Why C3.ai CEO Tom Siebel is ‘declaring victory’

To really get a sense of the market excitement and concerns about the future of AI, look no further than C3.ai

which has the ticker AI.

The stock has been rocketing this year, ending 2022 at just over $11, and just this week it traded as high as $44. Even after giving up some recent gains Thursday morning, the stock has more than tripled so far this year.

But, oh, the volatility. C3.ai jumped 33% on Tuesday on a combination of AI stock craze, an announcement that the company’s software will be sold on a marketplace operated by Amazon (AMZN) Web Services, and some short hedges.

Then on Wednesday, the stock understandably gave up some of those gains, only to drop 13% more on Thursday, the day after the company reported financial results for the April quarter. For the week, the stock is nearly flat.

Actual results for the April quarter offered few of the surprises the company heralded in mid-May. C3.ais’ full-year guidance came in lower than Street’s estimates, and the stock in Wednesday’s aftermarket trade was down as much as 20%. But is CEO Tom Siebel concerned? Surely not.

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I’m declaring victory here, Siebel said in an interview Thursday morning with Barron.

Our business is good, he said. Everyone resets expectations. The stock had no interest in staying where it was. The share price has been restored to a reasonable level. Now we can hit and raise, hit and raise and hit and raise.

The key issue with the earnings report is that the fiscal 2024 outlook calls for revenue growth of about 15% in the middle of the range, and investors seem to think the company should grow faster than that. Siebel says not to worry.

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Do we show faster growth than that over time? Absolutely, she says.

Another important issue for the AI ​​industry is whether Washington makes a big push to regulate AI software. Some leaders said it would be good for the industry to get clear regulation OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said this in a congressional hearing. But Siebel says such an approach is just playing turf with Congress.

Siebel argues that attempting to regulate AI models is tantamount to criminalizing or stopping science. But Siebel isn’t against narrow legislation that would focus on specific types of AI abuse, addressing the use of personal data. There could be a specific law against the propagation of cultural bias, for example, or for publishing an algorithm that interferes with elections, he says.

On the topic of competition, Siebel says that most of the large commercial companies working on generative AI are producing models that are not really applicable to commercial applications due to frequent errors and other problems. C3.ais’ approach, meanwhile, is to use open source large language models: they use a model from Alphabet

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Drive by Google and combine it with internal data pulled from commonly used business apps that contain customer, financial performance, and product data.

Siebel also addressed the question of whether we’re seeing a bubble in the AI ​​space. The CEO pointed out that nearly every major technological breakthrough has led to a bubble period, not just the dawn of the Internet age, but also things like the development of continental railroads in the 19th century.

Stocks may be temporarily overvalued, he says. There is a lot of confusion around. But we’re in the first half of the first inning and the first player to bat.

Email Eric J. Savitz at eric.savitz@barrons.com

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