I would sincerely appreciate commentary and impressions on an issue that is really heavily affecting me. I'm posting it here with relative detail in hopes that people in similar circumstances can compare notes and offer advice.
I work at a currently-successful software start-up of under 100 people, all of whom I respect and many of whom have become my closest friends. My job at this company has certainly been the most enjoyable and rewarding of my career. I gladly make sacrifices in other parts of my life to help further its goals. Nearly all days are a genuine pleasure. My position is relatively senior, in that I have the ear of the executive leadership, but cannot veto company strategy.
We develop software for heavy industries which are not likely to want decisions to be made by AI, due to stringent standards of safety. We currently use our in-house produced neural networks for a niche corner of image and object recognition that seems to be currently market-leading in its small field. We do not perform novel research, let alone publish.
Recently, it has dawned on the company leadership team that AI is likely the be-all and end-all of large-scale software companies, and is seriously considering making significant investments into scaling our and team and ambitions in the field.
High-confidence beliefs I have about their intent:
- We will not make an eventual move towards researching general intelligence. It is too far away from our established base of customers.
- I don't see a way in which we would start researching or publishing novel, industry-leading techniques for any field of AI.
- Our most likely course of action will be optimizing known and published research for our particular data-extraction and image-recognition purposes.
- We will likely implement and fine-tune other companies' object recognition, software assistant, and chat-bot AIs within our products.
Personally, I see a few options that lead to continued prosperity without direct contribution to race dynamics:
- We use off-the-shelf tools, mostly from alignment concerned organizations.
- We don't partner with Google/Facebook/Microsoft/Amazon for our training infrastructure.
- We continue to not publish nor push novel research.
Some of the less avoidable consequences are:
- Generally increasing AI hype.
- Increasing competition in adjacent AI fields (object recognition). That being said, I don't think that any competitors in our industries are the kind to produce their own research. It is more likely that they will, like us, continue to experiment with existing papers.
However, there has been discussion of partnering with industry-leading AI labs to significantly accelerate our establishment in the field. I think, for various reasons, that we have fair chances of forming "close" partnerships with Google/Microsoft/Amazon (probably not Facebook), likely meaning:
- Use of their infrastructure.
- Early access to their cutting-edge models (which would be integrated into our products and sold to our customers).
- Cross-selling to shared customers of interest.
At very least, we would likely secure large-scale use of their computing resources. My company's executive leadership would want to form as close a partnership as possible, for obvious reasons. There is little doubt that our VC investors will share their views.
I am seriously affected by the question of what to do. I do not want my work to directly contribute towards accelerating competitive dynamics between major research laboratories, and I see a close strategic partnership as being just that. Stepping away from my job and most of my closest friends is something I am seriously considering, provided they go down the worst route described.
I intend to collect my thoughts for a while and then discuss my concerns and position with the team of founders. I will leave the details out and simply say that the conversation could realistically go either way.
Primary question: I would like to know if others have been in a similar circumstance, how they considered their actions, and what they ultimately decided to do and why.
Secondary question: Do major cloud infrastructure providers exist who are not one of the big four or five? Providing compelling alternatives for the one major cost base may satisfy many of my company's requirements without having to sign-up with doom squad.
I don't think this is the reason. Rare is the training run that's so big it doesn't fit comfortably in what you can buy in a single Amazon datacenter. I think the real reason is that AWS has significantly larger margins than most cloud providers, since their offering is partially a SaaS offering.