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Microsoft likely betting AGI will create nuclear fusion in five years

The news: In possibly one of the most speculative moves in business history, Microsoft has signed a purchase agreement to buy electricity from nuclear fusion startup Helion Energy.

  • Under the deal, Microsoft will buy 50 megawatts—enough to power 40,000 homes—of nuclear fusion energy from the Washington State-based startup beginning in 2028, per CNBC.
  • Helion plans to scale up commercial production to 1 gigawatt—20 million times what it’ll sell to Microsoft.
  • It will be subject to financial penalties if it doesn’t deliver to Microsoft as promised.
  • OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has supplied $375 million of the $577 million Helion has raised, marking Altman’s biggest investment to date.

A gigantic catch: The agreement is the first of its kind for the nuclear fusion industry, because the technology doesn’t yet exist from a practical standpoint.

  • Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were the first to sustain a reaction yielding a net energy gain for a few nanoseconds in 2021. They haven’t been able to replicate the success since.
  • Microsoft is eager to tap into nuclear fusion’s potential to help drive its power-hungry cloud-computing ambitions.
  • It’s no accident that Altman is involved in the fusion venture. He recently tweeted that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will make fusion work.
  • We can expect that Helion’s strategy to make good on its Microsoft agreement will involve using OpenAI’s technology, which might include an AGI that it has under development, despite calls for a moratorium.
  • Helion might be able to capitalize on the ChatGPT frenzy and attract even more funding if investors believe advanced AI is the missing piece of the fusion puzzle.

What comes next? Google has been a prominent player in the fusion race. It will take notice of Microsoft’s Helion deal and possibly follow suit with its own bolder move.

If Helion’s fast-tracked efforts are successful, it will reverberate far beyond the tech industry. Nuclear fusion holds the potential to revolutionize the energy industry by providing an abundant supply of carbon-free, radioactive-waste-free power to a world struggling with climate change and energy shortages.

First Published on May 11, 2023