Microsoft Invests $1 Billion in OpenAI, a Startup Co-Founded by Elon Musk

The Microsoft and OpenAI collaboration will zero in on artificial general intelligence (AGI).

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Microsoft Invests $1 Billion in OpenAI, a Startup Co-Founded by Elon Musk

Microsoft is investing $1 billion (roughly Rs. 6,900 crores) in OpenAI, a startup co-founded by Elon Musk, forging a partnership intent on creating artificial intelligence that rivals the human brain.

Artificial intelligence as it currently exists involves training machines to solve specific problems or perform particular tasks, like filter spam emails or predict an earthquake. The Microsoft and OpenAI collaboration will zero in on artificial general intelligence: machines capable of learning and operating just as well as, or even better than, a human.

AGI has the "potential to shape the trajectory of humanity," Sam Altman, co-founder and chief executive of OpenAI, said in a news release. "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. We are excited about how deeply Microsoft shares this vision."

Even the most optimistic researchers speak of AGI's arrival in terms of decades rather than years. Many think truly intelligent machines are impossible. But should AGI became a reality, it could be used to tackle humanity's greatest ills.

"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," OpenAI wrote in a blog post announcing the Microsoft partnership. "We think 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."

The two companies will work to build out Microsoft's cloud-computing platform, Azure, to create new supercomputing technologies, strong enough to support the kind of innovations in AI that might one day lead to AGI. Limitations in computing power are a major barrier to AI development: OpenAI spent nearly $8 million on cloud computing in 2017, Wired reported. As part of the deal, Microsoft will now become OpenAI's exclusive cloud services provider and OpenAI will license some of its technologies to Microsoft for commercialisation. The companies have worked together since 2016.

"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 center - so everyone can benefit," Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, said in a news release.

OpenAI was founded as a nonprofit in 2016, but has since been restructured into a for-profit company so it can pursue the kind of financing necessary for such research. Musk stepped down as OpenAI's chairman in February 2018, to "eliminate a potential future conflict" of interest, the company said in a blog post.

The San Francisco-based research lab has garnered mainstream attention with its projects, like a language modeling program that can take a prompt like a fake headline and use it to generate a convincing news article, complete with quotes and statistics. (You can test a slimmed-down version of the program here.) In April, an OpenAI notched a world first when its system trained to play Dota 2, a complex, multiplayer strategy game, beat the world champion esports team.

© The Washington Post 2019

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Further reading: Microsoft, OpenAI, Elon Musk
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