Microsoft has expanded its ongoing partnership with San Francisco-based artificial intelligence research company OpenAI with a new exclusive license on the AI firm’s groundbreaking GPT-3 language model, an auto-generating text program that’s emerged as the most sophisticated of its kind in the industry.
The two companies are already entwined through OpenAI’s ongoing Azure cloud computing contract, with Azure being the platform on which OpenAI accesses the vast computing resources it needs to train many of its models, and a major $1 billion investment Microsoft made last year to become OpenAI’s exclusive cloud provider. Now, Microsoft is issuing yet another signal of high confidence in OpenAI’s research by acquiring the rights to GPT-3.
OpenAI released GPT-3, the third iteration of its ever-growing language model, in July, and the program and its prior iterations have helped create some of the most fascinating AI language experiments to date. It’s also inspired vigorous debate around the ethics of powerful AI programs that may be used for more nefarious purposes, with OpenAI initially refusing to publish research about the model for fear it would be misused.
“Unlike most AI systems which are designed for one use-case, OpenAI’s API today provides a general-purpose ‘text in, text out’ interface, allowing users to try it on virtually any English language task. GPT-3 is the most powerful model behind the API today, with 175 billion parameters,” OpenAI explains in a blog post about its partnership with Microsoft.
“We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” writes Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott in the company’s blog post announcing the deal. “Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”
OpenAI says, “the deal has no impact on continued access to the GPT-3 model through OpenAI’s API, and existing and future users of it will continue building applications with our API as usual,” which does raise some interesting questions about what exactly Microsoft has acquired here. A Microsoft spokesperson tells The Verge that its exclusive license gives it unique access to the underlying code of GPT-3, which contains technical advancements it hopes to integrate into its products and services.
So while other companies and researchers may be able to access GPT-3 through OpenAI’s API, only Microsoft will reap the benefits of getting to make use of all the AI advancements that went into making it such a sophisticated program. It’s not clear what that will look like right now, but what is clear is that Microsoft sees immense value in OpenAI’s work and likely wants to be the first (and, in this case, only) company to take its largely experimental research work and translate it into real-world product advancements.