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Amazon enters chatbot wars with AI startup partnership

Employees walk through a lobby at Amazon's headquarters in Seattle.
Employees walk through a lobby at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle in 2018. Amazon Web Services is partnering with AI startup Hugging Face, which is developing a ChatGPT rival.
(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
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Amazon.com’s cloud unit is expanding a partnership with artificial intelligence startup Hugging Face, which is developing a ChatGPT rival, the latest move as the biggest technology firms line up allies in an attention-getting market for generative AI systems.

Amazon Web Services will make Hugging Face’s products, which include a language generation tool that competes with the technology behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT, available to cloud customers who want to use these tools as the building blocks of their own applications. Hugging Face will build the next version of that language model, called Bloom, on AWS, said Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of database, analytics and machine learning at Amazon’s cloud unit.

Hugging Face, which makes AI products and hosts those developed by other companies, is also working on open-source rivals to ChatGPT and will use AWS for that as well, Clement Delangue, the startup’s chief executive, said in an interview. The two companies have a close relationship and already have 1,000 customers in common, Delangue said. Still, the cloud deal is not exclusive, giving Hugging Face the ability to work with other providers.

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AWS already has more than 100,000 customers running AI applications in its cloud, Sivasubramanian said. These customers will now be able to access Hugging Face AI tools through Amazon’s SageMaker program. Additionally, Hugging Face’s software developers can use Amazon’s cloud computing power and its chips designed for artificial intelligence tasks. The companies didn’t disclose financial details of the partnership, but Amazon said it didn’t invest in the startup.

The partnership comes amid a flurry of agreements and investments that pair the largest cloud providers with companies working on generative AI. Last month, Microsoft struck a deal to invest in ChatGPT maker OpenAI that’s said to be valued at $10 billion, and is using the startup’s technology for Bing search. Earlier this month, Alphabet’s Google put nearly $400 million into OpenAI rival Anthropic, a person familiar with the matter said.

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At stake is the ability to sell cloud computing services to take advantage of a boom in interest in generative AI programs, which can create new text, photos and graphics. Because the programs sort through a large volume of existing content in order to generate something new, they require considerable computing power delivered via the cloud and represent lucrative businesses to Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

AWS already has partnerships with Stability AI, the maker of image generation tool Stable Diffusion — a competitor to OpenAI’s Dall-E — and the Israeli AI company AI21 Labs, which makes another rival to OpenAI’s GPT language model called Jurassic.

“It should not be about just one model that is going to rule the world,” said Sivasubramanian of AWS. “You want developers to have a broad range.”

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Hugging Face’s Bloom was trained on a French publicly available supercomputer called Jean Zay. The company sees using AWS for the coming version as a way to give Hugging Face another option with a partner it has a good relationship with, Delangue said.

“This is an important, meaningful alliance,” he said. “It aligns with our vision of democratizing machine learning, making it easier for all companies to build machine learning.”

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Hugging Face last year raised $100 million from investors including Lux Capital, Sequoia Capital and Coatue Management, as well as basketball star Kevin Durant. The company’s repository of AI models serves as kind of a GitHub of machine-learning tools where developers can share work and collaborate.

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