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Microsoft goes public with pledges to foster innovation and drive competition in AI economy

Microsoft lists all the ways it wants to ensure competition and support innovation in the AI economy by taking a proactive and constructive stance to working with regulators

Microsoft claims its multi-point plan to promote innovation and competition in the artificial intelligence (AI) market represents the biggest commitment it has made in the company’s 49 years of operation.

The company has published a list of pledges, actions and principles that it’s holding up as a show of its commitment to “providing the broad technology access needed to empower organisations and individuals around the world to develop and use AI in ways that will serve the public good”.

This is important, said Microsoft vice-chair and president Brad Smith in a blog post, because regulators are already asking questions about whether the rise of AI will lead to new tech monopolies forming, as new entrants come to market or legacy providers “reinforce their existing positions”.

“The principles we’re announcing today commit Microsoft to bigger investments, more business partnerships, and broader programs to promote innovation and competition than any prior initiative in the company’s 49-year history,” he wrote.

At the moment, in the AI market, the “competitive pressure is fierce” and the pace of innovation is “dizzying”, but – based on Microsoft’s past actions and experiences of other big technological shifts – it now appreciates the importance of taking a proactive and constructive stance on addressing regulatory concerns.

“We believe it is critical for companies and regulators to engage in open dialogue, with a goal of resolving issues as quickly as possible – ideally, while a new product is still under development,” said Smith.

“For our part, we understand that Microsoft must respond fully and cooperatively to regulatory inquiries so that we can have an informed discussion with regulators about the virtues of various approaches. We need to be good listeners and constructive problem solvers in sorting through issues of concern and identifying practical steps and solutions before a new product is completed and launched.”

Enabling innovation

This statement is one of a five-strong list of “AI Access Tenets” the company has published that acknowledge the responsibility Microsoft has in enabling innovation and fostering competition in each layer of the supporting AI technology stack.

“This means, for Microsoft, that we need to stay focused not just on our own success, but on enabling the success of others,” he said,

This work will also require the need to “advance a broad array of AI partnerships”, said Smith, as – currently – there is only one company that is “vertically integrated” into every layer of the AI stack, spanning chips to mobile apps.

As well as partnering with other tech suppliers, the company will also need to partner with customers, communities and other countries to ensure AI becomes “widely available”. “We are committed to partnering well with market participants around the world and in a way that will accelerate local AI innovations.” said Smith.

In addition to its AI Access Tenets, Microsoft also published 11 supporting principles to guide its efforts to protect the public, meet its legal obligations and ensure the responsible use of AI.

From a competitive standpoint, the company said it is committed to ensuring customers that are using Azure for AI workloads can easily switch to a new provider and export their data to them with ease, and is investing in AI skills initiatives to lower the barriers to access to the technology.

These principles also include a commitment to expand Microsoft’s cloud computing AI infrastructure “to enable the training and development” of proprietary and open source foundation models, as well as a pledge to manage its AI datacentres in an environmentally responsible way.

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The company said it will also work to ensure “broad” availability of AI models and software-making tools to developers around the world “so every nation can build its own AI economy”.

Similarly, the company said it will make public application programming interfaces (APIs) that will allow more developers to access the AI models hosted on the Microsoft Azure public cloud platform.

“Developers may [also] choose how to distribute and sell their AI models, tools and applications for deployment and use on Microsoft Azure, whether via the Azure Marketplace or directly to customers,” wrote Smith.

“We respect the needs of developers by ensuring we do not use any non-public information or data from the training, building, deployment, or use of developers’ AI models in Microsoft Azure to compete with those models.”

Closing out the blog post, he said these pledges and tenets represent a “first step”, and that it fully anticipates there will be a need to evolve and refine them as technological advances occur and regulations change.

“We look forward to continuing dialogue with the many stakeholders that are now playing critical roles in building the new AI economy,” said Smith. “If experience teaches us anything, it’s that we’ll all need to succeed together.”

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