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AI fever takes over Davos pushing crypto aside as the new cool kid on the block

1 month ago 30



A pedestrian walks past the TATA pop up store with a poster reading 'The Future is AI' ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

DAVOS, Switzerland — For the last few years at the World Economic Forum cryptocurrency firms dominated the main strip in Davos, promoting their wares.

But in 2024, artificial intelligence has taken over. Some of the world's biggest companies are pushing their AI products and services with one declaring: "The future is AI."

This shift underscores the rapid rise in AI investments and interest last year, sparked by the explosion of popularity of ChatGPT, the AI chatbot developed by OpenAI, and launched at the end of 2022.

Global technology companies are jostling to take a lead position in AI and are they are likely hoping their big statements on the Davos Promenade will serve to show their prowess in the field.

Companies from U.S. semiconductor firm Intel to Salesforce had AI slogans on the properties they took over. And then there was the "AI House", an events space hosted by companies including Swiss telecommunications firm Swisscom.

The "AI House" was one of the biggest displays on the Davos Promenade.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

AI dominated the Promenade far more than crypto firms, reversing a trend from the past few years.

For example, at the World Economic Forum in January 2022, even after the price of cryptocurrencies had collapsed, firms were touting "Bitcoin Pizza Day" and so-called non-fungible tokens. In January 2023, as the crypto winter had set in, firms pulled back on splashing the cash at Davos, but there was still a heavy presence from the industry, inclduing a mysterious orange bitcoin car.

The AI dominance makes sense.

PitchBook's Emerging Tech Indicator, which tracks angel, seed, and early stage investments at the world's 15 most successful venture firms, found that AI and machine learning startups gained far more investment in the third quarter. The buzzy tech pulled in around $600 million over the three months, compared to just over $100 million for Web3 and decentralized finance companies.

Nvidia, which was the poster child for AI in the public markets, saw a 239% rally in its stock in 2023. The AI hype shows little signs of fading.

U.S. semiconductor firm Intel took over one of the properties on the Davos Promenade with its AI agenda front and center.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

The crypto industry, for its part, seems to be OK with the shift at Davos.

Dante Disparte, the chief strategy officer for Circle, issuer of the popular U.S. dollar-pegged stablecoin USDC, has been a Davos regular. For the last eight years, Disparte tells CNBC that the blockchain and crypto industry had to "tell the story of the technology, as opposed to the story of results."

"Today, there are very few crypto houses along the Promenade. They're all AI houses, which is good," Disparte said. "That suggests that this is becoming a background technology."

According to Disparte, who has worked extensively with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass through legislation on stablecoins, the companies and players left standing will converge with traditional banking, finance and payments.

"It's not dissimilar to the way the internet had to go through its dotcom bubble phase to hand over the development of the Internet to more durable, trusting and safe hands," Disparte said.

"There's a new technology kid on the block, which means that I get to become a vintage player. And I don't have to explain the tech so much so that's encouraging," he added.

That's not to say there are no crypto firms present. Circle had a big presence on the Promenade. A Swiss non-profit industry body called the Global Blockchain Business Council also had an events space. And blockchain firm CasperLabs, which has been attending for the past few years, also had a large space. But overall, it was certainly more muted despite the crypto industry and investors appearing to have had a better year in 2023 than 2022. Bitcoin rallied more than 150% in 2023.

There's a narrative in the industry that crypto companies no longer have to prove themselves. Some view the approval of a bitcoin ETF by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week as a moment that has locked in crypto's place as a legitimate asset class.

CNBC's Ryan Browne contributed to this report.

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