AMD, Intel, Nvidia Race to Build AI Chips for Booming Market

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Intel and Nvidia are racing to develop artificial intelligence chips as the market for AI hardware and software skyrockets. Nvidia, which has specialized in high-end GPUs, and AMD, its chief rival, have found that their products have proven useful in AI applications, an incentive for them to focus on that sector. Growth in the semiconductor industry has been volatile in recent months, leading to consolidation, such as the recently announced $105 billion bid by Broadcom to acquire Qualcomm.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to the International Data Corp., the market for AI hardware and software is growing 50 percent a year. IDC estimates that “global spending on AI-related hardware and software could expand to $57.6 billion in 2021 from $12 billion this year … [and] a sizable portion will go into data centers, which by 2020 are expected to devote a quarter of capacity to AI-related computations.”

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As a result, Amazon, IBM, Google and Facebook as well as big Chinese Internet companies are “packing their data centers with specialized hardware to accelerate the training of AI software to, for instance, translate documents.” They are all focused on deep learning, and want to “improve their algorithms without waiting weeks to find out whether the training panned out.”

So far, Nvidia’s chips have “proven faster than conventional processors in training AI software.” To compete, Intel bought Nervana Systems, and is “working with Facebook and others to deliver Nervana-based chips, intended to outdo Nvidia for AI calculations.” AMD also shipped Radeon Instinct, “its own AI-focused graphics processor line,” which was purchased by Baidu. Google has also “designed its own AI accelerators, seeking an advantage by tailoring silicon specifically for its software.”

“This field is only getting started, and it’s being invented and reinvented, it feels like, every quarter,” said Nvidia head of accelerated computing Ian Buck. PitchBook Data reports that, “private investors have nearly doubled their total stake in AI hardware to $252 million this year.”