AI in the News: Rao in at Intel, Ng out at Baidu, Nvidia on at Tencent Cloud

By Doug Black

March 26, 2017

Just as AI has become the leitmotif of the advanced scale computing market, infusing much of the conversation about HPC in commercial and industrial spheres, it also is impacting high-level management changes in the industry.

This week saw two headliner announcements:

  • Naveen Rao, former CEO of AI company Nervana, acquired by Intel last year, announced he will lead Intel’s new Artificial Intelligence Products Group (AIPG), a strategic, “cross-Intel organization.”
  • Andrew Ng, one of the highest profile of players in AI, announced that he has resigned his post as chief scientist at Baidu. His destination: unknown.

In addition, Nvidia announced that Tencent Cloud will integrate its Tesla GPU accelerators and deep learning platform, along with Nvidia NVLink technology, into Tencent’s public cloud platform.

Naveen Rao of Intel

Rao announced his new position and AIPG in a blog (“Making the Future Starts with AI”) that underscores Intel’s AI push, along with its recent $15B acquisition of Mobileye. Formation of AIPG adds fodder to the drumbeat among industry observers that the company views AI, broadly defined, as its next big growth market. In addition, the company’s processor roadmap emphasizes co-processors (aka accelerators) used for AI workloads. To date, Nvidia GPUs have enjoyed the AI processor spotlight. But in commenting on Intel’s x86-based roadmap at this week’s Leverage Big Data+Enterprise HPC event in Florida, a senior IT manager at a financial services company believes Intel will mount a major competitive response in the AI market. “I wouldn’t want to be Nvidia right now,” he said.

Rao himself referred to Intel as “a data company.”

“The new organization (AIPG) will align resources from across the company to include engineering, labs, software and more as we build on our current leading AI portfolio: the Intel Nervana platform, a full-stack of hardware and software AI offerings that our customers are looking for from us,” Rao said.

“Just as Intel has done in previous waves of computational trends, such as personal and cloud computing, Intel intends to rally the industry around a set of standards for AI that ultimately brings down costs and makes AI more accessible to more people – not only institutions, governments and large companies, as it is today,” he said.

Nvidia had significant news of its own this week in announcing Tencent Cloud’s adoption of its Tesla GPU accelerators to help advanced AI for enterprise customers.

“Tencent Cloud GPU offerings with NVIDIA’s deep learning platform will help companies in China rapidly integrate AI capabilities into their products and services,” said Sam Xie, vice president of Tencent Cloud. “Our customers will gain greater computing flexibility and power, giving them a powerful competitive advantage.”

As part of the companies’ collaboration, Tencent Cloud said it will offer a range of cloud products that will include GPU cloud servers incorporating Nvidia Tesla P100, P40 and M40 GPU accelerators and Nvidia deep learning software.

As for Andrew Ng, he did not state what his next career step will be, only saying “I will continue my work to shepherd in this important societal change.

Andrew Ng

“In addition to transforming large companies to use AI, there are also rich opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as further AI research,” he said on Twitter. “I want all of us to have self-driving cars; conversational computers that we can talk to naturally; and healthcare robots that understand what ails us. The industrial revolution freed humanity from much repetitive physical drudgery; I now want AI to free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery, such as driving in traffic. This work cannot be done by any single company — it will be done by the global AI community of researchers and engineers.”

Ng, who was a founder of the Google Brain project, joined Baidu in 2014 to work on AI, and since then, he said, Baidu’s AI group has grown to roughly 1,300 people.

“Our AI software is used every day by hundreds of millions of people,” said Ng. “My team birthed one new business unit per year each of the last two years: autonomous driving and the DuerOS Conversational Computing platform. We are also incubating additional promising technologies, such as face-recognition (used in turnstiles that open automatically when an authorized person approaches), Melody (an AI-powered conversational bot for healthcare) and several more.”

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