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‘Govts should access the best tech, not reinvent the wheel’ ‘Govts should access the best tech, not reinvent the wheel’

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SEATTLE, WA : In May, Sam Altman, co-founder and chief executive officer of Microsoft-backed OpenAI who was fired on Friday, had stirred a hornet’s nest, commenting on India’s attempt to develop a generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool like ChatGPT, terming it “hopeless”, while responding to a question by Rajan Anandan, the managing director of Peak XV Partners, and a former head of Google India. Altman later clarified that his response was “…really taken out of context! (and that the)…question was about competing with us with $10 million (as opposed to $100 million), which I do think is not going to work…”

That said, India does not have a semiconductor fab to build chips required to power a large language model (LLM) or LLM-powered chatbot. LLMs typically require below 10 nanometre (nm) graphic processing units (GPUs), while India plans to build a 40 nm semiconductor fab, implying that it will have to buy graphics processing units (GPUs) and use cloud services to bear the costs of building an LLM.

Cut to 16 November, a day before Altman was asked to leave OpenAI, Satya Nadella, chairman and chief executive of Microsoft, told a select group of journalists at a roundtable in his Redmond office, that he had thought “very, very deeply about” the instances of countries aspiring to build their own LLMs. Acknowledging that India would have “legitimate reasons why they want to do things that are important”, he said governments would need to strike a balance between national and economic interests, which “is definitely going to be key”.

In fact, to drive home his point, Nadella cited a study by an economics professor of Dartmouth College, Diego Comin, who concluded that countries seeking to take advantage of “real paradigm shifts” such as the Industrial Revolution, need “to get the new input…which is cutting-edge technology, into your country fast”.

“Sometimes, when you think about what’s in your national interest and what’s in your economic interest, it turns out that…you have access to the best technology (which) is probably the most important thing…In other words, don’t get stuck reinventing the wheel. (Instead) use it intensely to create new value-add on top (of it),” Nadella said.

“Ricardo (19th century British economist, David Ricardo, known for theory of ‘comparative advantage’) was right; there is comparative advantage in India…(that) should be expressed on top of it versus (the urge) to start from scratch, because if you start from scratch, then you risk falling behind in a massive way,” he added.

When Nadella was asked what would be his reaction if Microsoft’s relationship ever soured with OpenAI, he said, “Without the Intel-Microsoft partnership, would Wintel ever have happened? There is no way Microsoft would be Microsoft without that defining partnership with Intel. And all these years later, Intel remains a massive partner…Partnering is actually an art that helps grow enterprise value.”

As for OpenAI, “it’s not like, they wouldn’t have been able to build without our systems. Our systems are powering them. We are building on top of them. They are building on top of us. So, there’s a lot of co-dependency…We are not going to compete against partners”.

Following the sacking of Altman by OpenAI, Nadella posted on X, “We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team.”

Nadella said while the benefits of the Industrial Revolution “spread only to a few countries…this time around, there is no reason why this technology (AI and Generative AI) can’t spread to every part of the world”.

In March, for instance, Air India became the world’s first airline to successfully deploy a Generative AI virtual agent, Maharaja, powered by Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI service.

Air India claims Maharaja has dealt with over half a million customer queries and handles over 6,000 queries a day in Hindi, English, French, and German.

Microsoft is also working with MakeMyTrip to make travel planning more inclusive and accessible through voice-assisted bookings in Indian languages, besides partnering Tech Mahindra to enable generative-AI-powered enterprise search, and to develop intelligent applications with HCLSoftware.

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Updated: 19 Nov 2023, 10:19 PM IST

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