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Barry Diller on AI, the future of Expedia Group and the transformative power of travel


As the Expedia Group chairman, Barry Diller has weathered some of travel’s greatest periods of tumult, first in the early aughts when the senior executive’s IAC moved to acquire Expedia on the heels of the September 11 attacks in 2001, then through the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and later in seeing Expedia Group through the COVID-19 pandemic.

So when Diller says he believes the sector is on the precipice of perhaps its most disruptive period, he commands a crowd.  

“You’re in the middle of a really radical revolution,” Diller said Tuesday on stage in Las Vegas at Expedia’s Explore 24 event customer and partner event.

He was speaking of the rise of artificial intelligence. And in a wide-ranging discussion on stage with Bill Hornbuckle, CEO and president of MGM Resorts – another company in IAC’s portfolio of investments – Diller compared what’s happening with AI to the Industrial Revolution – but pointed to its whiplash-inducing evolution as a differentiator.

Concerns about generative AI

Despite generative AI’s potential for travel companies – including Expedia, which launched a slew of AI-related updates Tuesday — Diller has some concerns.

“I worry about AI. … I thought as the internet came along that privacy was kind of dead,” said Diller. “Now privacy is gone forever.”

Quote

You’re in the middle of a really radical revolution.

Barry Diller – Expedia Group

He pointed to a recent example of his friend, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and an AI-generated iteration of Hoffman interviewing each other. Diller couldn’t tell them apart.

“The question of what is true … [and] how do you find truth if you can make everything [with AI] … I think the implications of that have not even begun,” said Diller.

The idea of content, ideas and other entities being protected, he said, is no longer going to be applicable.

“Everybody hypes the … machine,” said Diller, noting that within the hype, implications of AI have been undersold.

“This is all going to change,” Diller said.

Tuesday was not the first time Diller has spoken openly about his generative AI-related concerns.

In September, for example, he called for fair use law to be redefined to safeguard published works. And earlier in 2023, Diller cautioned that the technology could be “destructive” for journalism.

But his business ventures have continued to move forward with AI advancements as the technology matures – Expedia Group was one of the first travel giants to play with generative AI in 2023 with the launch of its plugin for ChatGPT. Plus, the company integrated the large language model into the brand Expedia app later on for trip planning.

And Diller’s other ventures are working with AI too. Take IAC’s Dotdash Meredith’s deal with OpenAI, which made headlines earlier this month, for example.

The “next evolution” under Ariane Gorin

Expedia Explore marked the end of Peter Kern’s four-year tenure as CEO of the company and the debut of Ariane Gorin in the role – also denoting a new chapter for the company, an era Diller voiced high expectations for in praising Gorin.

“I’ve known Ariane for 10 years,” said Diller. “The strength of any company is the ability to promote from within. I was absolutely thrilled – we did a serious search, we looked outside as we’re kind of mandated to do, you have to kind of look everywhere – and the best candidate was inside our own company.”

Diller has been “wildly impressed” with Gorin’s ability, he said, to step into the role “wisely” and “thoughtfully.” 

“I really think you’re seeing the beginning of the next evolution of this company,” he said.

And Diller expressed impassioned thanks to the Expedia Group employees, partners and clients in the audience – reminding them how fortunate they are to work in an industry that transforms people’s lives.

“[The] world gets more and more uptight, more and more wound up, more and more dissatisfied, and yet the people in this room, the work they do, that is the counter to that,” he said.

“I’m so lucky to be part of this world that you are a part of
every day of your life and I thank you all.”

*This reporter’s attendance at the event was supported by Expedia Group.



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