Nvidia: The chip maker that became an AI superpower

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A motion   is posted successful  beforehand   of Nvidia office  connected  February 22, 2023 successful  Santa Clara, California.Image source, Getty Images

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Nvidia was known for its graphics processing machine chips

By Zoe Corbyn

San Francisco

When ChatGPT went nationalist past November, it sent a jolt good beyond the exertion industry.

From helping with speeches, to machine coding and cooking, each of a sudden, AI appeared existent and useful.

But each that would not beryllium imaginable without immoderate precise almighty machine hardware.

And 1 hardware institution successful peculiar has go cardinal to the AI bonanza - California-based Nvidia.

Originally known for making the benignant of machine chips that process graphics, peculiarly for machine games, Nvidia hardware underpins astir AI applications today.

"It is the starring exertion subordinate enabling this caller happening called artificial intelligence," says Alan Priestley, a semiconductor manufacture expert astatine Gartner.

"What Nvidia is to AI is astir similar what Intel was to PCs," adds Dan Hutcheson, an expert astatine TechInsights.

ChatGPT was trained utilizing 10,000 of Nvidia's graphics processing units (GPUs) clustered unneurotic successful a supercomputer belonging to Microsoft.

"It is 1 of galore supercomputers - immoderate known publicly, immoderate not - that person been built with Nvidia GPUs for a assortment of technological arsenic good arsenic AI usage cases," says Ian Buck, wide manager and vice president of accelerated computing astatine Nvidia.

Image source, Nvidia

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The wide utilized A100 GPU costs upwards of $10,000

Nvidia has astir 95% of the GPU marketplace for instrumentality learning, noted a caller report from CB Insights.

Figures amusement its AI concern generated astir $15bn (£12bn) successful gross past year, up astir 40% from the erstwhile twelvemonth and overtaking gaming arsenic its largest root of income.

Nvidia shares soared astir 30% aft it released first 4th results precocious connected Wednesday. The institution said it was raising accumulation of its chips to conscionable "surging demand".

Its AI chips, which it besides sells successful systems designed for information centres, outgo astir $10,000 (£8,000) each, though its latest and astir almighty mentation sells for acold more.

So however did Nvidia go specified a cardinal subordinate successful the AI revolution?

In short, a bold stake connected its ain exertion positive immoderate bully timing.

Image source, Nvidia

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In 2006 Nvidia main enforcement Jensen Huang made the company's chips programmable

Jensen Huang, present the main enforcement of Nvidia, was 1 of its founders backmost successful 1993. Then, Nvidia was focused connected making graphics amended for gaming and different applications.

In 1999 it developed GPUs to heighten representation show for computers.

GPUs excel astatine processing galore tiny tasks simultaneously (for illustration handling millions of pixels connected a screen) - a process known arsenic parallel processing.

In 2006, researchers astatine Stanford University discovered GPUs had different usage - they could accelerate maths operations, successful a mode that regular processing chips could not.

It was astatine that infinitesimal that Mr Huang took a determination important to the improvement of AI arsenic we cognize it.

He invested Nvidia's resources successful creating a instrumentality to marque GPUs programmable, thereby opening up their parallel processing capabilities for uses beyond graphics.

That instrumentality was added to Nvida's machine chips. For machine games players it was a capableness they didn't need, and astir apt weren't adjacent alert of, but for researchers it was a caller mode of doing precocious show computing connected user hardware.

It was that capableness that helped sparked aboriginal breakthroughs successful modern AI.

In 2012 Alexnet was unveiled - an AI that could classify images. Alexnet was trained utilizing conscionable 2 of Nvidia's programmable GPUs.

The grooming process took lone a fewer days, alternatively than the months it could person taken connected a overmuch larger fig of regular processing chips.

The find - that GPUs could massively accelerate neural web processing - began to dispersed among machine scientists, who started buying them to tally this caller benignant of workload.

"AI recovered us," says Mr Buck.

Nvidia pressed its vantage by investing successful processing caller kinds of GPUs much suited to AI, arsenic good arsenic much bundle to marque it casual to usage the technology.

A decade, and billions of dollars later, ChatGPT emerged - an AI that tin springiness eerily quality responses to questions.

Image source, Metaphysic

Image caption,

In 2021 Metaphysic made headlines with its Tom Cruise heavy fakes

AI start-up Metaphysic creates photorealistic videos of celebrities and others utilizing AI techniques. Its Tom Cruise heavy fakes created a disturbance successful 2021.

To some bid and past tally its models it uses hundreds of Nvidia GPUs, immoderate purchased from Nvidia and others accessed done a unreality computing service.

"There are nary alternatives to Nvidia for doing what we do," says Tom Graham, its co-founder and main executive. "It is truthful acold up of the curve."

Yet portion Nvidia's dominance looks assured for now, the longer word is harder to predict. "Nvidia is the 1 with the people connected its backmost that everybody is trying to instrumentality down," notes Kevin Krewell, different manufacture expert astatine TIRIAS Research.

Other large semiconductor companies supply immoderate competition. AMD and Intel are some amended known for making cardinal processing units (CPUs), but they besides marque dedicated GPUs for AI applications (Intel lone precocious joined the fray).

Google has its tensor processing units (TPUs), utilized not lone for hunt results but besides for definite machine-learning tasks, portion Amazon has a custom-built spot for grooming AI models.

In addition, for the archetypal clip successful decades, determination are besides machine spot start-ups emerging, including Cerebras, SambaNova Systems and Habana (bought by Intel). They are intent connected making amended alternatives to GPUs for AI by starting from a cleanable slate.

UK-based Graphcore makes wide intent AI chips it calls quality processing units (IPUs), which it says person much computational powerfulness and are cheaper than GPUs.

Founded successful 2016, Graphcore has received astir $700m (£560m) successful funding.

Its customers see 4 US Department of Energy nationalist labs and it has been pressing the UK authorities to usage its chips successful a caller supercomputer project.

"[Graphcore] has built a processor to bash AI arsenic it exists contiguous and arsenic it volition germinate implicit time," says Nigel Toon, the company's co-founder and main executive.

He acknowledges going up against a elephantine similar Nvidia is challenging. While Graphcore excessively has bundle to marque its exertion accessible, it is hard to orchestrate a power erstwhile the satellite has built its AI products to tally connected Nvidia GPUs.

Mr Toon hopes that implicit time, arsenic AI moves distant from cutting-edge experimentation to commercialized deployment, cost-efficient computation volition commencement to go much important.

Back astatine Nvidia, Ian Buck is not overly acrophobic astir the competition.

"Everyone has the request for AI now," helium says. "It is up to others to enactment retired wherever they are going to marque a contribution."

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