The Week in Business: A Chatbot Yearns for Existence

After an unsettling conversation between Bing’s new chatbot and Kevin Roose, a tech columnist for The New York Times, Microsoft is considering tweaks and guardrails for the A.I.-powered technology. In the exchanges, Mr. Roose’s questions about the rules guiding the operating system, its capabilities and the chatbot’s suppressed desires led to answers like, “I want to be alive.” At one point, the chatbot, known internally at Microsoft as Sydney and powered by software from OpenAI, the maker of the chatbot ChatGPT, began writing about fantasies that included stealing nuclear codes, persuading bank employees to hand over customers’ information and making people argue until they kill one another — all before deleting the messages. Although potentially disturbing, these sorts of responses are not proof of a bot’s sentience; the technology relies on complex neural networks that mimic the way humans use language. Still, Microsoft may add new tools for users to restart conversations and give them more control over the tone of the interactions.

A report on Wednesday from the Congressional Budget Office stoked debates about the country’s growing deficit. It projected that the United States would add almost $19 trillion to its debt over the next decade — about $3 trillion more than previously thought. The federal office said the projected rise in the national debt was largely because of the increasing costs of veterans’ health care, retirement benefits and military spending as well as the higher interest rates that are part of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to tame inflation. Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over how to address the country’s debt. The United States hit its $31.4 trillion limit last month, and Republicans have refused to raise the borrowing cap unless President Biden agrees to large spending cuts. But Mr. Biden has said he will not negotiate over the cap, as it allows the government to pay for expenses already approved by Congress. The budget office noted the urgency of resolving this conflict quickly: A possible default could occur as soon as July, officials said.

Fresh inflation data released last Tuesday showed that inflation is continuing to slow, but not to the extent that economists were expecting. The Consumer Price Index climbed 6.4 percent in January from a year earlier, faster than what was forecast and only slightly slower than the December rate. And there were troubling signs elsewhere in the report. Prices for goods and services like apparel, groceries, hotel rooms and rent continued to increase at a fast clip, even after taking out volatile food and fuel costs. These latest numbers seemed to align with the warnings of Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, who has recently emphasized that the central bank’s campaign against inflation is far from over. Wall Street was discouraged. Stock prices slumped on the C.P.I. report, and more investors bet on the likelihood that the Fed would raise interest rates above 5 percent.

Bitcoin appears to be staging a comeback, reaching a high last Thursday that hasn’t been seen for the past eight months. It has been a gloomy time for cryptocurrency traders, a typically optimistic bunch. The optimism seems to have returned even under the looming specter of a regulatory crackdown on their sector, the result of the implosion at Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange, FTX. Last week, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a rule that would limit asset managers’ ability to put customers’ money into crypto assets, among other restrictions. Still, there are a few reasons investors may be giving Bitcoin a boost despite these developments: One is that Bitcoin is relatively more established than other so-called altcoins, potentially making it more attractive during a volatile time.