AWS launches $100M program to fund generative AI initiatives


LISBON, PORTUGAL - 2021/11/02: AWS, Amazon Web Services logo exhibition zone, seen during day two of the Web Summit in Lisbon.
Image Credits: SOPA Images / Getty Images

Amazon, keen to avoid being left behind in the hyper-competitive AI race, is launching a new program to bolster customers and partners focused on generative AI.

Called the AWS Generative AI Innovation Center, the program will put $100 million toward connecting AWS-affiliated data scientists, strategists, engineers and solutions architects with customers and partners to — as Amazon puts it in a press release — “accelerate enterprise innovation and success with generative AI.”

“Through free workshops, engagements and training, AWS will help customers imagine and scope the use cases that will create the greatest value for their businesses, based on best practices and industry expertise,” Amazon writes in a press release.

What’s that mean, exactly? I asked Sri Elaprolu, the head of the Generative AI Innovation Center and a senior data science manager at AWS, to explain in a little more detail.

Via email, Elaprolu clarified that the $100 million investment will specifically fund “people, technology and processes” around generative AI. That’s still a bit vague. But the idea, he said, will be to support work with AWS customers that helps them ideate, design and launch new generative AI products and services.

“We’ve been hearing from our enterprise customers that they’re very interested in generative AI — and they’re looking to AWS for help and guidance,” Elaprolu added. “The Innovation Center will help them build their plan for generative AI, identify and prioritize generative AI use cases that are aligned to business value, and develop proof-of-concept solutions and a path to bring solutions to a production-ready state, along with steps to scale.”

Participants in the Generative AI Innovation Center program will benefit from free workshops, engagements and training, plus access to AWS products such as the code-generating service CodeWhisperer and Bedrock platform for text-generating models.

As for who can participate, Elaprolu says that the Generative AI Innovation Center will initially prioritize working with customers who’ve previously reached out to AWS with “plans, goals or requests for assistance” with generative AI. Beyond that, the program will give precedence to organizations in the financial services, healthcare and life sciences, media and entertainment, automotive and manufacturing, energy and utilities and telecommunications sectors.

“Strategy and science experts from the AWS Generative AI Innovation Center will work with customers on brainstorming and problem formulation, help them identify best use cases for generative AI, work through challenges involved and define a clear path to success,” Elaprolu said. “It’ll also provide a wide range of expert services from advisory functions, such as exploring the best foundation model candidates to meet business objectives, and hands-on engagements, such as fine-tuning foundation models to meet specific needs.”

The launch of the Generative AI Innovation Center comes months after AWS kicked off a 10-week program for generative AI startups and debuted Bedrock, a platform to build generative AI-powered apps via pretrained third- and first-party models. AWS also recently announced that it would work with Nvidia to build “next-generation” infrastructure for training AI models — complementing its in-house Trainium hardware.

With these moves, AWS is trying — hard — to make the case that its platform is the one to beat where it concerns building and hosting generative AI apps. Can it? That remains to be seen, particularly in light of Bedrock’s… well, rocky start. Bloomberg reported in May that six weeks after Amazon demoed the tech with an unusually vague presser and just one testimonial, most cloud customers still didn’t have access.

To Amazon’s credit, though, AWS has managed to nab a number of high-profile customers in the generative AI space, including Stability AI (which selected AWS as its preferred cloud provider) and AI21 Labs. That counters — but perhaps doesn’t quite best, depending on who you ask — Google Cloud’s partnerships with Cohere and Anthropic and Microsoft’s tie-up with OpenAI.

Fortunately for Amazon, the market’s large — and growing. Grand View Research estimates that generative AI products and solutions could be worth close to $110 billion by 2030.

“Generative AI will be one of the most transformational technologies of our generation, tackling some of humanity’s most challenging problems, augmenting human performance and maximizing productivity,” Elaprolu said. “Our customers have always been at the forefront of innovation, and there are nearly endless possibilities and use cases for generative AI. It’s only just beginning.”

Amazon is only the latest to pledge substantial resources toward generative AI initiatives, it’s worth noting.

Salesforce Ventures, Salesforce’s VC division, plans to pour $500 million into startups developing generative AI technologies. Workday recently added $250 million to its existing VC fund specifically to back AI and machine learning startups. OpenAI, the company behind the viral chatbot ChatGPT, has raised a $175 million fund to invest in AI startups. And just this week, Dropbox launched a $50 million AI-focused venture fund.

Accenture and PwC, meanwhile, have announced that they plan to invest $3 billion and $1 billion, respectively, in AI.

Funds have steadily increased their positions in AI over the past few years, spurred recently by the growth in generative AI. According to GlobalData, AI startups received over $52 billion in funding across more than 3,300 deals in the last year alone.

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