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Why Microsoft is Investing $1 Billion in OpenAI

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Microsoft is investing $1 billion in OpenAI to develop AI technologies on Azure. Read on to know more about it…

Recently, Microsoft revealed that it was investing $1 billion in OpenAI and that the two organizations had formed a multi-year partnership to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) supercomputing technologies on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service. OpenAI, the San Francisco-based AI research firm is cofounded by CTO Greg Brockman, chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Elon Musk, and others, with backing from luminaries like LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and former Y Combinator president Sam Altman.

In a blog post, Brockman said the investment will support the development of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) — AI with the capacity to learn any intellectual task that a human can — with “widely distributed” economic benefits.

Partnership Role
In the new partnership role, OpenAI intends to partner with Microsoft to jointly develop new AI technologies for the Seattle based Azure cloud platform and will enter into an exclusivity agreement with Microsoft to “further extend” large-scale AI capabilities that “deliver on the promise of AGI.” Additionally, OpenAI will license some of its technologies to Microsoft, which will commercialize them and sell them to as-yet-unnamed partners, and OpenAI will train and run AI models on Azure as it works to develop new supercomputing hardware while “adhering to principles on ethics and trust.”

“AI is one of the most transformative technologies of our time and has the potential to help solve many of our world’s most pressing challenges,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “By bringing together OpenAI’s breakthrough technology with new Azure AI supercomputing technologies, our ambition is to democratize AI — while always keeping AI safety front and center — so everyone can benefit.”

According to Brockman, the partnership was motivated in part by OpenAI’s continued pursuit of enormous computational power. Its researchers recently released analysis showing that from 2012 to 2018 the amount of compute used in the largest AI training runs grew by more than 300,000 times, with a 3.5 month doubling time, far exceeding the pace of Moore’s Law. “OpenAI is producing a sequence of increasingly powerful AI technologies, which requires a lot of capital,” Brockman said. “The most obvious way to cover costs is to build a product, but that would mean changing our focus.”

Partnership Goal
The goal of this partnership for Microsoft seems to be to provide it an edge in building out a broad-scale Azure AI platform, and ensure its supercomputing technologies are involved in the development of artificial general intelligence. OpenAI benefits because Microsoft will be party to its principles around developing advances in AGI safely and with humanity’s interest in mind and there’s the $1 billion, too.

Cautionary Note
All the talk of “exclusivity” and “preference” in this announcement is particularly interesting because one of OpenAI’s founding principles was to “freely collaborate” among other AI researchers, and make both its work and patents available to others. But there are some caveats, including that there is OpenAI Inc. the nonprofit organization, and its for-profit corporate subsidiary OpenAI LP, and that its current charter includes a provision that out of “safety and security concerns” it may reduce its public publishing of its work as it moves forward.

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