Microsoft builds a supercomputer that can help address the world's most demanding problems

The new machine was developed in collaboration with OpenAI, a company co-founded by Tesla’s billionaire chief executive Elon Musk

FILE PHOTO: A Microsoft logo is seen next to a cloud in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on June 14, 2016.   REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
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Microsoft has built one of the top five publicly disclosed supercomputers, the company announced at its Build 2020 developers conference that kick-started virtually on Tuesday.

The technology giant developed the new computer in collaboration with and exclusively for San Francisco-based OpenAI, a company co-founded by Tesla’s billionaire chief executive Elon Musk in 2015.

It will train “extremely large artificial intelligence models”, the company said. The new machines have a wide range of capabilities, said Microsoft’s chief technical officer Kevin Scott. The potential benefits extend far beyond narrow advances in one type of AI model, Mr Scott said.

“This is about being able to do a hundred exciting things in natural language processing at once and a hundred exciting things in computer vision … you are going to have new applications that are hard to even imagine right now,” added Mr Scott.

The company is racing rivals including IBM and Google to be the first to commercialise the technology on a wider scale.

With a very high level of performance as compared to a general-purpose computer, supercomputers are typically used to address the most demanding problems in the world. These include developing medicine to fight a coronavirus, oil and gas exploration, simulating nuclear weapon explosions, weather forecasting and climate research.

In March, the US tech company IBM partnered with the White House to offer supercomputing power and help researchers working to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The supercomputer, Summit, is expected to assist researchers around the world to better understand the virus and build predictive models to analyse its progress as a disease.

In a similar move, Group 42, an Abu Dhabi-based AI and cloud computing company, is offering its supercomputer, Artemis, free of charge to scientific researchers in any field that helps in finding solutions to the current virus outbreak.

In July last year, Microsoft invested $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in OpenAI and announced a multi-year partnership to develop supercomputing technologies.

“As we have learned more and more about what we need and the different limits of all the components that make up a supercomputer, we were really able to say, if we could design our dream system, what would it look like,” said Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI.

“And then Microsoft was able to build it,” Mr Altman said.

OpenAI said its goal is to develop powerful AI technologies that other people can use and the supercomputer developed in partnership with Microsoft was designed to accelerate that cycle.