The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department are set to kick off an antitrust probe into Microsoft, OpenAI, and Nvidia.

First reported by The New York Times, the investigation will look into the companies' influence on the artificial intelligence (AI) industry.

Federal Trade Commission building
– Federal Trade Commission

The FTC is to handle the investigation into Microsoft and OpenAI, while the Department of Justice will look at Nvidia. The investigation is said to focus on the companies' conduct, not mergers and acquisitions, a source told CNBC.

The AI boom has seen a barrage of hefty investments into or from the three companies.

OpenAI is the company behind ChatGPT, which Microsoft first invested $1 billion in 2019. Since then, Microsoft's investment in has increased to around $13bn, with the cloud company providing all of OpenAI's compute needs.

Hefty investments are primarily because AI models rely on expensive GPUs, of which Nvidia is the primary supplier. Off the back of the AI boom, Nvidia has seen its market cap grow from $1 trillion in May 2023, to $2 trillion in February 2024 and, as of this week, $3 trillion.

DCD has contacted Nvidia, OpenAI, Microsoft, and the FTC for comment.

While not included in the latest anti-trust probe, Amazon, Google, and Meta are also known to have invested significantly in Nvidia GPUs. Google also develops its own AI chips, with its latest tensor processing unit, Trillium, revealed in May 2024. Nvidia's next-generation GPUs, Blackwell, will also be deployed by all the hyperscalers and major AI developers next year.

With GPU supply limited, Nvidia has been able to control which companies receive chip orders first. It faces accusations of giving preferential treatment to businesses it has invested in, with a particular push to support smaller cloud companies that are not developing their own chips.

Plans for the antitrust investigation come shortly after current and former OpenAI employees published an open letter warning about the potential risks of AI not being properly overseen and regulated by the scientific community, policymakers, and the public.

The letter notes "AI companies have strong financial incentives to avoid effective oversight," and currently only have weak obligations to share information with the government. The letter goes on to say that broad confidentiality agreements block employees from voicing their concerns, and calls for protection for employees to criticize risk-related practices openly and without concern of retribution.

In January 2024, the FTC announced that it would be conducting an investigation into the AI industry including Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, Anthropic, and OpenAI, focusing on the investments and partnerships being formed.