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Computers

Microsoft invests $1 billion in OpenAI for supercomputing tech

OpenAI will develop AI-based supercomputing technologies on Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service as part of the deal.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman at the Microsoft campus

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (left) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures

Microsoft has invested $1 billion in OpenAI and reached a multiyear deal with the artificial intelligence research startup to jointly develop new supercomputing tech, the companies said Monday. OpenAI will run its services on Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform.

San Francisco-based OpenAI, which launched in 2015, has repeatedly emphasized its focus on the ethical use of artificial intelligence that "benefits all of humanity." Microsoft and OpenAI said that artificial intelligence, a term used to describe how a machine can understand any intellectual task like a human being, should be used to resolve "currently intractable" problems such as the global climate crisis. 

"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," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. "By bringing together OpenAI's breakthrough technology with new Azure AI supercomputing technologies, our ambition is to democratize AI -- while always keeping AI safety front and center -- so everyone can benefit."

OpenAI is backed by prominent tech leaders such as Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist, co-founder of PayPal and a Facebook board member. The company has a unique structure. It started out as a nonprofit but earlier this year, the nonprofit created a for-profit company that the nonprofit's board still controls. OpenAI calls the hybrid a "capped-profit" company.

The new collaboration with Microsoft comes at a time when cloud services for OpenAI have reportedly become a significant cost. OpenAI has been an Azure customer since 2016, Microsoft said.

Earlier this year OpenAI offered a glimpse into GPT-2, a AI-powered text generator that focuses on reading comprehension, answering questions and summarizing. 

"We are in the process of porting our Rapid project to run on Azure," an OpenAI representative said. "Rapid is a large-scale reinforcement learning software we've been developing for the last few years, and was used to train both our Dota agents and the robotic hand."

Originally published July 22 at 8:01 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:25 a.m.: Adds comment from Microsoft.

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