Microsoft and OpenAI: a $1bn partnership to define the future of artificial intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) - the mechanical and technological imitation of human and animal intelligence - is a concept almost as old as civilization itself. In Homer’s Iliad, the Greek God of fire and forges, Hephaestus, was a creator of robots. From golden tripods that served food at banquets to fully realized simulacrums of humanity capable of conversation and storytelling.
The machines may have been divine in origin, but were also mechanical in nature, and betray the first flickerings of human fascination with recreating, from metal and stone, the most enigmatic and powerful element of humanity: our intelligence.
In her book, Machines Who Think, Pamela McCorduck notes that, historically, human attitudes towards AI diverged in antiquity into two camps: the Hellenic and the Hebraic. The Hellenic (Greek) tradition, as in the Iliad, expressed human wonder at the idea of thinking machines, and treated them as something to be strived for.
The latter school of thought, informed by the Second Commandment ("Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" - basically a non-compete clause stating humans shouldn’t have any other gods or undertake any of the activities that fell within God’s purview) approached the idea of creating something akin to life in any way but the biblical sense with fear and revulsion. Turning to his creator, the monster says: “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.” Frankenstein’s monster perfectly embodies the Judeo-Christian fear of the thinking machine. Fast forward to the 1980’s, and you have The Terminator; fascination and fear have always surrounded the idea of AI.
Obviously, the Second Commandment didn’t stand in the way of human inventiveness for long. Today, AI drives business analysis and decision making around the world. Accenture predicted in 2017 that by 2035, the US market for AI would attain a value of $8.3trn per year. Constantly improving in terms of power and computational ability, AI is arguably the most impressive advancement of the past century, competing with polio vaccines, the internet and manned space travel. But there’s a problem...
The limitations of specialized AI
An AI can play chess better than a grandmaster, read an x-ray with more precision than a head of surgery and fly a fighter jet with more flair than Will Smith in Independence Day. However, all these mind-boggling feats need to be performed by different AI systems, and each one requires extensive training and preparation.
“We’re very far from having machines that can learn the most basic things about the world in the way humans and animals can do,” said Facebook’s head of AI, Yann LeCun in an interview with The Verge. “In particular areas machines have superhuman performance, but in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat.”
The future is adaptable
The secret to the next step towards the holy grail of an adaptable, generally intelligent AI (an AGI) may currently lie within the walls of an office on 18th Street in San Francisco. Founded in 2015 by a cohort of Silicon Valley luminaries (including Elon Musk) OpenAI’s 100-strong team has been striving to breach the chasm between the current state of the art and the potentially limitless applications of the next step in creating a true “thinking machine.”
According to the OpenAI team, “AI system building today involves a lot of manual engineering for each well-defined task. In contrast, an AGI will be a system capable of mastering a field of study to the world-expert level, and mastering more fields than any one human — like a tool which combines the skills of Curie, Turing, and Bach. An AGI working on a problem would be able to see connections across disciplines that no human could. We want AGI to work with people to solve currently intractable multi-disciplinary problems, including global challenges such as climate change, affordable and high-quality healthcare, and personalized education. We think its impact should be to give everyone economic freedom to pursue what they find most fulfilling, creating new opportunities for all of our lives that are unimaginable today.”
So far, it’s done quite well. The OpenAI has displayed a diverse range of skills, breaking records for dexterity, generating convincing song lyrics and short stories, and taking on human champions at Dota 2. The OpenAI project was originally intended to be purely non-profit, but has since announced that it is opening itself up to outside investment.
The software giant announced yesterday that it will be investing $1bn into OpenAI, in order to further drive the company’s innovation. According to the OpenAI team, “we’re partnering to develop a hardware and software platform within Microsoft Azure which will scale to AGI. We’ll jointly develop new Azure AI supercomputing technologies, and Microsoft will become our exclusive cloud provider—so we’ll be working hard together to further extend Microsoft Azure’s capabilities in large-scale AI systems.”
“The creation of AGI will be the most important technological development in human history, with the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity,” said Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI. “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.”
How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.