Microsoft is keen to bolster the capabilities of its enterprise and commercial cloud hosting and services platform Azure. The company has now invested a billion US dollars into OpenAI and even entered into an exclusive partnership with the AI research company. Together, the duo intends to explore new technologies that will impart ever more powerful Artificial Intelligence capabilities into Microsoft Azure. Interestingly, Microsoft and OpenAI are keen to further push the boundaries or blur the lines between the way machines and humans learn and process information. Essentially, Azure’s already potent AI capabilities could get better in Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).
Microsoft announced it is about to invest $1 Billion into OpenAI, the San Francisco-based AI research firm. OpenAI will jointly develop with Microsoft, new AI technologies for the Seattle company’s Azure cloud platform. Moreover, the duo is in an exclusive partnership to “further extend” large-scale AI capabilities that “deliver on the promise of AGI.” The partnership is certainly quite comprehensive because the two companies plan to run the sophisticated AGI services on Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Meanwhile, OpenAI will offer several services and technologies to Microsoft.
Speaking about the new collaboration, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “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. 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.”
Simply put, Microsoft will attempt to think up ways of commercializing the technologies and monetize them with extended partnerships. Needless to add, this appears to be a mutually synergistic partnership that will also benefit the developers who rely on cloud-based infrastructure for their applications and web platforms. The enhanced level of AI integrated within Microsoft Azure should help developers quickly deploy their creations and simply plug in the services that the company offers, without spending many hours attempting to develop a reliable dataset or algorithms.
We've raised $1 billion from Microsoft and will be working together to build next-generation supercomputers, with the goal of building a platform within Azure which will scale to AGI: https://t.co/5tzkVusSRJ
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) July 22, 2019
What Does OpenAI and Microsoft Azure Partnership Mean For Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)?
OpenAI is certainly an organization that was founded by visionaries. The firm was co-founded by CTO Greg Brockman, chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk, and a few other highly notable personalities. The company has backing from equally high profile members including LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and former Y Combinator president Sam Altman. OpenAI has OpenAI Five, a powerful synthetic brain that could be compared to DeepMind.
The OpenAI Five system recently competed against players of the second iteration of Defense Of The Ancients, a highly popular online multiplayer game that’s popularly known as DOTA. To offer a simplistic idea of the quantum of power, the OpenAI platform daily played a 180 years’ worth of games on a highly complex set of hardware that consisted of 256 Nvidia Tesla P100 graphics cards and 128,000 processor cores. Just last year, OpenAI showcased its AI robotics system with human-like dexterity. The DOTA 2 bot managed to defeat 99.4 percent of DOTA 2 players in public matches. Even professional players of the game lost twice to the platform.
OpenAI is a powerful entity in the world of AI. The company regularly conducts studies and puts forth interesting findings in several fields associated with AI including Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing. Incidentally, both Microsoft and Google have been working hard to infuse ever-greater NLP capabilities within their respective search platforms. NLP significantly simplifies the way users can search on Google or Bing. Moreover, NLP attempts to understand the true intent behind the words entered in the search bar. If that’s not enough, the OpenAI’s NLP model can generate humanlike short stories and Amazon reviews. Needless to say, the stories and reviews appear convincing and seem to be written by a human, when in reality, it is a bot with a powerful algorithm that is churning out the words and sentences.
— The Verge (@verge) July 22, 2019
Besides these projects, some of the other notable platforms OpenAI is actively engaged in, include ‘Gym’ and ‘CoinRun’, which are essentially toolkit for testing and comparing reinforcement learning algorithms, ‘Neural MMO’, a “massively multi-agent” virtual training ground, ‘Spinning Up’, a program designed to teach anyone deep learning, ‘Sparse Transformers’, which can predict what comes next in lengthy text, image, and audio sequences; and MuseNet, which generates novel four-minute songs with 10 different instruments across a range of genres and styles.
OpenAI presents several large opportunities for Microsoft. The AGI platform alone could eventually master most of the arts and crafts that humans have painstakingly studied and honed over centuries. This is because the platform can quickly and efficiently identify complex cross-disciplinary connections that human beings haven’t even considered or realized. However, in the short and medium-term, OpenAI’s projects should help researchers with their complex projects that require extensive analysis and vast observational and computing power. Some experts predict AI will eventually be able to tackle challenges like climate change, human healthcare, imparting fluid and engaging education to developing minds, and many more. Speaking about the OpenAI’s AGI, Altman said, “The creation of [AGI] will be the most important technological development in human history, with the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity. Our mission is to ensure that AGI technology benefits all of humanity, and we’re working with Microsoft to build the supercomputing foundation on which we’ll build AGI. We believe it’s crucial that AGI is deployed safely and securely and that its economic benefits are widely distributed.”
Microsoft Will Monetize OpenAI Powerful Hardware and Software Capabilities Through Azure
While OpenAI will quickly and efficiently bolster the capabilities of Microsoft Azure, the company will also benefit immensely from the partnership. Developing AI platforms and researching to find, build and develop such complex models and platforms is quite expensive, observed Brockman, “OpenAI is producing a sequence of increasingly powerful AI technologies, which requires a lot of capital. The most obvious way to cover costs is to build a product, but that would mean changing our focus.” Morevoer, OpenAI immediately gains a reliable and capable cloud-based hardware platform in the form of Microsoft Azure.
OpenAI had earlier secured a $1 billion endowment from its founding members and investors. Moreover, OpenAI LP has attracted funds from Hoffman’s charitable foundation and Khosla Ventures. However, these are funding rounds. To accelerate, OpenAI could monetize its platforms, and Microsoft could be an ideal partner for the same.
Instead of building a commercially viable product by themselves, OpenAI has effectively handed over the task to Microsoft. Although the exact details of the partnership, apart from the $1 Billion investment, aren’t clear, OpenAI will license some of its technologies to Microsoft. The Windows OS maker will commercialize the technologies and offer them to its enterprise partners. Microsoft hasn’t confirmed the partners, but the most obvious immediate candidates would be developers who make web and mobile apps.
This morning, we announced a partnership with OpenAI to build new Azure AI supercomputing technologies. OpenAI CEO @sama and I sat down to talk about the promise of AGI, the need for massive compute power to make it real and our commitment to AI safety. https://t.co/Rt9uO4VrJ3
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) July 22, 2019
Incidentally, Microsoft itself is a big consumer. There are powerful solution suites like Windows Vision Skills, Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning, and several productivity features in Microsoft 365, Office 365 and other platforms that could benefit from OpenAI. In the near future, Microsoft is expected to come up with a comprehensive Software Development Kit (SDK) for developers. The developers would then simply plug in their applications and build capable predictive models, classifiers, and recommender systems to improve customer experience.
Microsoft Azure is a rising player within the cloud-based IaaS, Paas, and Saas segments. It has a tough competitor in the form of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google. Its Teams application is growing at a rapid pace, outshining competing chat platform Slack. As such, it is in dire need of companies, platforms, and solutions that offer algorithms and solutions that mimic human behavior and offer a conversational experience to address customer issues and offer intuitive solutions. OpenAI fits well in Microsoft’s vision.