Microsoft recommits to open source AI, despite backing OpenAI

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Microsoft unveiled a flurry of generative AI bulletins at its annual Ignite 2023 convention in Seattle yesterday, however among the many most necessary information is its recommitment to open supply generative AI, even within the face of the success of its multi-billion-dollar partnership with closed-source gen AI chief OpenAI.

The Redmond, Washington-headquartered firm has emerged as a frontrunner in gen AI because of its early and prescient backing of the Sam Altman led startup and integration of OpenAI’s GPT and DALL-E fashions into Microsoft merchandise (Bing Chat, er, Copilot, and Microsoft Picture Creator from Bing, respectively).

Bringing Llama and Mistral to Azure

However at Ignite over the past two days, Microsoft additionally made extra necessary strikes to bolster its help for rival open supply AI fashions from the likes of Fb-parent Meta Platforms, Inc. (one other former Microsoft investment), which has develop into the de-facto steward of open supply generative AI with its Llama fashions.

Llama-as-a-service is now out there for enterprises to make use of, fine-tune, and deploy instantly on Microsoft’s cloud computing platform Azure, in addition to rival open supply mannequin Mistral 7B from the well-funded French startup of the identical title. The transfer was cheered by Meta Platforms AI pioneer Yann LeCun on X (previously Twitter).

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But, as a result of open supply fashions are by definition free-to-use and deploy for enterprise functions (licensing allowing), Microsoft’s transfer to supply such fashions on its Azure platform — the place the paid Azure OpenAI service has already been out there for the higher a part of the 12 months — signifies that it might really be costing its personal funding/ally OpenAI some income. In the event you’re a enterprise trying to deploy AI and see a mannequin almost as succesful as OpenAI’s GPT-3.5/4 Turbo however that prices nothing or considerably much less to deploy and use API calls, why wouldn’t you employ the cheaper possibility?

Will Microsoft’s new Phi-2 AI mannequin go totally open supply for industrial functions?

Microsoft additionally introduced the discharge of its personal new AI mannequin Phi-2, an improve from Phi-1.5, however with 2.7B parameters used to coach it, on the smaller facet of generative AI text-to-text fashions, permitting it to run effectively even on machines with out a lot graphics processing unit (GPU) energy (the scarcity of GPUs has been an ongoing problem within the generative AI period, and made GPU chief Nvidia right into a trillion-dollar firm).

Phi-2 is itself not open supply for industrial use but — relatively, it’s out there for just for analysis functions. Nonetheless, Microsoft senior principal analysis supervisor Sebastien Bubeck hinted on X that the license could change if it does see vital sufficient utilization and demand.

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Microsoft’s embrace of open supply AI at Ignite 2023 this week is notable in gentle of the truth that CEO Satya Nadella took the time to appear at OpenAI’s first-ever developer conference DevDay final week alongside Altman, and the 2 appeared very chummy and complimentary on stage. Altman even stated he was excited to be engaged on AGI (synthetic generalized intelligence), that’s, AI as succesful as human beings, together with Microsoft.

But, experiences have emerged in shops resembling The Information suggesting that Microsoft is internally trying to wean itself off its dependence on OpenAI for AI companies and merchandise, given the excessive prices of utilizing the corporate’s closed, useful resource intensive fashions. There’s additionally after all the truth that OpenAI stays a separate firm with its personal agenda and objectives, which can not at all times align with Microsoft’s.

Moreover, it’s merely good enterprise because the second largest cloud supplier on the planet, through Microsoft Azure, to supply enterprise clients a variety of AI fashions — from the open supply to the extra performant closed-source ones. It’s what cloud competitor Amazon Internet Providers (AWS) can also be doing, and presumably what Google Cloud will do as nicely in some unspecified time in the future. Providing a variety of open and closed-source AI fashions and associated instruments to clients is sensible and can possible be table-stakes because the AI cloud wars proceed to rage.

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But, it’s inconceivable to not see Microsoft’s embrace of open supply AI this week at Ignite as a little bit of a flip away from its full-throated embrace of OpenAI. Whereas I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s proof of cracks within the relationship, it definitely seems that Microsoft is hedging its bets, or, “enjoying each side,” a bit, to make use of the parlance of a popular Always Sunny in Philadelphia meme.

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