Has OpenAI Lost the Open Race?

Will OpenAI go back to its initial roots of being ‘open’ with a proposed plan to release an open-source model?
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If reports are to be believed, OpenAI is preparing to release its open source AI model. However, chances are that the new model will not compete with its flagship GPT. But, why exactly is OpenAI thinking of going back to being ‘open’?

Going by how closed OpenAI has been about its flagship GPT, the announcement of creating an open-source model will allow it to enter the open source race, a segment it had been evading. Open source allows continuous innovation. By allowing people to work and provide feedback on codes, organisations are leveraging their potential using crowd intelligence and open contributors, which enables technology to grow exponentially. Open source encourages a two-way system that benefits the makers and users. 

OpenAI has been cautious in planning to offer a new model which might have nothing to do with their GPT models thereby continuing to protect its well-kept secret. However, this is not the first time an attempt to reach the open source community has been made by OpenAI, after going the profit-seeking way. Last month, the company announced a Bug Bounty Program that invited researchers to report vulnerabilities, bugs or security flaws in their systems, and rewards ranging from $200 to up to $20,000 were offered. 

Is open source the way to go? 

While OpenAI remained closed source for many years, a number of companies such as Google (PaLM), Meta (LLaMA)and Hugging Face have kept their models open sourced. Companies adopt an open source approach with the belief of getting contributions from outside developers. 

Meta’s LLaMA has been in news among researchers for open sourcing their model. Their latest model’s weights were also available to all on a case-by-case basis. With the code being leaked on GitHub, people were able to access GPT-level LLM for free. 

With models such as Alpaca and Vicuna released by Stanford and a collaboration of universities such as UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and others, LLMs have been democratised. With these open source models, LLMs are being openly accessed by developers to further add to their functionality. Google is also not far behind with their open sourced model PaLM, which is also open source. 

Benefits and threats of open source

Recently, in an internal document, Google speaks about how open source is a big threat for the company. It emphasises on how the modern internet “runs on open source for a reason” and compares the recent open-source-based AI developments to the internet. The open source community had a huge role to play during the Internet tech revolution which cannot be replicated by any organisation. 

According to the document shared internally by Luke Sernau, a senior software engineer at Google, open source technology has ‘quietly advanced’ and outshined OpenAI and Google in the AI race. It has been emphasised that open-source communities pose a threat to Google and big tech companies as people are able to build models that rival them at a quicker pace and lower cost. It can also be detrimental when people are not ready to pay for high-quality technology when it is freely available in open-source communities.

Back and forth

OpenAI has been at the receiving end of criticism for keeping their models closed source. The company that started as a nonprofit research organisation committed to developing digital intelligence became a closed source model with a “capped profit” model. When asked about the change in approach, co-founder Ilya Sutskever once said that they “were wrong” and that if AI or AGI becomes unbelievably potent at some point, then “it doesn’t make sense to be open-source”. He also expects that in the next few years, everyone will realise that “open sourcing AI is not wise”.

Elon Musk, one of the initial founding members of OpenAI, had expressed his concerns about how the company was initially started as an open source counterbalance to Google, but has now become a closed-source “maximum-profit” company controlled by Microsoft, something that he had not intended it to be. 

Today, with OpenAI planning to release an open source model, it looks like the company will be going back to their initial goal in a possible bid to cater to the open-source community. It’s ironic that OpenAI uses open source to train and scale their GPT models, but their codes are closed for the community. In March, OpenAI faced a security breach when a user’s search history was exposed, and the issue was attributed to a bug in the Redis client library, indicating how the company still uses open source code. 

OpenAI’s path today is tricky and laden with mysteries. On one hand, they are going about monetising whatever they can through special subscriptions such as ChatGPT Plus and ChatGPT Business, and on the other hand, they are planning to open source. They recently announced 70+ ChatGPT Plugins along with a web browsing feature, where ChatGPT will know when and how to browse the internet for recent topics and events, which will be released to all ChatGPT Plus users over the coming days. Going by how OpenAI is trying hard to stay ahead of the AI race, the open model format is probably the only factor holding it back. It is to be seen what their open source model will offer. 

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Vandana Nair
As a rare breed of engineering, MBA, and journalism graduate, I bring a unique combination of technical know-how, business acumen, and storytelling skills to the table. My insatiable curiosity for all things startups, businesses, and AI technologies ensure that I'll always bring a fresh and insightful perspective to my reporting.

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