Microsoft Aligns With OpenAI To Drive Benevolent Artificial Intelligence, Opening New Doors For Partners

Microsoft took steps to make broader artificial intelligence capabilities accessible to partners Tuesday with the introduction of Azure instances geared for AI workloads, a cloud service for developing automated internet bots, and an alliance with an organization looking to keep the technology from destroying the world.

With the new Azure cloud products and partnership with OpenAI, a nonprofit founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Y Combinator CEO Sam Altman, Microsoft hopes to make it easier for its partners to deploy cutting-edge services at an "incredible moment in technology history," blogged Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft's AI research.

"We’ve made major strides in artificial intelligence just in the past five years, achieving milestones many people who have devoted their lives to the field wouldn’t have thought possible," Shum said. "Now, we have the opportunity to help our partners and customers use these breakthroughs to achieve their goals."

[Related: The Race Is On: IBM, Google, Microsoft And AWS Aim To Deliver Machine Learning As A Cloud Service]

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OpenAI, founded less than a year ago with the stated goal of preventing advances in AI from threatening humanity, will become a user of Microsoft's new N-Series of Azure VMs, which hit the market in December.

"These virtual machines are designed for the most intensive compute workloads, including deep learning, simulations, rendering and the training of neural networks. They also enable high-end visualization capabilities to allow for workstation and streaming scenarios by utilizing the Nvidia GRID in Azure," Shum said.

"This is indeed a very big step," said Dj Das, CEO of Third Eye Consulting, a Microsoft partner based in San Francisco. "More for Microsoft than OpenAI."

The partnership with the nonprofit gives the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant much-needed credibility in the data sciences market. And OpenAI benefits from obtaining large discounts on the N-Series instances powered by GPUs, Das said.

Shum said on Microsoft's blog that the new Azure Bot Service gives developers cloud-based capabilities to employ Microsoft's framework for building bots that perform automated tasks on the internet.

The service is serverless, running on Azure Functions, an event-driven platform that can execute code without spinning up Azure VM instances, according to Shum.

Sarosh Hussain, practice lead at Credera, a Microsoft partner based in Dallas, described Microsoft's new cloud products as "a great leap towards democratizing AI."

Vital technologies driving advances in artificial intelligence -- big data storage and processing, powerful GPU-based compute, machine-learning tools for developing and manipulating algorithms -- are now accessible to anyone with a credit card, Hussain said, unlocking innovation for small companies and enterprises.

"Until recently these technologies were only accessible to researchers, startups and some large organizations," Hussain told CRN. "The skill requirements do not diminish, but the barrier to entry becomes lower due to things such as Microsoft's bot framework and Azure bot as a service."

Just about any application, be it greenfield or brownfield, can be enhanced or completely transformed using AI capabilities, Hussain said.

But he also cautioned that "while access and availability to those technologies is being consumerized, enterprises will need specialized skills to take advantage of these technologies."

New roles will likely emerge such as AI developers, AI architects and AI engineers, Hussain said.