Tag Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft And Apple Drop OpenAI Seats Amid Antitrust Scrutiny



Microsoft has given up its seat as an observer on the board of OpenAI while Apple will not take up a similar position, amid growing scrutiny by global regulators of Big Tech’s investments in AI start-ups, Financial Times reported.

Microsoft, which has invested $13bn in the maker of the generative AI chatbot ChatGPT, said in a letter to OpenAI that its withdrawal from its board role would be “effective immediately”.

Apple had also been expected to take an observer role on OpenAI’s board as part of a deal to integrate ChatGPT into the iPhone maker’s devices, but would not do so, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Apple declined to comment.

OpenAI would instead host regular meetings with partners such as Microsoft and Apple and investors Thrive Capital and Khosla Ventures — part of “a new approach to informing and engaging key strategic partners” under Sarah Friar, the former Nextdoor boss who was hired as its first chief financial officer last month, an OpenAI spokesperson said.

The move comes as antitrust authorities in the EU and US examine the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI as part of broader concerns about competition in the rapidly growing sector.

CNBC reported Microsoft said it would give up its observer seat on the OpenAI board amid regulatory scrutiny into generative artificial intelligence in Europe and the U.S. 

Microsoft’s deputy general counsel, Keith Tolliver, wrote a letter to OpenAI late Tuesday, saying that the position had provided insights into the board’s activities without compromising its independence.

But the letter, seen by CNBC, added that the seat was no longer needed as Microsoft had “witnessed significant progress from the newly formed board.” CNBC reached out to Microsoft and OpenAI for comment.

The European Commission previously said Microsoft could face an antitrust investigation, as it looked at the markets for virtual words and generative artificial intelligence.

The commission, which is the executive arm of EU, said in January that it is “looking into some of the agreements that have been concluded between large digital market players and generative AI developers and providers” and singled out the Microsoft-OpenAI tie-up as a particular deal that it will be studying.

9To5Mac reported: Just eight days after it was revealed that Apple Fellow Phil Schiller would join the OpenAI board as an observer, it’s now being reported that this won’t happen.

Instead, OpenAI will simply commit to regular meetings with Schiller and other partners and investors…

The change of plan appears to relate to antitrust concerns. Regulators in both the U.S. and Europe are already investigating Microsoft’s investment OpenAI, and it was possible that Apple could have opened itself up to a similar investigation by taking a seat on the board, even without voting powers.

In my opinion, OpenAI needs to rethink if they really want a board of people from larger corporations involved in what OpenAI does. Microsoft and Apple seem to not want to have a seat on the board.


Microsoft Is Hiking The Price Of Xbox Games Pass Ultimate



Microsoft is planning to hike its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate pricing again in September, alongside launching a new “standard” subscription that doesn’t include day-one access to first-party Xbox games.

The Xbox maker has started emailing Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers of a price increase to $19.99 a month that starts on September 12, a $3 increase over the $16.99 a month pricing, The Verge reported.

PC Game Pass subscribers will also see a price hike in September, with the service moving from $9.99 to $11.99 per month and maintaining access to day-one titles.

The price increases come just before Microsoft plans to add Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 and other big first-party Xbox games to its Game Pass service later this year. The price increases will largely affect Ultimate subscribers who make up the vast majority of Game Pass subscribers and come just over a year after the last Game Pass price hikes raised rates by $1-$2 per month.

Alongside the Ultimate and PC Game Pass price hikes, Microsoft will also offer a new option of an Xbox Game Pass Standard subscription, without day-one titles that will be priced at $14.99 per month for new users of the service. 

The existing Xbox Game Pass for console subscription will continue for existing subscribers, but new Game Pass subscribers won’t be able to select the console option starting July 10th until the new Game Pass Standard subscription is available. Microsoft says Xbox Game Pass Standards “will be available in the coming months.”

Xbox posed: Game Pass updates announced July 2024

Starting July 10, 2024, the following updates to Xbox Game Pass will take effect:

  • Price changes will go into effect for new members for Xbox Games Pass Ultimate, Xbox Game Pass Core, and PC Game Pass.
  • Game Pass Console will no longer be available for new members.
  • Members who are already subscribed to Game Pass for Console and have automatic payment renewal enabled will be able to enjoy their membership

Also, a new Game Pass option, Xbox Game Pass Standards, will become available in the coming months. These changes will enable us to bring members more value and more great games to Game Pass.

Microsoft is making some big changes to Xbox Game Pass, including raising the price on some tiers while discounting others and adding whole new options, turning the once easy-to-understand service — and arguably the best deal in gaming — into a confusing and pricy mess, Kotaku reported.

