It can’t draw fingers, but the AI arms race has begun

By Will Brown

Microsoft has fired the first shot in the artificial intelligence arms race.

Rumours had swirled about the extent of Microsoft’s collaboration with OpenAI for some time following a $10 billion investment last month. Everyone wondered which Microsoft service would be the first to see the impacts of this partnership – and the answer is Microsoft Teams. With the power to automatically generate meeting notes, summaries and action points, this new premium AI[1]powered version of Teams signals the start of this multi-billion dollar partnership that is likely to spread throughout the Microsoft software offering. And with OpenAI rumoured to announce the next generation of their chat software, GPT-4 (we’re currently on GPT-3), in the coming weeks – Microsoft is looking to be in an increasingly strong position for capitalising on the current artificial intelligence hype.

Google have been on edge ever since OpenAI’s Chat-GPT made headlines late last year, declaring it a ‘Code Red’ and redirecting their teams from other projects to focus on artificial intelligence. Now, in a recent speech from Google’s recent earnings call, CEO Sundar Pichai spoke of the company’s plans to focus in hard on AI. According to Pichai, Google’s AI chatbot – which the company have been working on since early 2022 – will soon be available for interaction with the public in the same way as their rivals OpenAI.

You can check out the samples they’ve released online, and it’s scarily good

Pichai was cautious about how quickly this technology will be available, and indications say they’re going to take it comparatively slowly. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, they’re not trying to be the first to the party – but they’re trying to be the best. But from what we’ve seen so far, Google are definitely going to be competitors in this market. Take, for example, the recent demonstration of MusicLM that was made available. Whilst OpenAI have cornered image and text generation, Google have made a system that can produce music from prompts. You can check out the samples they’ve released online, and it’s scarily good – even if the vocals are complete gibberish that feel like they would be at home in The Sims.

And it’s not just Google and Microsoft drinking from the well of artificial intelligence. Similarly to Google, artificial intelligence was a focus of Apple’s recent earnings call. CEO Tim Cook emphasised that AI is a “major focus” at Apple – noting that many of their services already integrate elements of AI – and have plans to involve it in almost all of their products. We’ve seen the potential benefits of that already when, in early January, Apple unveiled a series of audiobooks that had been narrated by artificial intelligence. This isn’t like listening to Siri trying to read your texts, these sound like real people. Whilst many within the world of literature criticised the feature as taking something away from the art of the process, it’s undeniable that it costs far less than hiring narrators.

They’re not trying to be the first to the party – but they’re trying to be the best

With all these companies simultaneously competing for dominance in the AI market, it’s unsurprising that various journalists and random people on Twitter (myself included) have declared an imminent AI-arms race amongst Big Tech.

Reference to any kind of race leads us to question – what’s the end goal? What’s the ‘man of the moon’ that will declare a winner? Many believe that artificial general intelligence is AI’s Apollo 11. Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI, is not a term with an entirely concrete definition. Nevertheless, the overall concept is an artificial intelligence that is capable of performing any task that a human could do. It’s a term often conflated with the idea of the Singularity – the point at which artificial intelligence becomes intelligent enough to improve itself, creating an exponential increase in computing capacity.

Are we close to this? Not really.

We’re probably decades away from the point at which any of the major tech companies are able to create artificial general intelligence, and OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman has urged people to lower their expectations of what the company is capable of.

So what’s really next for the artificial intelligence race? Altman commented in an interview in January that they’re planning to embark on a project to create video with artificial intelligence, something that Meta and Google are also working on. If you’re keeping score in the AI game, that’s likely to be the next goal.

Image: Generated by OpenAI’s Dall-E 2

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