Silicon Valley is in a frenzied rush to find, fund, nurture and advance “generative” A.I., technologies that can generate text, images and other media in response to short prompts. Microsoft invested $10 billion in OpenAI, the San Francisco start-up which has made ChatGPT. It is noteworthy that the surge in AI funding comes at a time when funding for other start-ups has dried up, in a dismal market for tech investing. This is not surprising since it brings forth a technology that is spontaneously capable of handling any task an average person could do. This is unchartered territory. It will be - socially, emotionally and economically - a first in human history.
After the invention of the digital computer, it was abundantly clear that it could perform functions that could in some sense be called “intelligent.” In 1936, the great English mathematician Alan Matheson Turing showed that it was possible to build a machine that would, for specific practical purposes, behave like a problem-solving human being. Turing claimed that he would call a machine “intelligent” if, through typed messages, it could exchange thoughts with a human being—that is, hold up its end of a conversation. In the early days of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Joseph Weizenbaum wrote a program called ELIZA, which showed how easy it was to meet Turing’s test for intelligence.
PitchBook, which tracks private investment data has reported that Anthropic, a San Francisco artificial intelligence start-up, is close to raising roughly $300 million in new funding. It values Anthropic at roughly $5 billion as reported by The New York Times. The startup, which was founded in 2021, previously raised $704 million, valuing it at $4 billion.
Other funding deals in the works include Character.AI which lets people talk to chatbots that impersonate celebrities, Replika, another chatbot company, and You.com, which is rolling out similar technology into a new kind of search engine.
The reason why generative A.I. is the hottest interest area today is because these technologies are poised to remake everything from online search engines like Google Search to work tools across industries. These corporate research labs are running an epic race for AI supremacy. This will decide how we live and use computers and who will commercially dominate the coming new era.
Anthropic was founded by a group of people that included several researchers who left OpenAI. Most of its early funding came from the tarnished cryptocurrency entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried and his colleagues at FTX.
Microsoft had already invested more than $3 billion in OpenAI, and the new deal is a clear indication of the importance of OpenAI’s technology to its future competition with other big tech companies like Google, Meta and Apple.
More than a million people tested the chatbot within five days of its launch, using it to answer trivia questions, explain ideas and generate everything from poetry to term papers. This is the steepest commercial scale launch of any online tech till date.
With Microsoft’s deep pockets and OpenAI’s cutting-edge artificial intelligence, the companies hope to remain at the forefront of generative artificial intelligence —after its ChatGPT became the symbol of a new and more powerful wave of A.I.
The cruel irony is that this deal follows Microsoft’s announcement last week that it had begun laying off employees as part of an effort to cull 10,000 positions related to what it called “changes to our hardware portfolio”. Satya Nadella has bet big on artificial intelligence, which he called “the next major wave of computing.”
OpenAI’s stated mission was to build artificial general intelligence, or A.G.I., a machine that can do anything the human brain can do. When OpenAI announced its initial deal with Microsoft in 2019, Satya Nadella described it as the kind of lofty goal that a company like Microsoft should pursue, comparing A.G.I. to the company’s efforts to build a quantum computer.
OpenAI was created in 2015 by small group of entrepreneurs and artificial intelligence researchers, including Sam Altman, head of the start-up builder Y Combinator; Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive of the electric carmaker Tesla; and Ilya Sutskever, a living legend of a researcher.
They founded the lab as a nonprofit organization. But after Mr. Musk left the venture in 2018, Mr. Altman remade OpenAI as a for-profit company so it could raise the money needed for its research. A year later, Microsoft became a funder and investor. It paid for the enormous amounts of computing power needed to build the kind of generative A.I. technologies OpenAI is known for. As of now, the company is valued at around $29 billion.
In 2020, OpenAI built a milestone A.I. system, GPT-3, which could generate text on its own, including tweets, blog posts, news articles and even computer code. Last year, it unveiled DALL-E, which lets anyone generate photorealistic images simply by describing what he or she wants to see.
Based on the same technology as GPT-3, ChatGPT showed the general public just how powerful this kind of technology could be. More than a million people tested the chatbot within five days of its launch, using it to answer trivia questions, explain ideas and generate everything from poetry to term papers. This is the steepest commercial scale launch of any online tech till date.
Companies like Google and OpenAI can push the technology forward at a faster rate than others. But their latest technologies have been reproduced and widely distributed. They cannot prevent people from using these systems to spread misinformation.
Microsoft has already incorporated GPT-3, DALL-E and other OpenAI technologies into its products. Most notably, GitHub, a popular online service for programmers owned by Microsoft, offers Copilot, a tool that can automatically generate snippets of computer code. Microsoft expanded availability of several OpenAI services to customers of its Azure cloud computing offering and said ChatGPT would be coming soon.
Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently declared a “code red,” accelerating plans and jump-starting A.I. development.
OpenAI is among the many companies, academic labs and independent researchers working to build more advanced chatbots. These systems cannot exactly chat like a human, but they often seem to. They can also retrieve and repackage information with a speed that humans never could. They can be thought of as digital assistants — like Siri or Alexa — that are better at understanding what you are looking for and giving it to you. Many experts believe these new chatbots are poised to reinvent or even replace internet search engines like Google and Bing.
LaMDA is what artificial intelligence researchers call a neural network, a mathematical system loosely modelled on the network of neurons in the brain. This is the same technology that translates between French and English on services like Google Translate and identifies pedestrians as self-driving cars navigate city streets.
A neural network learns skills by analysing data. By pinpointing patterns in thousands of photos, for example, it can learn to recognize a particular object in a photo. GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, a language model
Five years ago, researchers at Google and labs like OpenAI started designing neural networks that analysed enormous amounts of digital text, including books, Wikipedia articles, news stories and online chat logs. Scientists call them “large language models.” Identifying billions of distinct patterns in the way people connect words, numbers and symbols, these systems learned to generate text on their own.
Their ability to generate language surprised many researchers in the field, including many of the researchers who built them. The technology could mimic what people had written and combine disparate concepts.
With ChatGPT, OpenAI has worked to refine the technology. It does not do free-flowing conversation as well as Google’s LaMDA. It was designed to operate more like Siri, Alexa and other digital assistants. Like LaMDA, ChatGPT was trained on a sea of digital text culled from the internet.
But even these mammoth corporations do not control the fate of these technologies. Systems like ChatGPT, LaMDA and Galactica are based on ideas, research papers and computer code that have circulated freely for years. Companies like Google and OpenAI can push the technology forward at a faster rate than others. But their latest technologies have been reproduced and widely distributed. They cannot prevent people from using these systems to spread misinformation.
Stability AI is doing a large pooling of startups, not for profit groups and universities. However, rapid commercialisation will probably be done by Microsoft and Google (Alphabet). As things stand, the AI battle is Microsoft vs. Alphabet.
The computer is the archetypal, unrivalled machine of the modern era. It claims sovereignty over the whole range of human experience, and now supports its claim by showing that it “thinks” better than we can. In enthusiasm for artificial intelligence, Marvin Minsky has been quoted as saying that the thinking power of silicon “brains” will be so formidable that “If we are lucky, they will keep us as pets.”
Think harder or prepare for a kennel.
Shubhranshu Singh is vice president, marketing - domestic & IB, CVBU, Tata Motors. He writes Simply Speaking, a weekly column on Storyboard18. Views expressed are personal.