July 21, 2024
Amazon doubles down on Anthropic, completing its planned $4B investment

Amazon invested a further $2.75 billion in growing AI power Anthropic on Wednesday, following through on the option it left open last September. The $1.25 billion it invested at the time must be producing results, or perhaps they’ve realized that there are no other horses available to back.

The September deal put $1.25 billion into the company in exchange for a minority stake, and certain tit-for-tat agreements like Anthropic continuing to use AWS for its extensive computation needs.

Amazon reportedly had until the end of the first quarter to decide whether to increase its investment to a maximum of $4 billion, and here we are just before the deadline, and the company has decided to throw in the maximum amount.

Anthropic’s AI models are one of very few that compete at the highest levels of capability (however you define it) yet are available at scale for enterprises to deploy internally or in user-facing applications. OpenAI’s GPT series and Google’s Gemini are the others up there, but upstarts like Mistral may soon threaten that fragile triumvirate.

Lacking the capability to develop adequate models on their own for whatever reason, companies like Amazon and Microsoft have had to act vicariously through others, primarily OpenAI and Anthropic. The two have reaped immense benefits by allying with one or the other of these moneyed rivals, and as yet have not seen many downsides.

What we can take from Amazon’s decision to invest the maximum after (one must assume) getting a pretty close look at how they make the AI sausage over there is, really, pretty scant.

It makes too much strategic sense for these companies, which possess enormous war chests saved up for exactly this purpose (outspending rivals when they can’t out-innovate them), to pour cash into the AI sector. Right now the AI world is a bit like a roulette table, with OpenAI and Anthropic representing black and red. No one really knows where the ball will land, least of all the companies that couldn’t predict or create this technology themselves. But if your bitter enemy puts their chips down on red, it only makes sense for you to bet on black.

Especially if you can bet on black at a discount — which is what Amazon got here, since it could invest at Anthropic’s September valuation, which is most certainly lower than it is today.

That said, if things were looking sketchy over there — the way they must have looked at Inflection before Microsoft pounced on it — Amazon could have backed out or just invested less than the full supplemental $2.75 billion. But that might have sent a confusing signal no one wants getting out there, least of all existing multibillion-dollar investors.

We know Anthropic has a plan, and this year we’ll find out what Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and other multinational interests think they can do to monetize this supposedly revolutionary technology.

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