GRAND FORKS – Celebrity investor and TV personality Kevin O’Leary shared his thoughts on AI, drone tech and North Dakota’s role in the future of both in a “fireside chat” Friday amid a nationwide tour.
O’Leary, star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” joined UND President Andrew Armacost in a packed ballroom at the Memorial Union.
So many people stopped in to attend the event that ushers had to close the doors five minutes before the event started and direct them to another room to watch the event remotely.
Armacost noted the crowd size rivaled the one for OpenAI founder and Thompson, North Dakota, native Greg Brockman, who visited campus in September.
“You should get that out there,” O’Leary said, half-jokingly. “Nobody knows he’s from North Dakota.”
O’Leary is on an “investment tour” across several states. In Grand Forks, that included tours of the Grand Sky aviation park and the city-owned HIVE building, the latter of which now has a conference room bearing O’Leary’s name as the result of a sponsorship agreement with O’Leary Ventures.
O’Leary Ventures also has partnered with the state of North Dakota for its Wonder Fund, a $45 million direct investment program.
“This is about the long game,” O’Leary told the Herald. “We’ve got to figure out where to do some dancing and dating. This is not a place to compete. This is a place to build relationships.”
In his conversation with Armacost, O’Leary championed North Dakota as a “winner state” compared to states with more regulation and higher income taxes for high earners, like Minnesota and New Jersey.
He focused on the state’s role in emerging fields like AI and drone technology in particular.
AI is a useful productivity tool, but it isn’t going to birth a new tech behemoth like Google or Microsoft, he said. More likely, he said, those companies will be the ones who develop and control the technology, since they are one of the few entities that could pay billions for an AI data center to run the workloads.
North Dakota still has space to benefit, though, O’Leary said, since it has the combination of cheap energy, fiber infrastructure and pro-business leadership.
“The new oil is data,” O’Leary said. “If you end up owning the data centers, people are going to have all their data stored in places like this.”
He also described North Dakota’s foray into drone technology as a “huge opportunity” and said it is one of two states, alongside Oklahoma, with the potential to standardize how crewed and unmanned aircraft interact in the sky.
Wonder Fund North Dakota’s
largest investment is in the HIVE-based Thread
, a software company specializing in automated inspection processes using unmanned air systems.
O’Leary also shared his advice for the perfect business pitch, said Canada was run by idiots and that he wouldn’t trust Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau to run a candy store (a dig he’s previously reserved for California Gov. Gavin Newsom). He advised people to invest in mutual funds instead of playing the stock market themselves – but “if you can beat the index, you’re going to be very wealthy one day.”
Asked by Armacost whether he believes UND or Denver was a better hockey team, O’Leary responded the best team is in Boston.
The auditorium erupted in boos, to O’Leary’s amusement.
“Mr. Wonderful always tells the truth,” he said.
Joshua Irvine covers K-12 and higher education, as well as the Grand Forks County Commission. He joined the Grand Forks Herald in October 2023.
Eugen Boglaru is an AI aficionado covering the fascinating and rapidly advancing field of Artificial Intelligence. From machine learning breakthroughs to ethical considerations, Eugen provides readers with a deep dive into the world of AI, demystifying complex concepts and exploring the transformative impact of intelligent technologies.