Google has invested about $300mn in artificial intelligence start-up Anthropic, making it the latest tech giant to throw its money and computing power behind a new generation of companies trying to claim a place in the booming field of “generative AI”.
The deal involves Google taking a stake of about 10 per cent in the start-up and boosts Anthropic’s finances at a time when it is buying substantial computing resources from the search company’s cloud computing division. Google confirmed it had made an investment and that it had a large cloud contract with Anthropic, but did not provide further details*.
Google’s move highlights the influence that a small number of Big Tech companies have assumed over other companies working on AI, which need access to cloud computing platforms to handle the giant AI models developed by groups such as Anthropic.
The search company’s investment also echoes the $1bn cash-for-computing investment that Microsoft made in OpenAI three years ago.
The Microsoft deal set OpenAI on a path to building a series of breakthrough AI systems, culminating in the launch late last year of ChatGPT, a chatbot that can converse with users through text. The software giant followed up last month with what it described as a second, “multiyear, multibillion-dollar” investment in the company.
Both OpenAI and Anthropic are seeking to make developments in generative AI, sophisticated computer programs that can write scripts and create art in seconds.
While Microsoft has sought to integrate OpenAI’s technology into many of its own services, Google’s relationship with Anthropic is limited to acting as the company’s tech supplier in what has become an AI arm’s race, according to people familiar with the arrangement.
Anthropic was formed in 2021 when a group of researchers led by Dario Amodei left OpenAI after a disagreement over the company’s direction. They were concerned that Microsoft’s first investment in OpenAI would set it on a more commercial path and detract from its original focus on the safety of advanced AI.
Anthropic has developed an intelligent chatbot called Claude, rivalling OpenAI’s ChatGPT, though it has not yet been released publicly.
The start-up had raised more than $700mn before Google’s investment, which was made in late 2022 but has not previously been reported. The company’s biggest investor is Alameda Research, the crypto hedge fund of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, which put in $500mn before filing for bankruptcy last year. FTX’s bankruptcy estate has flagged Anthropic as an asset that may help creditors with recoveries.
Google’s investment was made by its cloud division, run by former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian. Bringing Anthropic’s data-intensive computing work to Google’s data centres is part of an effort to catch up with the lead Microsoft has taken in the fast-growing AI market thanks to its work with OpenAI. Google’s cloud division is also working with other start-ups such as Cohere and C3 to try to secure a bigger foothold in AI.
Google and Anthropic declined to comment on the investment, or on what say, if any, the tech giant would have over the start-up’s business.
According to a filing in Delaware, where Anthropic is incorporated, it has two classes of stock, one of which carries 10 times the voting rights of the other. Dual-class stock arrangements such as this are often used by founders of tech companies to make sure they stay in control and can dilute the influence of outside investors.
Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw in London
*This story has been amended since initial publication to correct the terms of the relationship between the companies, which involves two separate deals.