Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Former Intel and Apple design star Jim Keller joins AI startup

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Star chip designer Jim Keller has joined Tenstorrent, a Toronto startup that manufactures specialized computer processors for artificial intelligence.

Keller had previously designed revolutionary chips to AMD, Apple, and You’re here. he left his last role as senior vice president at Intel in June 2020 after only two years citing “personal reasons”.

Keller’s career is filled with short but meaningful stays in large tech companies. Its imprint on Intel, which has faces recent product delays and has struggled to reclaim its industry dominance after missing the boat on mobile computing, may not be evident for a few more years.

Achieve a zen state

At Tenstorrent, Keller will take on the titles of President and CTO. The veteran chip genius will be tasked with guiding the nearly five-year-old company toward its goal of creating chips to train machine learning programs that go beyond current designs. Tenstorrent’s strategy is to use software to better distribute the use of computing power on each chip.

Ljubisa Bajic, co-founder and CEO of Tenstorrent, has spent more than a decade designing chips at AMD. His tenure overlapped with that of Keller when Keller helped design AMD’s now successful Zen Architecture from 2012 to 2015. Bajic also worked at Nvidia and VLSI.

Keller’s implicit endorsement could help the startup attract more investment and industrial partners. “Tenstorrent has made impressive progress, and with the most promising architecture on the market, we are poised to become a next generation computing giant,” Keller said in a statement.

AI-yai-yai

The race to create better chips for AI applications is crowded. Competitors range from established chip giants AMD, Intel, and Nvidia to a host of startups, including GraphCore and Run.AI.

Every business has a different approach. Nvidia’s Ampere AI chip seeks to multitask with 54 billion transistors, the microscopic building blocks of semiconductor circuits. California start-up Cerebras makes physically huge chips, with 1.2 trillion transistors each. Putting more transistors on a chip can increase computing power, but also consume more power and complicate design in other ways.

Tenstorrent claims that its Greyskull processor introduced last year is capable of 368 trillion operations per second on AI tasks. That’s more than the 130-260 billion operations claimed by Nvida’s Tesla T4 system, although there are many variables that go into how a chip performs in real-world applications.

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