Microsoft invests $1bn in OpenAI to develop Azure technologies

23 Jul 2019

From left: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Image: Microsoft

Micosoft said that through this new multiyear partnership, the two companies will work on building ‘secure, trustworthy and ethical’ AI to serve the public.

Yesterday (22 July), Microsoft announced that it is investing $1bn in OpenAI.

Founded in 2015, OpenAI was set up with the aim of ensuring that artificial intelligence “benefits all of humanity”. Last April, the company released the OpenAI charter, which lists both the strategy and the principles that the corporation relies on to execute its mission.

The charter states: “We will attempt to directly build safe and beneficial AGI [artificial general intelligence], but will also consider our mission fulfilled if our work aids others to achieve this outcome.”

OpenAI’s founding members include investor and blogger Sam Altman, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who recently announced that he’s gearing up to install an AI interface in the human brain.

On Microsoft’s website, the company announced its new partnership with OpenAI, which was founded on “shared values of trustworthiness and empowerment”.

It added that through this new multiyear partnership, the two companies will work on building “secure, trustworthy and ethical” AI to serve the public, while focusing on constructing new Azure AI supercomputing technologies.

“Through this partnership, the companies will accelerate breakthroughs in AI and power OpenAI’s efforts to create artificial general intelligence. The resulting enhancements to the Azure platform will also help developers build the next generation of AI applications,” Microsoft’s statement read.

As well as improving Azure AI together, OpenAI will also port its services to run on Microsoft Azure, and Microsoft will become OpenAI’s preferred partner for commercialising new AI technologies.

The vision

While existing modern AI systems try to solve specific problems for which they have been trained, it’s more difficult to develop AI systems that can solve more general problems. However, OpenAI and Microsoft believe that the investment and research put into this area will pay off in the long term.

“OpenAI and Microsoft’s vision is for artificial general intelligence to work with people to help solve currently intractable multidisciplinary problems, including global challenges such as climate change, more personalised healthcare and education,” Microsoft said.

Altman, OpenAI’s CEO, said: “The creation of AGI will be the most important technological development in human history with the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity.”

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, added: “By bringing together OpenAI’s breakthrough technology with new Azure AI supercomputing technologies, our ambition is to democratise AI – while keeping AI safety front and centre.”

Another of OpenAI’s co-founders, CTO Greg Brockman, told TechCrunch that there will be “a cash investment into OpenAI LP”.

“It uses a standard capital commitment structure, to be called as we need it. We plan to spend it in less than five years, and possibly much sooner,” he added.

When OpenAI was first launched, Musk, Altman and Brockman committed $1bn to the project. There were also contributions from Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel and Jessica Livingston.

There is still plenty of debate about whether or not it’s actually possible to create truly effective AGI. In November 2018, experts in the field estimated that there was a 50pc chance that AGI could be built by 2099.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic