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The week the shockwaves from Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse were felt around the world

Planet Business: Oscars TV ratings, the arrival of GPT-4 and Jeremy Hunt’s spring budget

Image of the week: Silicon mess

The sudden collapse of tech-focused Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) after a bank run on March 10th makes it the second largest US bank failure ever (after the 2008 implosion of Washington Mutual), with the “tech winter” combining with the cycle of interest rate increases to trigger its demise.

On Monday, security guards stood outside SVB branches as queues of people trying to recover their funds formed after US federal authorities said depositors would get all their money back, while HSBC stepped in to rescue the UK arm.

But the trouble didn’t end there. Stock markets were roiled for much of a highly volatile week, with Signature Bank swiftly taking the dubious honour of becoming the third largest US bank failure ever, Moody’s cutting its outlook for the entire US banking sector and Credit Suisse soon teetering on the brink.

Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, then voiced a warning that SVB’s collapse might signal the start of a “slow, rolling crisis” – not the best kind of crisis, to be honest – with “more seizures and shutdowns coming”. The C-word, in these instances, is “contagion”.


In numbers: Oscars recovery

18.8 million

US viewers who watched the 95th Academy Awards on Disney-owned television network ABC last Sunday. This was up 13 per cent on 2022, but was still the third-lowest domestic Oscars audience ever.


Minutes in the running time for this year’s ceremony. Hollywood’s most prestigious awards-fest overran as usual, though “Jenny” the donkey – or rather the random donkey pretending to be the one in The Banshees of Inisherin – behaved herself and was not to blame.

57 million

The most-watched Academy Awards in the US was the 70th, held in 1998. This was the year Titanic won 11 Oscars, including best picture, and a record number of viewers checked in to see if Leonardo DiCaprio had defrosted yet.

Getting to know: GPT-4

In robots replacing other robots news, OpenAI – the organisation behind artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT – has given birth to a new bot this week: GPT-4.

The youngest child in OpenAI’s family has been able to learn from the mistakes of ChatGPT, or rather the mistakes OpenAI researchers made with it, and is said to be less biased and less likely to make up facts than its predecessor. It can accept pictures as inputs from users, and also loves a good novella: up to 20,000 words of text can be fed into it as a single prompt.

Among the companies already availing of GPT-4 is language learning app Duolingo, which will now offer English-speaking subscribers to Duolingo Max the chance to have AI-powered conversations in French or Spanish, and then have the bot tell them where they went wrong.

GPT-4 will still “hallucinate” the odd fact, OpenAI conceded. Its maturity is unproven. But thanks to Duolingo and these latest advances, humankind will soon discover the definitive answer to one of life’s most persistent questions: is the train station on the right, the left or straight ahead?

The list: Child’s play

Jeremy Hunt’s pièce de résistance in his spring budget was an expansion of free preschool childcare, but in a vocal cord-testing speech on Wednesday, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer had a lot more to say. What else was in his red box?

1. Artificial intelligence: As part of an oft-stated aim to make the UK a “science superpower”, Hunt unveiled the £1 million (€1.1 million) Manchester Prize. It will be dished out annually to AI researchers for the next 10 years.

2. Green reclassification: Nuclear energy is to be reclassified as “environmentally sustainable” and receive the same investment incentives as renewable energy, as part of a bid to make the UK more energy secure.

3. Unlimited pension savings: Hunt was expected to increase a pension lifetime allowance from £1 million – instead, he abolished it, in a bid to keep higher-paid older professionals, such as doctors, working.

4. Draught duty cut: In a Wetherspoons-placating move, a commitment to ensure the beer and cider sold in pubs is subject to lower tax than that sold in supermarkets was dubbed a “Brexit pubs guarantee”.

5. Investment zones: The Conservative government plans to create 12 new investment zones that could become “12 potential Canary Wharfs”, Hunt said. Not before the next general election, they won’t.