On July 9, people began sharing emails from Xbox seemingly referencing an upcoming price increase for Game Pass Subscribers in September. Shortly after that, Windows Central confirmed that a price increase for Game Pass Ultimate was happening, along with a host of other changes.

One of the biggest is the news that Xbox is introducing a new plan that will replace the Game Pass console tier. This new plan, which will be known as Standard, will no longer include day-one game releases.

In my opinion, it is good that Xbox is allowing U.S. users, who are currently subscribed to the Xbox Game Pass for Console, to be allowed to stay on that plan with no changes. It is a good way to keep their customers from bailing out and considering a different console.


Microsoft Will Make Recall An Opt-In Feature



Microsoft says it’s making its new Recall feature in Windows 11 that screenshots everything you do on your PC an opt-in feature and addressing various security concerns, The Verge reported.

The software giant first unveiled the Recall feature as part of its upcoming Copilot Plus PCs last month, but since then, privacy advocates and security experts have been warning that Recall could be a “disaster” for cybersecurity without changes.

Thankfully, Microsoft has listened to the complaints and is making a number of changes before Copilot Plus PCs launch on June 18th. Microsoft had originally planned to turn on Recall by default, but the company now says it will offer the ability to disable the controversial AI-powered feature during the setup process of new Copilot Plus PCs.

“If you don’t proactively choose to turn it on, it will be off by default” says Windows chief Pavan Davuluri.

According to The Verge, Microsoft’s changes to the way the database is stored and accessed come after cybersecurity expert Kevin Beaumont discovered that Microsoft’s AI-powered feature currently stores data in a database in plain text. That could have made it easy for malware authors to create tools that extract the database and its contents. Several tools have appeared in recent days, promising to exfiltrate Recall data.

Microsoft posted an “Update on the Recall preview feature for Copilot+ PCs”

Today, we are sharing an update on the Recall (preview) feature for Copilot+ PCs, including more information on the set-up experience, privacy controls, and additional details on our approach to security…

Listening to and acting on customer feedback

Even before making Recall available to customers, we have heard a clear signal that we can make it easier for people to choose to enable Recall on their Copilot+ PC and improve privacy and security safeguards. With that in mind, we are announcing updates that will go into effect before Recall (preview) ships to customers on June 18.

* First, we are updating the set-up experience of Copilot+ PCs to give people a clearer choice to opt-in to saving snapshots using Recall. If you don’t proactively choose to turn it on, it will be off by default.

* Second, Windows Hello enrollment is required to enable Recall. In addition, proof of presence is also required to view your timeline and search in Recall.

* Third, we are adding additional layers of data protection including “just in time” decryption protected by Windows Hello Enhanced Sign-In Security (ESS) so Recall snapshots will only be decrypted and accessible when the user authenticates. In addition, we encrypted the search index database.

CNBC reported Microsoft has been trying to balance competing interests of late as it moves to incorporate new generative AI tools into its products and to keep up with the competition.
Microsoft is adding security protections to Recall in addition to requiring people to manually turn it on once Copilot+ PCs become available on June 18. The search index database will be encrypted, Microsoft said.

In my opinion, I am really happy that I don’t use a PC. Copilot+ appears to be really unpopular with a lot of people, especially when it comes to security.


Microsoft Unveils Copilot+ PC With Generative AI Capabilities Baked In



We’ve been hearing rumblings for moths now that Microsoft was working on so-called “AI-PCs.” At a pre-Billed event, the company spelled out its vision, Engadget reported.

Microsoft is calling its version of Copilot+ PCs, which CEO Satya Nadella described as a “new class of Windows PCs.” These contain hardware designed to handle more generative AI Copilot processes locally, rather than relying on the cloud. Doing so requires a chipset with a neural processing unit (NPU), and manufacturers such as Qualcommm have been laying the groundwork with chips like the Snapdragon X Elite.

Microsoft is taking a partner-first approach to making Copilot+ PCs. Along with chipmakers like AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm, major OEMs including Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP and Lenovo are on board. The first Copilot+ laptops are available to preorder today and they’ll ship on June 18.

Microsoft posted on its Official Microsoft Blog: Today, at a special event on our new Microsoft campus, we introduced the world to a new category of Windows PCs designed for AI, Copilot+ PCs.

Copilot+ PCs are the fastest, most intelligent Windows PCs ever built. With powerful new silicon capable of an incredible 40+ TOPS (trillion operations per second), all-day battery life and access to the most advanced AI models, Copilot+ PCs will enable you to do things you can’t really do on any other PC.

Easily find and remember what you have seen in your PC with Recall, generate and refine AI images in near real-time directly on the device using Cocreator, and bridge language barriers with Live Captions, translating audio from 40+ languages into English.

These experiences come to life on a set of thin, light and beautiful devices from Microsoft Surface and our OEM partners Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung, with pre-orders beginning today and availability starting on June 18. Starting at $999, Copilot+ PCs offer incredible value.

