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Stability AI, the company behind Stable Diffusion, is trying to democratise AI and use its potential to ‘awaken humanity’s potential’. However, if you have closely followed the AI ecosystem over the past few years, this might give you a sense of déjà vu.
In 2015, Sam Altman and Elon Musk announced the formation of OpenAI, a non-profit company with similar motives – to democratise AI and open its research and models to the public. However, DALL-E2, by OpenAI, is not open-source; the company charges its users.
Hence, with Stability AI in the picture, it made many of us wonder if Stability AI will toe the OpenAI line. But so far, that does not seem to be the case. Last month, Stability AI not only launched Stable Diffusion – the AI text-to-image generator – but also made it open source. It’s also about 30 times more efficient and runs on a consumer graphics card for DALL-E 2-level image quality, according to its creator Emad Mostaque.
Stability AI: Mission and vision
If you are dropping by StabilityAI’s website, the message ‘AI by the people, for the people’ on the top of the website in large fonts will definitely pique your curiosity. Its website further says, “Stability AI is building open AI tools to provide the foundation to awaken humanity’s potential.”
In an interview with Yannic Kilcher, Emad said that through StabilityAI, he wants to remove many of the barriers, such as compute and funding for independent and academic researchers to build some of these new AI models.
Today, most of the breakthroughs in the field of AI have come from big organisations. AI text-to-image generators such as DALL-E2 and Imagen to Large Language Models (LLM) such as GPT-3 have come from large organisations and are not open source. Hence, it’s difficult for anyone besides the developers to recreate such models.
Emad said that any independent AI researcher has three choices in front of him. Firstly, there is academia where they don’t have compute access. Secondly, they can go to the large organisations where they will be asked to sign 59-page NDAs and will work in a corporate environment for product teams. And lastly, they can build their own startups, which, in most cases, is a terrible idea since it’s not something for most academics or researchers.
“So I thought there was going to be a better way,” Emad said. Today, around 80% of research money is going into next-generation AI, and it really has the potential to improve humanity. Hence, with Stability AI, Emad wants to solve the problem of compute and funding and bring people together to build cool stuff.
Open AI vs OpenAI
“OpenAI’s mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI)—by which we mean highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work—benefits all of humanity,” their website states.
Despite starting out as a non-profit company, in 2019, OpenAI transitioned from a non-profit to a ‘capped’ for-profit company and received an investment of around USD1 billion from Microsoft, much to the outrage of many from the AI/ML community.
Stability AI, too, like OpenAI, is a corporation, after all. In this regard, Emad said what Stability AI is doing is exactly what OpenAI set out to do, but for OpenAI, it was the wrong time.
Emad believes StabilityAI’s business model allows them to work for open source. Explaining further, he said Stable Diffusion can generate images in three seconds on 5 gigabytes of VRAM, whereas other image models require like 40 gigabytes or 20 gigabytes of VRAM, which are super slow. “However, there will be bigger and better models like Google’s Imagen, but this inflexion point makes our business sustainable. It allows us to do things like just work for open source,” Emad said.
Besides, Stability AI is also working with various governments in multiple jurisdictions as well as leading institutions to build AI for these nations and their communities and capture that cultural diversity. “We are laid out to be the right company at the right time to coordinate this all, and then hopefully, as this goes, this becomes an independent and more decentralised thing.”