Today Microsoft and OpenAI announced a multi-year partnership, including a $1bn investment by Microsoft in OpenAI, a prominent AI research organization. OpenAI was founded in 2015 by Elon Musk and Sam Altman, founded with the goal of developing Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) for the common good with $1bn in backing from prominent Silicon Valley figures including Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel. OpenAI changed its organizational structure in March in order to accelerate its mission-focused research through outside investment and ‘capped profits’ for employees and investors.
While for OpenAI this is another step on the way to artificial general intelligence, for Microsoft it’s a major boost for Azure.
The new agreement makes Microsoft Azure OpenAI’s preferred partner for commercializing any AI technologies they jointly decide to take to market in the future. By opting to partner with Microsoft Azure, OpenAI is choosing Azure as its development platform over AWS or Google Cloud Platform, or any other (Google of course, owns DeepMind, whose ultimate goal is also AGI and which also makes regular breakthroughs in AI).
As the boundaries are pushing in AI development, areas such as unsupervised machine learning, deep learning, and reinforcement learning will become more prominent. These will place huge demands on resources such as compute, networking and storage and will require a new software stack. To this end, Microsoft and OpenAI plan to build an ‘Azure AI’ hardware and software supercomputing stack to train and run increasingly complex and ubiquitous AI models.
Microsoft’s investment is like that of a venture capitalist and will be used for a variety of purposes, including cutting edge research but also compute usage and hiring.
As OpenAI its makes progress on its journey towards artificial general intelligence, Microsoft will be able to commercialize some of the results of the collaboration with OpenAI, though Microsoft isn’t pursuing AGI as a result of this investment, even if OpenAI is.
This is a big deal for the future of AI development and also for Microsoft’s place within it.