ArsTechnica reported Microsoft is using its new Surface launch and this week’s Build developer conference as a platform to launch its new “Copilot+” PCs initiative, which comes with specific hardware requirements that systems will need to meet to be eligible.

Copilot+ PCs will be able to handle some AI-accelerated workloads like chatbots and image generation locally instead of relying on the cloud, but new hardware will generally be required to run these workloads quickly and power efficiently,

At a minimum, systems will need 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, to accommodate both the memory requirements and the on-disk storage requirements needed for things like large language models (LLMs; even so-called “small language models” like Microsofts Phi-3, still use several billion parameters).

But the biggest new requirement, and the blocker for virtually ever Window’s PC in use today, will be for an integrated rural processing unit, or NPU. Microsoft requires an NPU with performance rated at 40 trillion operations per second (TOPS), a high-level performance figure that Microsoft, Qualcomm, Apple and others use for NPU performance comparisons.

Right now, that requirement can only be met by a single chip in the Windows PC ecosystem, one that isn’t even quite available yet.

In my opinion, some people will be very excited about the AI that has been “baked in” to Microsoft’s Copilot+ PC. That said, I think the $999 cost will be expensive to most PC users.


Microsoft’s New Xbox Mobile Gaming Store Is Launching In July



Microsoft has been talking about plans for an Xbox mobile gaming store for a couple of years now, and the company plans to launch it in July. Speaking at the Bloomberg Technology Summit earlier today, Xbox president Sarah Bond revealed the launch date and how Microsoft is going to avoid Apple’s strict App Store rules, The Verge reported.

“We’re going to start by bringing our own first-party portfolio to [the Xbox mobile store], so you’re going to see games like Candy Crush show up in that experience, games like Minecraft” says Bond. “We’re going to start on the web, and we’re doing that because that really allows us to have it be an experience that’s accessible across all devices, all countries, no matter what and independent of the policies of closed ecosystems.

Although Bond alluded to games and an actual store in her statement during her interview at the Bloomberg Tech Summit, a statement provided to The Verge paints a slightly different picture. “This year we will debut our first mobile offering where mobile players can find deals on our firs mobile offering where mobile game players can find deals on their favorite in-game items and discover new games, starting on the web so players can access it anywhere,” Bond says, “This web-based store is the first step in our journey to building a trusted app store with its roots in gaming.”

The store will be focused on first-party mobile games from Microsoft’s various studios, which include huge hits like Call of Duty: Mobile, and Candy Crush Saga, Bond says. The company will extend this to partners at some point in the future, too.

TechCrunch reported reported that by launching the store on the web, as opposed to an app, Microsoft would present an alternative to Apple and Google, which charge a 30% fee on sales.

The official announcement comes as Microsoft has been talking about launching an Xbox mobile gaming store for quite some time now. Last December, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said the company was in discussions with partners about launching an Xbox mobile store, and noted that it would arrive sooner than later.

Microsoft first hinted at a mobile store back in 2022 when it announced deal to acquire Activision Blizzard. Microsoft had said in filings that one of the major reasons it wanted to acquire Activision Blizzard was to build out its mobile gaming presence. In October 2022, Microsoft’s filings with the CMA revealed that it planned to create a new “Xbox Mobile Platform” that includes mobile games by Activision and King.

GameSpot reported reported Microsoft stated that it planned to launch a gaming storefront last year after the European Union’s Digital Markets Act made it easier for tech companies to start their own direct-to-consumer stores, eschewing Apple’s dominant “walled garden” approach. Bond said that the store will initially feature games from Microsoft-owned studios, such as Candy Crush Saga.

The storefront marks Microsoft’s latest attempt at entering the lucrative mobile gaming space, a market segment that Xbox is not usually associated with. The platform holder’s $69 million acquisition of Activision Blizzard helped set up this move, as the publisher includes Candy Crush developer King, one of the biggest players in the mobile space.

In my opinion, Microsoft is likely to attract players that might not have had access to Activision Blizzard King’s games. This could open a whole new world of mobile gaming for everyone.


New Microsoft AI Model May Challenge GPT-4 and Google Gemini



For the first time since it invested more than $10 billion into OpenAI in exchange for the rights to reuse the startup’s AI models, Microsoft is training a new, in-house AI model large enough to compete with state-of-the-art models from Google, Anthropic and OpenAI itself, The Information reported. 

The new model, internally referred to as MAI-1, is being overseen by Mustafa Suleyman, the ex-Google AI leader who recently served as CEO for the AI startup Inflection before Microsoft hired the majority of the startups’s staff and paid $650 million for the right to its intellectual property in March.

