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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Meta and IBM Launch AI Alliance

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One year after the debut of ChatGPT, companies including AMD and ServiceNow are teaming up with academia to promote ‘open’ alternatives to OpenAI

Meta Platforms and International Business Machines launched a coalition of more than 50 artificial intelligence companies and research institutions that are pushing a so-called open model of AI, hoping to gain traction in a fast-growing market.

The AI Alliance, including Intel, Oracle, Cornell University and the National Science Foundation, said it is pooling resources to stand behind “open innovation and open science” in AI. Its members largely support open source, an approach in which technology is shared free and draws on a history of collaboration among Big Tech, academics and a fervent movement of independent programmers. 

IBM said it has worked since August with Meta to bring together organizations that haven’t been in the limelight in the way OpenAI has, said Darío Gil, senior vice president at IBM and director of IBM Research.

“Frankly, we’ve been a little bit unsatisfied with the overall debate and the discussions on AI over the last year,” Gil said. “We did not feel that it reflected the diversity of the ecosystem that is making this AI moment possible.”

Generative AI has overtaken the technology narrative since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT a year ago. OpenAI and rivals, such as Anthropic and Cohere, have largely led the charge in developing advanced AI models built as closed, or proprietary, systems that are managed by their creators and require companies to pay for their use. 

Many of the alliance’s members are companies that have their own AI products but are struggling to catch up with the rush of attention that OpenAI and its investment partner, Microsoft, are drawing. 

For many of them, revenues from enterprise technology are driving much of their growth. According to a forecast from research firm International Data Corp., enterprises worldwide will spend nearly $16 billion on generative AI solutions alone this year, with spending hitting $143 billion by 2027. Generative AI’s compound annual growth rate will be nearly 13 times that of worldwide IT spending over the same four-year period from 2023 to 2027, IDC said.

While IBM’s own history in AI has been marred by the failure of its Watson system, Gil said its new Watsonx system is an entirely new platform. Like IBM, Meta has developed its own AI models, but has fallen behind in recent years. The tech giant has sought to stake its claim in the red-hot AI market as an open-source AI system through its Llama 2 AI model. 

Since the upheaval at OpenAI in late November, businesses want to have more providers of AI products to diminish the risk of working with a single vendor, and are exploring other AI systems as viable alternatives.

The timing of the AI Alliance’s launch underscores that message, IBM’s Gil said. “This other way, it’s a much more distributed approach, but much more resilient, because no given institution can derail the success of the open engine,” he said.

The pitch could be a compelling one to businesses, who are seeking more vendors to work with, said Ritu Jyoti, group vice president of worldwide AI at IDC. But “it will all depend on how well they execute it.” For instance, the AI Alliance will need a solution consisting of integrated AI hardware, software and other tools that make it easy to use multiple AI systems, she said.

Advanced Micro Devices, the chip maker aiming to take a piece of Nvidia’s dominance in AI chips, said that it will support an open AI ecosystem with its hardware, and that it—along with other alliance members—will build the software that enables businesses to use its chips, said Forrest Norrod, AMD’s executive vice president and general manager of its data center group. The company is set to spotlight AI accelerator chips this week that Norrod said will be a “strong” alternative to Nvidia’s offerings.

Enterprise software maker ServiceNow, which has AI ambitions of its own, said its 50-person AI research team will be involved in the AI Alliance by working on open scientific advancement of AI systems, and that it shows customers they have choice, said Jeremy Barnes, ServiceNow’s vice president of product AI. 

“If you think the future of AI is going to be determined by two, three or five institutions, you’re mistaken,” IBM’s Gil said. “I hope that it gives more clarity and confidence that the world of open innovation is a world to bet in.”

The alliance is focusing on six areas, including regulation and safety, as near-term initiatives. Gil said it will soon release a benchmarking tool for AI safety and model validation.

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