Santa Clara-based chipmaker Nvidia briefly toppled Apple as the second most-valuable company in the US after a market rally on Wednesday, but the feds may have Nvidia, Microsoft, and OpenAI in their sights for an antitrust investigation.

The AI boom is reshuffling the traditional top of the roster of US tech companies, which for so long had been Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon. OpenAI’s ChatGPT has made them the fashionable upstart, despite a number of rookie mistakes. But Microsoft's OpenAI partnerships (Microsoft owns 49% of OpenAI) has made it quietly the No. 1 most valuable company in tech again. And also on the quiet side (at least for those of us who don’t work in tech) Santa Clara-based chipmaker Nvidia has become an under-the-radar tech powerhouse, because of their dominance in making the chips that power AI tools.

The dominance propelled Nvidia beyond Apple in market value this week after a Wednesday stock rally that briefly made the company worth more than $3 trillion, according to Yahoo Finance. The stock hit a high of an eye-popping $1,255.87 a share, though dipped somewhat the next day, allowing Apple to take back the No. 2 spot. Nvidia shares closed at $1,205.80 on Friday.

Image: Yahoo Finance

Yet for all the exuberance, there may be trouble on the horizon for Nvidia, Microsoft, and OpenAI. The New York Times reports that the feds are finalizing the details of an antitrust investigation into those three companies. The investigation is not announced yet, but the The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are apparently ironing out the  the details of which agency will investigate which firms.

“Under the arrangement, the Justice Department will take the lead in investigating whether the behavior of Nvidia, the biggest maker of AI chips, has violated antitrust laws,” the Times said based on their sourced reporting. “The FTC will play the lead role in examining the conduct of OpenAI, which makes the ChatGPT chatbot, and Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in OpenAI and made deals with other AI companies.”

Last July, the FTC launched an investigation into whether OpenAI’s products were harming consumers with data overcollection and the ability to impersonate people. This past January, the FTC also started an investigation into whether Amazon, Google, and Microsoft’s AI investments in smaller companies were intended to create monopolies as the industry takes off.    

In an interview earlier this year, FTC chair Lina Khan said the agency hoped to “issue-spot potential problems at the inception rather than years and years and years later, when problems are deeply baked in and much more difficult to rectify.”

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Image: SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 18: Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang delivers a keynote address during the Nvidia GTC Artificial Intelligence Conference at SAP Center on March 18, 2024 in San Jose, California. The developer conference is expected to highlight new chip, software, and AI processor technology. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)