Microsoft's $1bn OpenAI partnership underpinned with closer Azure ties

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Microsoft has invested $1 billion into an industry wide artificial intelligence (AI) partnership that will harness Azure cloud technology to develop AI for supercomputers.

The not-for-profit organisation OpenAI, co-founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, is basing its partnership with Microsoft on three key areas, largely focused on how the firm's Azure cloud platform can integrate with ongoing work.

The two organisations will jointly build "Azure AI supercomputing technologies" while OpenAI will port its existing services to run on Microsoft's cloud platform. Moreover, the company will become OpenAI's preferred partner for marketing AI technologies as when they are commercialised.

The initiative will also focus on creating artificial general intelligence (AGI). This differs from conventional AI in its broad and multi-functional nature, as opposed to being developed for specific applications.

Microsoft argues generalisation, and "deep mastery of multiple AI technologies", will help address some of the world's most pressing issues. These range from global challenges like climate change to creating more personalised issues like healthcare and education.

With its capacity to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human can, AGI is also a popular subject in science-fiction writing, as writers and futurists extrapolate this to machines experiencing consciousness.

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

"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."

OpenAI was founded in December 2015 as an organisation dedicated to researching next-gen AI technologies and the applications for these. Its missions centre on developing AI that serves as an extension of individual humans, not a replacement.

It's a similar AI vision to Microsoft's, with the industry giant committing to developing AI grounded in an ethical framework. Its foray into automation and machine learning has largely come in the way of voice recognition and in medical contexts.

It's a step-change from the culture that led to Microsoft launching, and later shutting down, the infamous Tay bot in 2016. This chat Twitter-based chatbot was initially designed to emulate a teenage girl but ended up parroting racial slurs and conspiracy theories after it was hijacked by trolls.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.