Emails Reveal Microsoft’s OpenAI Investment Motivated by Fear of Google’s Dominance

  • Editor
  • May 7, 2024

An internal Microsoft email has shed light on the tech giant’s strategic decision to invest heavily in OpenAI, motivated by fears of falling behind Google in artificial intelligence capabilities.

The email, part of evidence in the ongoing US Justice Department’s antitrust case against Google, reveals discussions among Microsoft’s top executives about the urgent need to catch up in AI technology.

As soon as this news broke online, people around the world took to their social media to share their views regarding it.

The email exchange involved Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott, CEO Satya Nadella, and co-founder Bill Gates, indicating high-level concern over the company’s Artificial Intelligence capabilities compared to Google.

The disclosed email, dated June 12, 2019, outlines Microsoft’s evaluation of its position in AI development relative to Google. Scott’s message to Nadella and Gates highlighted the challenges Microsoft faced in replicating Google’s AI advancements, notably the BERT language model, which took Microsoft six months to train due to infrastructure limitations.

Read the unredacted portions of the emails below, sourced from Business Insider.

From: Kevin Scott
Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2019 7:16:11 AM
To: Satya Nadella; Bill Gates
Subject: Re: Thoughts on OpenAI [Redacted]
The thing that’s interesting about what Open AI and Deep Mind and Google Brain are doing is the scale of their ambition, and how that ambition is driving everything from datacenter design to compute silicon to networks and distributed systems architectures to numerical optimizers, compiler, programming frameworks, and the high-level abstractions that model developers have at their disposal.

When all these programs were doing was competing with one another to see which RL system could achieve the most impressive game-playing stunt, I has highly dismissive of their efforts. That was a mistake.
When they took all of the infrastructure that they had built to build NLP models that we couldn’t easily replicate, I started to take things more seriously. And as I dug in to try to understand where all of the capability gaps were between Google and us for model training, I got very, very worried.

Turns out, just replicating BERT-large wasn’t easy to do for us. Even though we had the template for the model, it took us ~6 months to get the model trained because our infrastructure wasn’t up to the task.

Google had BERT for at least six months prior to that, so in the time that it took us to hack together the capability to train a 340M parameter model, they had a year to figure out how to get it into production and to move on to larger scale, more interesting models.

We are already seeing the results of that work in our competitive analysis of their products. One of the Q&A competitive metrics that we watch just jumped by 10 percentage points on Google Search because of BERT-like models. Their auto-complete in Gmail, which is especially useful in the mobile app, is getting scarily good.

We have very smart ML people in Bind, in the vision team, and in the speech team. But the core deep learning teams within each of these bigger teams are very small, and their ambitions have also been constrained, which means that even as we start to feed them resources, they still have to go through a learning process to scale up. And we are multiple years behind the competition in terms of ML scale.

 Satya Nadella

To: Kevin Scott
CC: Amy Hood
Sent: 6/12/2019 6:02:47 PM
Subject: Re: Thoughts on OpenAI

Very good email that explains why I want us to do this… and also why we will then ensure our infra folks execute.
Amy – fyi
Sent from Mail for Windows 10

The primary motivation for Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI was the recognition of Google’s significant lead in AI. Scott expressed in the email that the gap in the Machine Learning scale between Microsoft and Google was alarming, prompting an urgent reassessment of Microsoft’s AI strategy.

Microsoft responded to the competitive threat by investing $1 billion in OpenAI in 2019, a move aimed at accelerating its AI capabilities and integrating OpenAI’s advanced models into its products like Bing, Office apps, and the Windows operating system.

Some people seemed disappointed, saying that they had expected such things from Microsoft since the start.

This investment has grown significantly over the years, surpassing $13 billion, as Microsoft continues to enhance its AI integration across its suite of products.

The email also hints at the ongoing influence of Bill Gates in Microsoft’s strategic decisions, despite stepping down from the board in 2020. His involvement in discussions about OpenAI since 2016 and his role in brokering the deal were crucial in shaping Microsoft’s AI direction.

Some believe that Microsoft may soon fall behind in the AI race, as Google and Apple are perceived to be more capable in this field.

Since its initial investment, Microsoft has leveraged OpenAI’s technology to position itself as a leader in AI, countering its earlier fears of lagging behind Google. Integrating AI into Microsoft products has been a critical factor in the company’s recent successes and innovations.

For more news and insights, visit AI News on our website.

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Dave Andre


Digital marketing enthusiast by day, nature wanderer by dusk. Dave Andre blends two decades of AI and SaaS expertise into impactful strategies for SMEs. His weekends? Lost in books on tech trends and rejuvenating on scenic trails.

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