Microsoft pumps $1 billion into generalized artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is improving at a rapid rate, its most recent scalp a band of professional poker players in a round of Texas hold-em. But could these artificial smarts become generalized enough to outperform humans at all kinds of tasks, rather than very specific and pre-defined ones? Open AI is an organization focused on ensuring such an advance does the world good, rather than bad, and has just landed a lucrative new partner in the form of Microsoft, which will develop advanced supercomputers to help it do the job.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) has always been the name of the game for Open AI, which was co-founded by Elon Musk in 2015. Musk has since parted ways with the company, but the team has continued driving the technology forward with one of its more noteworthy advances being an AI that can rival the writing skills of humans. It chose not to release the fully developed model for fears of ramifications for fake news, automated spam and its ability to impersonate people online.

Building AI to excel in these kinds of areas requires computer scientists to put in some serious hours to engineer them for that particular job. AGI, on the other hand, would be capable of becoming an elite performer in any kind of discipline all on its own, and to levels far greater than humans would be capable of.

This is an unsettling thought, and was indeed part of Musk’s motivation for beginning the venture in the first place. Musk (and others) has consistently warned of the dangers of AGI, fearing that when the machines become smart enough we will be left to assume the role of something resembling a house cat, or that we could simply be wiped from existence like a spam folder in an email inbox.

But AGI could very well be harnessed for good. Its unique abilities could be tuned to take on problems that we are unable to solve, such as climate change, world poverty or global healthcare. But these lofty aims would require huge, unprecedented amounts of computational power and money, and that’s where Microsoft comes in.

The new partnership with Open AI involves an investment of no less than US$1 billion from the computing behemoth, and the two will work together to develop new AI supercomputers under the Microsoft Azure name. It also sees Microsoft become Open AI’s cloud provider, and its preferred partner for commercializing any of its AI technologies.

“The creation of AGI will be the most important technological development in human history, with the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity,” says Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI. “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.”