His droll, calm humor feels like you’re being tucked in by a well-stoned uncle. “In theory, sleep isn’t hard,” Pera says in Episode 1, his voice like a glass of warm milk. “It’s about quiet and dark—and not owing anyone an unreasonable amount of money.” I’ve appreciated his assistance. If I had to give the pod a letter grade, it’d be: Zzz. —Abe

Noticing: Visualizing the downturn
After a very chaotic week, it’s worth a reminder that we’re also coming off of a very chaotic year. Widespread layoffs, a slowdown in venture funding and a drop in startup valuations have all left the tech world bruised. Still, it can be hard to really picture the damage—which is why the data visualizations in this Rest of World story are so eye-opening. Issie Lapowsky and Erin Wong pair fine reporting with clever graphics that show how funding dried up in different regions of the world and where layoffs hit the hardest. It’s a stunning example of data transforming into narrative, and one of the few pieces I’ve seen that take a global view on how tech is faring. —Arielle

Watching: Two tasty tech trailers
After last year’s mini-boom in Hollywood tech company dramas, it’s been a bit of dry spell. Well, the drought is about to be over. The Information newsroom just received screeners for “Mrs. Davis,” a Peacock series premiering next month from Damon Lindelof (“The Watchmen,” “Lost”). It’s about the world’s most powerful AI and the Catholic nun who’s trying to stop it. No word yet if ChatGPT-4 makes a cameo. Another trailer just dropped for “Blackberry,” an origin story for the device super-glued to the hands of stockbrokers, reporters and U.S. presidents throughout the early 2000s. Think “The Big Short” for BBMers, documenting the meteoric rise of the crackberry…until Steve Jobs came along. The show comes out in early May, confirming that this will indeed be a very Silicon Valley spring. —Annie

Makes You Think

It really is so simple, guys. 

Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.


Weekend Editor, The Information

Jon Steinberg is the Weekend Editor at The Information. He is a former editor-in-chief of San Francisco magazine and senior editor at New York magazine.
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