Meta and Microsoft Team Up to Distribute New AI Software for Commercial Use

Meta and Microsoft Team Up to Distribute New AI Software for Commercial Use

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Microsoft will release a new version of Meta Platforms’ artificial-intelligence language model in a partnership between the tech giants that will make the software available to companies for the first time.

The Meta AI model, dubbed Llama 2, will be free and available to developers building software on Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing platform, the companies said Tuesday. Meta previously released an earlier version of Llama to academics, and it was subsequently leaked in an online forum, but the social-media company hadn’t made it available for commercial use.

Microsoft on Tuesday also announced plans to charge businesses $30 a month per person for access to an AI-powered assistant for Microsoft 365, its popular workplace software that includes Word and Excel, setting up a test of how much consumers will pay for AI tools. The fee is more than double what Microsoft currently charges for the least expensive version of the productivity software, a sign of what value the tech giant sees in AI investments.

Meta is releasing Llama 2 as “open source” software, which typically is made widely available for use, modification and sharing by the public. The earlier leak put the company at the center of a vibrant, if uncontrolled, surge in AI software development.

The release of Llama 2 is set to intensify competition for private, commercial models such as the GPT-4 system developed by OpenAI, the startup that released popular chatbot ChatGPTZ.

“Open source drives innovation because it enables many more developers to build with new technology,” Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday in a Facebook post. “It also improves safety and security because when software is open, more people can scrutinize it to identify and fix potential issues.”

In making Llama 2 available to Azure customers, Microsoft is showing a willingness to broaden beyond ChatGPT maker OpenAI as its AI platform of choice. Despite the fact that Microsoft has committed billions to OpenAI, other cloud-computing providers like Amazon and Google are increasingly marketing themselves as neutral platforms where developers can pick among an array of generative AI models from different companies.

Llama 2 represents a shift for Meta, which just two months ago said it had no plans to make its model available commercially. Activists and entrepreneurs started a campaign to persuade Meta to reverse its stance or “Free the LLaMA.” The new model is one of several moves under way within the company to make inroads into generative AI after falling behind tech rivals.

Microsoft’s separate price announcement about Copilot, which is powered by OpenAI’s technology, is a key part of the company’s plans to revamp its software offerings around generative AI. Copilot will be able to carry out tasks like summarizing emails in Outlook, transforming a Word document into a PowerPoint presentation or analyzing sales data in an Excel spreadsheet.

The company first announced Copilot for Microsoft 365 in March but hadn’t announced pricing or an expected release date. Microsoft still hasn’t given a date of when it will roll out Copilot widely, though it has been testing the tool with a handful of large businesses.

Microsoft has invested more than $10 billion into OpenAI and integrated a version of the chatbot software into its Bing search engine, steps that helped rebrand the company as being on the cutting edge of the AI boom. The company hasn’t articulated a full vision for how it plans to make money from the technology. In Microsoft’s last earnings call, executives noted that generative AI has already driven some business to Azure, including through usage of ChatGPT, which is hosted on the cloud-computing platform.

A wide release of Copilot will help show how many customers are willing to pay for generative AI. Last month, Salesforce, one of Microsoft’s competitors in the enterprise software space, also announced the pricing for its suite of generative AI tools.

Microsoft also said it plans to roll out its AI-powered chatbot Bing Chat Enterprise as an added feature for many of its Microsoft 365 business customers. The company said it would charge businesses $5 a month per user to access Bing Chat Enterprise if they aren’t customers.

The chat tool works similarly to ChatGPT—doing things like summarizing text and generating answers to questions—and promises customers that the data they input won’t be accessible to people outside the company.

Those security guarantees come in response to concerns from customers about how secure their data is. In recent months companies such as Apple have warned employees not to use tools like ChatGPT at work for fear that it could release confidential data.

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