OpenAI, not content with building large language models and art-generating AI, wants to get into hardware.
That’s according The Information, which reported this week that storied former Apple product designer Jony Ive is in talks with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman about an AI hardware project.
The details are wanting. But billionaire Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of investment holding company SoftBank, is involved with the initiative in some capacity, allegedly.
OpenAI’s hardware effort — whatever form it takes (or doesn’t) — is in the very earliest stages, as per The Information. Altman and Ive have only begun discussing what a piece of hardware could do or look like, not concrete features, capabilities or target market yet.
Ive’s reputation precedes him, of course. The ex-Apple chief design officer has consulted on a number of products since leaving Apple in 2019, including a $60,000 turntable by audio equipment company Linn and a logo for King Charles III’s Astra Carta framework, a movement to emphasize sustainable space practices.
But hardware is a tricky business. OpenAI knows this well.
OpenAI once ran a robotics research division, which explored ways machines can learn to perform complex tasks like solving a Rubik’s Cube. But it disbanded the team in July 2021 after encountering major technical roadblocks — and presumably cost overruns.
OpenAI is in a position to burn some cash, however, having told investors that it expects to reach $1 billion in revenue this year. And the AI startup, best known for its viral AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT and text-generating system GPT-4, is sitting on a total of $11.3 billion in venture capital.
Just in April, OpenAI picked up another ~$300 million. And the company is said to be in discussions to possibly sell shares in a move that would boost the startup’s valuation from $29 billion to somewhere between $80 billion and $90 billion.
So, while hardware’s a risky venture, OpenAI’s likely to weather the storm better than most should its project fall well short of expectations.