Monday, February 13 marks the debut of an artificial intelligence (AI) chip by South Korean company Rebellions Inc, which is competing for government contracts as Seoul seeks a position for local firms in the expanding AI market.
The company’s ATOM processor is the most recent Korean effort to challenge global leader Nvidia Corp in the hardware that drives potentially transformative AI technologies.
ChatGPT, a chatbot from Microsoft-backed OpenAI that creates articles, essays, jokes, and even poetry, has become the fastest-growing consumer app in history, according to UBS, just two months after its introduction.
Mark Lipacis, a semiconductor analyst at Jefferies, estimates that Nvidia, an American chip designer, has a dominant share of high-end AI processors, accounting for around 86% of the computational capacity of the world’s six largest cloud services as of December.
The South Korean government plans to invest over $800 million in research and development over the next five years in an effort to increase the market share of Korean AI chips in domestic data centers from almost nil to 80% by 2030.
Kim Yang-Paeng, senior researcher at the Korea Institute of Industrial Economics and Trade, stated, “It’s difficult to catch up to Nvidia, which is so far ahead in general-purpose AI processors.” However, it is not written in stone because AI chips may perform a variety of activities and there are no predetermined bounds or criteria.
ATOM from Rebellion is optimized for executing computer vision and chatbot AI applications. Park Sung-gyun, co-founder and CEO of Rebellions, stated that the chip consumes just approximately 20% of the power of an Nvidia A100 chip when doing the same operations. This is due to the fact that the chip is optimized for specific applications rather than a broad range.
A100 is the most preferred processor for AI workloads because it is strong enough to generate – or “train” in industry parlance – AI models. ATOM, which was conceived by Rebellions and built by the Korean behemoth Samsung Electronics, does not train.
While nations such as Taiwan, China, France, Germany, and the United States have substantial programs to promote their semiconductor industries, the South Korean government is unusual in focusing on AI chips.
An official from the Ministry of Science and ICT told Reuters that Seoul will issue an invitation to bid this month for two data centers referred to as neural processing unit farms, with only local chipmakers permitted to participate.
“The government is pressuring data centers to employ these chips,” said Rebellions’ Park, a former engineer at Morgan Stanley, in an interview with Reuters.
He stated that without such assistance, data centers and their clients would certainly continue with Nvidia processors.
Sapeon Korea Inc. intends to join in the project, according to SK Telecom’s subsidiary.
FuriosaAI, sponsored by South Korea’s leading search engine Naver Corp and the state-owned Korea Development Bank KDB.UL, confirmed to Reuters that it will also submit a bid.
There is considerable momentum behind Nvidia’s innovations. It will take time for these firms to gain traction, according to Alan Priestley, an analyst at IT research company Gartner. However, government incentives such as those in Korea are likely to effect market share in Korea.
Rebellions will form a coalition with KT Corp, a major Korean telecom, cloud, and data center provider, in an effort to wean Nvidia’s clients away from the U.S. provider.
“In light of the worldwide reliance on foreign GPUs (graphics processing units),” said KT vice president Bae Han-chul, “the collaboration between KT and Rebellions will allow us to create a ‘AI complete stack’ including software and hardware based on home technology.”
Rebellions declined to provide an AI chip business prediction. It has raised 122 billion won ($96 million), including 30 billion won from KT and 10 billion won from the South Korean government.
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