Microsoft invests $1bn in Elon Musk-founded OpenAI

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 23 Jul 2019
Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI (left) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI (left) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft has invested $1 billion in artificial-intelligence (AI) start-up, OpenAI, as the software giant seeks to enhance its Azure cloud computing platform.

The collaboration will see the development of supercomputing technologies for Azure, a cloud computing service that has helped propel Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable public company.

According to Microsoft, through the partnership, the companies will accelerate breakthroughs in AI and power OpenAI’s efforts to create artificial general intelligence (AGI). The resulting enhancements to the Azure platform will also help developers build the next generation of AI applications.

OpenAI is the for-profit firm, owned by non-profit organisation OpenAI, which conducts research in the field of AI to promote and develop friendly AI that benefits humanity.

The San Francisco-based organisation was founded in late 2015 by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, technology entrepreneur Sam Altman, computer scientist Ilya Sutskever, and Greg Brockman, who is CTO ofOpenAI.

Its partnership with Microsoft will create the foundation for advancements in AI, so that it is implemented in a safe, secure and trustworthy way.

OpenAI will port its services to run on Microsoft Azure, which it will use to create new AI technologies and deliver on the promise of AGI.

“Through the partnership, OpenAI and Microsoft will jointly develop new Azure AI supercomputing technologies, and Microsoft will become our exclusive cloud provider — so we’ll be working hard together to further extend Microsoft Azure’s capabilities in large-scale AI systems,” explains Brockman.

“OpenAI is producing a sequence of increasingly powerful AI technologies, which requires a lot of capital for computational power. The most obvious way to cover costs is to build a product, but that would mean changing our focus. Instead, we intend to license some of our pre-AGI technologies, with Microsoft becoming our preferred partner for commercialising them.”

Azure in SA

In March, Microsoft unveiled two Azure data centres locally; one in Johannesburg and another in Cape Town. The data centres will ensure world-class cloud infrastructure that will power emerging cloud, AI and edge computing innovations across the continent, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft SA MD Lillian Barnard told ITWeb last month that the software giant is looking to take advantage of emerging technologies to drive the local business and the economy forward.

“The launch of Microsoft cloud data centres in SA and the subsequent delivery of intelligent cloud services is expected to increase economic opportunities for organisations both locally and across the continent, leading to new kinds of services and jobs, some of which are not even known yet,” she said at the time

Solving global challenges through AGI

AGI is defined as the intelligence of a machine that has the capacity to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human being can perform or learn. It is a primary goal of some AI- based research and a common topic in science fiction and future studies.

According to OpenAI, an AGI working on a specific world problem would be able to see connections across disciplines that no human could.

“We want AGI to work with people to solve currently intractable multi-disciplinary problems, including global challenges such as climate change, affordable and high-quality healthcare, and personalised education,” says Brockman.

“We believe that the creation of beneficial AGI will be the most important technological development in human history, with the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity, and its impact should be to give everyone economic freedom to pursue what they find most fulfilling, creating new opportunities for all of our lives that are unimaginable today.”

According to Microsoft, the multi-year partnership with OpenAI is founded on shared values of trustworthiness and empowerment of both firms.

“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,” says Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

“By bringing together OpenAI’s breakthrough technology with new Azure AI supercomputing technologies, our ambition is to democratise AI — while always keeping AI safety front and centre, so that everyone can benefit.”