Microsoft to invest $1 billion in OpenAI

Sam Altman, CEO of Open AI LP (left) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a press photo announcing their partnership. Photo: 

Microsoft announced Monday that it is investing $1 billion in San Francisco-based OpenAI, an artificial intelligence-focused company founded by tech luminaries such as Elon Musk and Sam Atman. 

Under the terms of the partnership, Microsoft will become OpenAI's preferred partner for commercializing new AI technologies such as artificial general intelligence (AGI), under its Azure cloud platform. Microsoft will become the exclusive cloud provider for Open AI, which will in turn, license its AI to Microsoft and help develop Azure AI's supercomputing technologies.  

AGI, often referred to as the holy grail of artificial intelligence, refers to the lofty goal of creating intelligent machines that can rival humans. Current AI techniques, which range from vision, speech, and translation, are referred to as "narrow AI", as they can only perform a small range of tasks. The timeline and path to AGI remains uncertain. Microsoft and OpenAI say that AGI can help solve currently intractable problems such as climate change, personalized healthcare and education.

"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," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a press statement. 

For OpenAI, the Microsoft partnership helps cover the costs for computational power -  training AI models can be computationally resource intensive. "The most obvious way to cover costs is to build a product, but that would mean changing our focus," said Open AI CTO Greg Brockman in a blog post announcing the partnership. "Instead, we intend to license some of our pre-AGI technologies, with Microsoft becoming our preferred partner for commercializing them."

OpenAI's AI research ranges from robotics, reinforcement learning, and language understanding. In April 2019, OpenAI developed an AI that beat the world's top esports team at Dota 2, a multiplayer real-time strategy game.