Despite its price, GitHub Copilot costs the platform millions

Close-up of a shocked Walter White (Breaking Bad) with a blurred background of GitHub Copilot

Who would have thought? Despite its price, Copilot, one of the features most acclaimed by GitHub developer users, turns out to be a real financial black hole for the platform!

An article from the Wall Street Journal highlighted the crushing costs faced by major tech companies for their features that rely on artificial intelligence. Some of them end up losing money, even with paid services.

This is the case with GitHub’s Copilot code assistant: although it’s charged at $10 a month, the platform loses $20 per user every month. This loss even rises to up to $80 for the platform’s most prolific developers.

The assistant, designed to assist developers in creating and correcting their code, has been used to date by over one and a half million coders worldwide. Its ability to save time on programming has been almost unanimously praised by the community.

But behind this popularity lies the cost of AI.

Microsoft, which owns GitHub, relies on GPT-4, OpenAI’s most advanced — and expensive — artificial intelligence model for its app features and services, including Copilot.

Unfortunately, these solutions require phenomenal processing power and place significant constraints on the required processors, far beyond standard software and cloud services.

Indeed, as mentioned in the article, using such powerful tools to summarize emails or even comment on code makes as much sense as using a Lamborghini to deliver pizzas.

A Lamborghini delivering pizzas

Adapting uses to save the wallet

Faced with these high costs, companies are looking to explore other paths. Microsoft is considering using less powerful artificial intelligence tools for its Bing search engine, including some developed using Meta’s open-source models and libraries.

At Zoom, they default to less powerful AIs for the meeting summary writing assistant. The more advanced AI model is reserved for more complex tasks.

This strategy has allowed the company not to charge extra fees to its tool users.

For its generative AI, Firefly, dedicated to design, Adobe chose to rely on a credit system to protect itself financially. Once a user reaches their monthly credit limit, the company slows down the tool’s response and generation speed to discourage overuse.

As has been the case with other technologies, companies expect these models and their use to become less expensive over time.

Microsoft has nonetheless revised its plans for its Copilot assistant for the Office 365 suite: the service will be charged at $30 per month for each user, in addition to the Microsoft 365 subscription.

It remains to be seen whether the price of GitHub Copilot will also eventually increase.

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