Microsoft designs Phi-3 mini for lightweight AI tasks

Big Tech firm Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has announced the release of a small language model (SLM) designed for lightweight artificial intelligence (AI) tasks, placing a keen emphasis on cost-effectiveness.

In their official statement, Microsoft says that the new AI model will offer enterprises and other end users an alternative to the mainstream large language models (LLMs) that typically require significant computing power. Dubbed Phi-3 mini, Microsoft says its lightweight AI model demonstrates impressive coding, language, and math abilities when placed side by side with larger models.

The Phi-3 mini contains only 3.8 billion parameters but still packs a heavy punch thanks to Microsoft’s advanced training systems. In comparison, the parameters for OpenAI’s GPT-4 and Meta’s Llama 2 hover around 1.76 trillion and 70 billion, respectively, for the largest versions.

Microsoft’s researchers are already rubbing their hands in glee at the prospects of mainstream acceptance of SLMs. For starters, the company says enterprises will have broader options to pick from in their pivot to AI but clarifies that all sizes of AI models can co-exist in the same ecosystem.

“What we’re going to start to see is not a shift from large to small, but a shift from a singular category of models to a portfolio of models where customers get the ability to make a decision on what is the best model for their scenario,” remarked Sonali Yadav, generative AI product manager at Microsoft.

Another potential use case for SMLs is the localization of AI models of devices without the requirement for internet connectivity. Firms or enterprises seeking AI capabilities but are wary of data leaks may opt for SMLs for their needs to “keep data on their own premises.”

Apart from heightened levels of security, turning to SMLs will reduce latency while
encouraging AI adoption in rural areas, especially those without internet connectivity.

The lightweight SLM will debut on Hugging Face, Microsoft Azure AI Model Catalog, and Ollama, with Microsoft hinting at an interoperable API.

Microsoft says it will double its bet with SMLs by releasing new versions of Phi-3 in the coming months. The company is eyeing the release of 7-billion and 14-billion parameter versions to increase its capabilities without demanding excessive computational power.

Headlong into AI

Microsoft’s latest AI offering builds upon its previous experiments with lightweight AI models, culminating in the release of Phi-1 and Phi-2 in 2023. Awed by the “surprising power” of SMLs, the big tech company planted its heels with smaller AI models.

The company has been inking partnership deals with leading industry players, including the UAE’s G42Vodafone, and KPMG. Other high-profile deals see Microsoft invest in the emerging technologies space in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. to deepen the talent pool and improve cloud capabilities.

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