July 13, 2024

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Working at the cutting edge of AI is unfortunately expensive. For example,In addition to DeepMind, Google also has Google Brain, Research, and Cloud. And TensorFlow, TPUs, and they own about a third of all research (in fact, they hold their own AI conferences).

I also strongly suspect that compute horsepower will be necessary (and possibly even sufficient) to reach AGI. If historical trends are any indication, progress in AI is primarily driven by systems – compute, data, infrastructure. The core algorithms we use today have remained largely unchanged from the ~90s. Not only that, but any algorithmic advances published in a paper somewhere can be almost immediately re-implemented and incorporated. Conversely, algorithmic advances alone are inert without the scale to also make them scary.

It seems to me that OpenAI today is burning cash and that the funding model cannot reach the scale to seriously compete with Google (an 800B company). If you can’t seriously compete but continue to do research in open, you might in fact be making things worse and helping them out “for free”, because any advances are fairly easy for them to copy and immediately incorporate, at scale.

A for-profit pivot might create a more sustainable revenue stream over time and would, with the current team, likely bring in a lot of investment. However, building out a product from scratch would steal focus from AI research, it would take a long time and it’s unclear if a company could “catch up” to Google scale, and the investors might exert too much pressure in the wrong directions.The most promising option I can think of, as I mentioned earlier, would be for OpenAI to attach to Tesla as its cash cow. I believe attachments to other large suspects (e.g. Apple? Amazon?) would fail due to an incompatible company DNA. Using a rocket analogy, Tesla already built the “first stage” of the rocket with the whole supply chain of Model 3 and its onboard computer and a persistent internet connection. The “second stage” would be a full self driving solution based on large-scale neural network training, which OpenAI expertise could significantly help accelerate. With a functioning full self-driving solution in ~2-3 years we could sell a lot of cars/trucks. If we do this really well, the transportation industry is large enough that we could increase Tesla’s market cap to high O(~100K), and use that revenue to fund the AI work at the appropriate scale.

I cannot see anything else that has the potential to reach sustainable Google-scale capital within a decade.

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