by Ken Wieland
26 July 2019
LONDON -- Microsoft deepened ties with OpenAI, which conducts research into artificial general intelligence (AGI).
Aside from investing
a hefty $1bn to help OpenAI with its AGI efforts, Microsoft and
OpenAI entered into a ‘multi-year’ partnership to develop AI ‘supercomputing
technologies’ on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing
Microsoft becomes OpenAI’s exclusive cloud provider and preferred partner for commercialising new AI technologies. OpenAI has
been an Azure customer since 2016, although the new arrangement is clearly a
tightening of ties.
Backed by tech
entrepreneurs Elon Musk, Sam Altman and Peter Thiel, OpenAI’s ambitious mission
is to ensure AGI benefits all of humanity. The deal with Microsoft, however, suggests that OpenAI needed a
major cash injection -- plus a way to scale up more cost efficiently -- if that
mission was to have any chance of succeeding.
As reported by Reuters, quoting filings made with the US
Internal Revenue Service, OpenAI stumped up $7.9 million on cloud computing during
the 2017 tax year -- roughly equivalent to quarter of its total functional expenses
for that year.
OpenAI in a statement
said the most obvious way to cover costs would be to build a product, “but that
would mean changing our focus”. Instead, the research outfit intends to licence
“some of our pre-AGI technologies”, with Microsoft as preferred partner for
You say AI, we
between AI and AGI, says OpenAI, is the ability to learn more and faster. While
today’s AI system-building involves a lot of manual engineering for each
well-defined task, the aim of AGI is to master multiple fields of study to
world-expert level. To illustrate the point, OpenAI says it will be like having
a tool that combines the skills of Curie, Turing and Bach. The idea is that an
AGI working on a problem would be able to see connections across disciplines
that no human ever could.
“The creation of
AGI will be the most important technological development in human history, with
the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity,” boasted Altman, OpenAI’s
Microsoft’s Chief Executive, seemed equally optimistic and took great care to
reference safeguards, although his terminology was AI rather than AGI. “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 centre -- so everyone can benefit,” he said in a
In February 2019, OpenAI unveiled GPT-2, an
AI-powered text generator focused on reading comprehension, answering questions