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The cost of cutting-edge

A dark cloud looms over the CHATGPT revolution – the immense investment.


THE explosion of generative AI has taken the world by storm, but one question all too rarely comes up: Who can afford it?

Openai bled around Us$540mil (Rm2.4bil) last year as it developed CHATGPT and says it needs Us$100bil (Rm453.9bil) to meet its ambitions, according to industry media The Informatio­n.

“We’re going to be the most capitalint­ensive startup in Silicon Valley history,” Openai’s founder, Sam Altman, told a panel recently.

And when Microsoft, which poured billions of dollars in investment into Openai, is asked about how much its AI adventure will cost, the company answers with assurances that it is keeping an eye on its bottom line.

Building something even near the scale of what Openai, Microsoft or Google have on offer would require an eye-watering investment in state-ofthe-art chips and recruiting prizewinni­ng researcher­s.

“People don’t realise that to do a significan­t amount of AI things like CHATGPT takes huge amounts of processing power. And training those models can cost tens of millions of dollars,” said Jack Gold, an independen­t analyst.

“How many companies can actually afford to go out and buy 10,000 Nvidia H100 systems that go for tens of thousands of dollars a piece?” asked Gold.

The answer is pretty much no one and in tech, if you can’t build the infrastruc­ture, you rent it and that is what companies already do massively by outsourcin­g their computing needs to Microsoft, Google and Amazon’s AWS.

And with the advent of generative AI, this dependency on cloud computing and tech giants deepens, leaving the same players in the driver’s seat, experts warned.

Training those (AI) models can cost tens of millions of dollars. Jack Gold

‘Heavily underestim­ated’

The unpredicta­ble costs of cloud computing “are a heavily underestim­ated problem for many companies”, said Stefan Sigg, chief product officer at Software AG, which develops software for businesses.

Sigg compares cloud costs to electricit­y bills and says companies that don’t know better are in for “a big surprise” if they let their engineers run up bills in the mad rush to build tech, including AI.

Microsoft’s signature cloud offer is Azure and some observers believe the giant’s all-in bet on AI is really about protecting Azure’s success and guaranteei­ng the cash cow’s future.

Azure has been the giant’s unsexy breadwinne­r for years, bringing in huge profits without attracting the headlines of an iphone or social media that go straight to the consumer.

For Microsoft, “the golden goose is monetising cloud with Azure because we’re talking about what could be a US$20, US$30, Us$40bil (Rm90.7bil, Rm136bil, Rm181.4bil) opportunit­y annually down the road if the AI bet is successful”, said Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella insists that generative AI is “moving fast in the right direction”.

Deeply respected on Wall Street, Nadella will have a six- or nine-month grace period to show his bet is a winner, Ives predicted.

Microsoft acknowledg­es the risk but insists that on AI, it must “lead this wave”, CFO Amy Hood told analysts this month.

“We will charge for those AI capabiliti­es, and then ultimately, we’ll deliver operating profit,” she said.

‘Squashed out’

Piling up profit at the company founded by Bill Gates can only mean passing on the cost of AI to customers.

From Main Street to the Fortune 500, the dependency on the Ai-amped will be an expensive one and companies and investors are drumming up alternativ­es to at least reduce the bill.

“AI training, GPT training will become very important cloud services going forward,” said Spectro Cloud CEO Tenry Fu.

His firm, like many others in the sector, helps companies optimise cloud technology to reduce expenses.

“But after training, a company will be able to get their model back for real AI applicatio­ns,” he added, and the dependence on the cloud giants will hopefully be reduced.

Regulators are hoping that they can keep up and not leave the giants in charge, imposing their terms on smaller companies.

“Law enforcers (must) ensure that ... opportunit­ies and openings for competitio­n ... are not squashed out by the incumbents,” US Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan told CNBC.

But it might be too late, at least when it comes to which companies have the means to lay the groundwork for generative AI.

“It is absolutely true that the number of companies that can train the true frontier models is going to be small just because of the resources required,” Openai’s Altman told a US Senate panel.

“And so I think there needs to be incredible scrutiny of us and our competitor­s,” he added. – AFP

 ?? ?? Generative ai will increase dependency on tech giants, leaving the same players in the driver’s seat, experts warned.
Generative ai will increase dependency on tech giants, leaving the same players in the driver’s seat, experts warned.

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