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Hot on Apple’s heels, Intel’s “most profitable” business arm adds AI startup Nervana

AI startups are hot property, with Intel becoming the latest tech giant to add yet another to its portfolio, in the shape of chip-focused, deep-learning experts Nervana Systems.

That comes on top of its earlier purchases of image processing specialist Itseez and natural-language processor Indisys, all incorporated into the company’s Data Center Group.

Given Nervana’s expertise in the processors that underpin complex, human-like data tasks, the company’s IP will be of particular use to the development of Intel’s Xeon units.

Intel knows it needs its tech to do more complex data tasks at lower cost as it tries to compete, particularly with those that are now sellling in GPUs, like Nvidia, rather than CPUs.

“Success in this space requires continued innovation to deliver an optimized, scalable platform providing the highest performance at lowest total cost of ownership,” said Diane Bryant, executive VP of the Data Center Group, said in a statement.

Bryant is one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley and the most senior one working at Intel, not least because she looks after what Business Insider says is the fastest-growing and most profitable part of its business.

But the business unit has actually faced an unexpected slowdown of chip sales into large data centres this year, where it (and shareholders) had expected huge sales. And more widely, it’s slashing 12,000 staff in a restructure.

On top of Apple’s reported purchase of fast AI deployment platform Turi this week for $200 million, that makes five “major” AI acquisitions this year, according to CB Insights.

That means more than than 30 private AI startups have been acquired since 2010, by the likes of Twitter, Salesforce and, of course, Google, which bought London’s Deepmind for around $600 million in 2014.

The whole IT industry appears to be banking on the AI expertise of startups in order to help them keep up… with the AI expertise of startups.