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Amazon’s cloud is slowly addressing one of its biggest criticisms as it extends another olive branch to open source developers (AMZN)


Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the retail giant's cloud-computing business.

  • Amazon Web Services announced a new open source project on Thursday called Neo-AI, which helps developers bring artificial intelligence to hardware like security systems or maybe even self-driving cars. 
  • Amazon has historically had a reputation for using a lot of open source software, without giving much back. But Neo-AI could be a sign that it's ready to be a bigger part of the open source community.
  • Neo-AI is Amazon Web Services' second-ever open source project, after Firecracker, which it launched last November.

Amazon Web Services has a certain reputation for taking a lot from the open source software community, without giving much back.

Now, the cloud giant taking another baby step away from that image by making some of its own artificial intelligence code available for anyone to use for free. It's only the second open source project out of Amazon Web Services, which is largely considered the number-one player in the cloud computing market.

Last November, Amazon Web Services announced a machine learning feature called SageMaker Neo that allows users to train and run artificial intelligence programs on Amazon's cloud. Now, AWS is making much of the SageMaker Neo code  available as open source under the name Neo-AI.

This new project will help developers to program hardware platforms — like home security systems, or even perhaps self-driving cars — to use machine learning models like TensorFlow, the mega-popular AI technology originated at Google. Since Neo-AI is available as open source, anyone can use, download or modify the code for free.

An olive branch from Amazon

Beyond the technology itself, Neo-AI could be an important effort from Amazon Web Services to mend bridges with the open source world.

In recent months, Amazon Web Services has come under fire for taking open source code and reselling it to customers as a paid service. Doing so is completely legal — open source software, by its nature, can be used for any purpose, even commercial use. But Amazon's reputation for not contributing back to open source projects has worked against it, as it's percieved as happy to profit from the software, but not to contribute to making it. 

Indeed, some studies have suggested that Amazon contributes very little code to open source projects compared to fellow tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Red Hat and IBM.

Neo-AI isn't the first wave in Amazon's open source charm offensive. Firecracker, announced in November, was taken by developers as a sign that AWS was finally ready to contribute significant projects to the open source world. With Neo-AI, Amazon is releasing even more of its internally-developed technology as open source.

Read more: As tensions with smaller software companies run high, Amazon is extending an olive branch with a new open-source project

Neo-AI helps make hardware smarter

Normally, developers may need to spend weeks or months manually adjusting the program so that it works on whatever hardware device they're using — different types of gadgets have different levels of computing power and even battery life, making for a lot of variables that need to be fine-tuned. 

Not only that, but the software on the device might also be a mismatch with the software the developer is using. Neo-AI eliminates these compatibility issues by converting these programs into a common format, and it also makes these programs run more efficiently on the hardware.

Neo-AI supports hardware platforms from Intel, NVIDIA, and ARM, and in the future will support Xilinx, Cadence, and Qualcomm.

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