OpenAI, Elon Musk, Microsoft… Who is behind the artificial intelligence phenomenon?

Difficult to miss ChatGPT at the beginning of the year. Accessible to the public since the end of November, this stunning computer program has introduced the greatest number of people to the latest advances in so-called generative artificial intelligence through its ability to search, sort, structure and present original answers in a few seconds, consistent and natural to any query in multiple human languages.

Behind ChatGPT, we find a Californian company little known to the general public named OpenAI, founded in 2015 by big names in techlike Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk, Paypal co-founder and Silicon Valley star investor Peter Thiel, businessman Sam Altman, head of the prestigious San Francisco startup incubator Y Combinator (Airbnb, Dropbox…) or a former engineer from the financial company Stripe, Greg Brockman.

OpenAI was first thought of as a private non-profit artificial intelligence research center and is committed to making the results of its work accessible to everyone. His reason of being ? Develop a so-called “general” artificial intelligence, that is, which would benefit the greatest number. “Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in a direction that is more likely to benefit humanity,” the company defined itself on its website at the time.

Faced with the possible abuses of this technology and the fear of seeing the human species one day overtaken by machines, a significant anxiety in Silicon Valley at the time, OpenAI considered that “AI must be an extension of human will individual and, in the spirit of freedom, be distributed as widely and uniformly as possible”. To do this, the company believed that exempting itself from financial obligations was the best way for it to focus on “positive human impact”. “Creating value for everyone, rather than for shareholders”, in short.

Elon Musk distanced himself, Microsoft preferred partner

OpenAI immediately had considerable means to conduct his research. A first round raised $1 billion from an initial panel of investors, including Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Sam Altman, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Amazon Web Services, the cloud division. of the trading giant. In 7 years, the Californian company has become essential in the landscape of artificial intelligence research. In addition to ChatGPT, we owe him Dall-E, the powerful model capable of generating photorealistic images from textual commands. And an AI programmed to generate videos would be in its boxes.

OpenAI has also seen its model evolve in 7 years. Elon Musk distanced himself from the project in 2018 to avoid a conflict of interest with his company Tesla, which also conducts AI research. The billionaire, who remains one of the main donors of the structure, has also resented the growing influence of Microsoft in the project. In 2019, OpenAI made an ideological shift by creating a capped-profit commercial company to find new investments for its research The group founded by Bill Gates entered its capital to the tune of one billion dollars, recovering the license exclusive use of ChatGPT-3, the current version of the chatbot, against the provision of its cloud-computing resources necessary for the development and hosting of the program.

The success of Dall-E and ChatGPT has whetted appetites around OpenAI. The laboratory, which today generates almost no revenue, would be in the sights of Silicon Valley’s biggest investors – the Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz funds, in particular – which would seek to buy back part of its shares, an operation which would value the organization approximately 29 billion dollars. According to Reuters, OpenAI is now expecting revenue of $200 million in 2023 and $1 billion the following year, with an economic model that is essentially based on selling licenses to other companies, including Microsoft, which plans to investing an additional $10 billion to incorporate ChatGPT into its Bing search engine and Office 365 suite, and several startups specializing in advertising and SEO.

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