But this is a Microsoft model, not one carried over from Inflection, although it may build on training data and other tech from the startup. It is separate from the models that Inflection previously released, according to two Microsoft employees with knowledge of the effort.

MAI-1 will be far larger than any of the smaller, open source models that Microsoft has previously trained, meaning it will require more computing power and training data and will therefore be more expensive, according to the people. MAI-1 will have roughly 500 billion parameters, or settings that can be adjusted to determine what models learn during training. 

By comparison, OpenAI’s GPT-4 has more than 1 trillion parameters, while smaller open source models released by firms like Meta Platforms and Mistral have 70 billion parameters.

ArsTechnica reported this marks the first time Microsoft has developed in-house AI model of this magnitude since investing over $10 billion in OpenAI for the rights to reuse the startup’s AI models. OpenAI’s GPT-4 powers not only ChatGPT but also Microsoft Copilot.

The development of MAI-1 is being led by Mustafa Suleyman, the former Google AI leader who recently served as CEO of the AI startup inflection before Microsoft acquired the majority of the startup’s staff and intellectual property for $650 million in March. Although MAI-1 may build on techniques brought over by former inflection staff, it is reportedly an entirely new large language model (LLM), as confirmed by two Microsoft employees familiar with the project.

With approximately 500 billion parameter, MAI-1 will be significantly larger than Microsoft’s previous open source models (such as Phi-3, which we covered last month), requiring more computing power and training data. This reportedly places MAI-1 in a similar league as OpenAI’s GPT-4, which is rumored to have over 1 trillion parameters (in a mixture-of-experts configuration) and well above smaller models like Meta and Minstrel’s 70 billion parameter models.

The Verge reported Microsoft’s head of communications Frank Shaw posted that “sometimes news is just a blinding flash of the obvious,” and linked to a longer statement on LinkedIn by CTO Kevin Scott. There, Scott says that Microsoft plans to keep working closely with OpenAI “well into the future” while continuing to train and release its own models.

In my opinion, there certainly seems to be a trend happening with big companies that are creating various AI models. It kind of feels like an “everyone else is doing it” situation.


600 Activision QA Workers Form A Union With Help From CWA



Around 600 workers in Activision Publishing’s quality assurance department have formed a union. Assisted by the Communications Workers of America, the employees completed their vote with the results certified on Friday, March 8th. With that, Activision Quality Assurance United – CWA becomes the latest union to arise out of Microsoft’s gaming division and the largest video game union in the United States, The Verge reported.

According to The Verge, in 2022, Microsoft affirmed a labor neutrality agreement with the CWA which eases the organization process at the company and its subsidiaries including Activision Blizzard.

In an interview with The Verge, Tom Shelly, a technical requirements specialist and one of Activision Quality Assurance United’s organizers, said the labor neutrality agreement and Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard last year made their goals of unionizing easier to accomplish. 

In quality assurance, workers test game looking for bugs and other issues, flagging them for other developers to fix. Since the majority of QA jobs are typically entry level, the industry has a reputation for devaluing these roles, emphasizing the need for labor protections.

Polygon reported hundreds of Activision quality assurance workers are unionizing with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The union covers approximately 600 Activision central QA workers across three locations: Austin, Texas; Eden Prairie, Minn.; and El Segundo, Calif. This makes the union, called Activision Quality Assurance Unite – CWA, the largest group of unionized video game workers in the U.S.

The final vote is tallied at 390 votes “yes” and eight votes “no,” a CWA representative told Polygon.

Activision Quality Assurance United – CWA members work on games published by Activision Publishing, including franchises like Call of Duty, Crash Bandicoot, and Tony Hawk Pro Skater. The group joined unionized Microsoft and Activision Blizzard employees at Blizzard Albany, Raven Software, and ZeniMax.

According to Polygon, the other positive is that neither Activision’s QA workers nor Microsoft management have to go through the union election process with the National Labor Relations Board, which can sometimes take a while. Instead, Activision QA workers have been voting since Feb. 22, with either a union authorization card (a document, physical or digital, indicating approval of the union) or a confidential vote through an online portal.

IGN provided a quote from CWA: “The CWA Labor Neutrality Agreement is a historic agreement and unprecedented at a tech company of Microsoft’s size. By recognizing our union, Microsoft is making good on its promise to respect our ability to decide for ourselves about union representation. We encountered no union-busting at a time when most US companies – especially tech companies – regularly spend millions on anti-union consultants to prevent workers from speaking up for themselves. We hope this will inspire other workers to form unions and raise industry-wide expectations for pay, benefits, and respect for workers’ rights.”

In my opinion, those who work for huge tech companies should be allowed to form a union. It is wonderful that Microsoft chose not to interfere with the unionization efforts of Activision’s QA workers.