Skift Take

Having OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on the Expedia Group board for the last few years certainly didn't hurt Expedia's ChatGPT rollout, although it's been using artificial intelligence for years.

Expedia Group has been at the forefront of the travel industry in releasing two generative AI tools for trip planning. Chairman Barry Diller claimed the company had a head start because of its ties with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

An independent director, Altman has been on the Expedia Group board of directors since September 2019.

Addressing what he described as “the topic of the second,” artificial intelligence, at an Expedia Group partner conference at its Seattle headquarters Tuesday, Diller claimed that months before ChatGPT’s public release, Altman demonstrated the chatbot’s capabilities at an event for one of “our companies.”

Diller said this show and tell took place in November 2022. It presumably happened at an event for one of his IAC brands because other Expedia officials confirmed that this didn’t take place at an Expedia event. Diller is the senior executive and chairman at both Expedia Group and IAC.

Diller said they had asked ChatGPT to describe the relationship between Diller and his wife Diane von Furstenberg, and how they met. 

He quipped the chatbot answered with a “somewhat salacious description” because he and his wife have a “history.”

Diller said he was dumbstruck and scared by the demo, but also wowed. 

He claimed Expedia, therefore, started working on ChatGPT “before anyone else,” and the Altman connection helped Expedia become “front-footed” in utilizing generative AI. 

Starting in April, Expedia’s iOS app users could use its ChatGPT-based bot for help in trip planning, and they get answers along with a potential hotel or trip idea. A month earlier, Expedia — along with Booking Holdings’ Kayak and OpenTable — debuted OpenAI plug-ins for ChatGPT.

It’s unclear whether Expedia actually had any inside information about ChatGPT from Altman. OpenAI released ChatGPT last November, the same month Diller said Altman gave a demo of it at an event for one of his companies.

In an interview later in the day Tuesday, Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern said Altman talked about ChatGPT with other board members, but he didn’t reveal anything that he hadn’t already made public.

OpenAI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Diller’s remarks.

Toward the end of Expedia’s partner event Tuesday, NYU professor and podcaster Scott Galloway gave a talk and recommended that Expedia should blow up its earnings and spend millions of dollars marketing the fact that it is a travel industry leader in generative AI.

Galloway follows tech developments keenly and said he didn’t realize that Expedia was a leader in the space. A couple of companies in each industry will emerge as AI leaders, and Expedia would be missing an opportunity if it didn’t create awareness about its initiatives in AI, he said.

In other remarks, Diller discussed his previously articulated opposition to the work-from-home trend, although other Expedia officials overruled him to some extent on the subject. Expedia employees generally come into the office a few days per week.

Diller called work from home “its own kind of pandemic.”

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Tags: apps, artificial intelligence, barry diller, chatgpt, expedia, expedia group, iac, kayak, mobile, online travel newsletter, OpenAi, opentable, peter kern, trip planning

Photo credit: Expedia Group Chairman Barry Diller spoke at an Expedia partner conference at the company's Seattle headquarters on May 9, 2023. Source: Dennis Schaal/Skift

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