Microsoft and OpenAI both have their own vision for AI products. One wants to make it accessible for a broad audience as quickly as possible, while the other is just trying to be mindful of the technology’s potential risks. Or is OpenAI mostly misusing the latter vision to capitalize on its AI business?
Fantastic things can happen when two big names in the tech industry join forces. Those who are strong on their own can flourish together with the right partner.
A new report from The Wall Street Journal takes us behind the scenes of the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI. It shows that a partnership between two big names can also net conflict. The two frustrated each other on several occasions, unwittingly or not.
Bing Chat surprises even OpenAI
Microsoft managed to gain attention early this year with the launch of Bing Chat. At that time, the potential of the collaboration became clear for the first time. Indeed, the Windows creator’s AI technology for the search engine and browser relies on a new AI model from OpenAI. There are similarities to ChatGPT, but the model would be more powerful and focus specifically on search queries.
Microsoft’s competitors did not escape the news. Google, for example, was sweating toes and rushed to bring Google Bard to the public. This is not going smoothly because the AI chatbot just can’t introduce itself to the European market. At Meta, more and more employees wonder if they are not lagging behind in the whole AI story. CEO Zuckerberg responded to the concerns by showing off some new generative AI functionality for WhatsApp and Messenger. Whether the CEO appeases the staff remains to be seen, as the functionalities remain locked and key to the general public.
In any case, the launch of Bing Chat has managed to stir something up among the big tech names. According to the report, even OpenAI itself now appeared to be reeling from the launch. Those involved testified that the company feared the consequences of rapidly integrating the chatbot into Microsoft Edge. Microsoft employees testifying then questioned the validity of the warning since ChatGPT was already available at the time.
It is important to note that behind both products is a different language model. Bing Chat in fact relies on GPT-4 which was not undergoing major testing at the time. Bing Chat was pushed through anyway and the consequences of too short a testing period soon became apparent. For example, the chatbot could be rude at first.
Impervious to antitrust commissions
The collaboration between Microsoft and OpenAI also involves Microsoft occasionally pushing an envelope of money to the AI company. An acquisition never occurred, but the Windows creator has helped the company financially from the beginning. The most recent investment was said to be in the amount of $10 billion, and Microsoft got to integrate the technology into more of its own services in return.
The partnership remains out of way of a possible antitrust complaint, and OpenAI continues to operate independently. So the AI company will also have to bring in its own money. In the report, salespeople from both companies testify that there are times when they approach the same customers to sell competing products. Now that both companies are converting artificial intelligence into an AI product, they are getting into each other’s financial straits. Is that why OpenAI tried to delay the launch of Bing Chat?
Microsoft influences, or hopes to
So Microsoft has its finger in the pie when it comes to OpenAI. Not total power, but certainly influence. For example, the company already ensured that it will be expensive for search engines to develop a chatbot in collaboration with OpenAI.
Because there was no acquisition, employees of the software vendor also appear to be bumping up against OpenAI’s walls at times. The company keeps the model behind ChatGPT a big secret, and not all teams at Microsoft appear to be able to see into it easily either, much to the frustration of several teams.
So OpenAI is certainly not listening to all the wishes of its main investor. This is further evidenced by its decision to release ChatGPT as a public test in 2022. Indeed, Microsoft’s top was not satisfied that the launch would take place before the company itself could launch Bing Chat. The software vendor already saw its moment of great glory pass it by altogether, as the novelty was already gone with the launch of Bing Chat.
Microsoft clearly hopes to have more influence over OpenAI than it has. That causes tumult occasionally and gives the partnership a special character. With the race to AI in full swing, the Windows vendor must simultaneously come to terms with OpenAI’s decisions. Otherwise, it will see its position in the race drop significantly.