Intel to put partnership model at core of its China AI plan

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US chipmaker giant Intel will step up its activities in China through partnerships and investment particularly in the realm of artificial intelligence, executives of the company said Wednesday. The move comes as competition in the sector heats up with more players’ elbowing to be part of China’s ambitious AI vision.

“We see our cooperation with others as supplementary collaboration, instead of pure competition,” said Ian Yang, president of Intel China. “In terms of massive potential use cases in China, we are in talks with some local companies for business cooperation, and even early investment [for AI projects],” he added without elaborating.

Yang and other Intel executives spoke to media during the company’s first developers’ conference for China, which runs through November 15 in Beijing.

In a keynote address, Yang said that by 2022, China’s AI is expected to be worth $9 billion. In 2017 that figure was $900 million, representing a compound annual growth rate of 58%, he said.

“AI is a marathon that just started—a race runs towards the future, and has no finish line,” said Yang.

Intel faces competition from both international and Chinese players, many of which are already in the AI game or are moving to shore up their positions in the field.

Baidu, for example—though partnering with Intel in route optimization for autonomous driving—is also collaborating with Xilinx, a US semiconductor company, for Baidu’s autonomous vehicle platform, Apollo, as well as for the recently announced Baidu Cloud machine learning program.

Xilinx is often seen a strong competitor of Intel’s, particularly in AI acceleration sectors.

Baidu is also into their own AI chip game, Kunlun AI, and holds regular conferences for developers and partners.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government is building up core technology capabilities, or fundamental technology, that could shape the industry from the bottom up, potentially creating new rivals for Intel.

On November 8, the official site for Chinese government affairs published an article (in Chinese) on the establishment of a new alliance for RISC-V, an open-source instruction set architecture (ISA), a key part deciding how software and hardware work together to function a device. The global ISA is now dominated by Intel’s ARM.

The move is widely interpreted as underscoring China’s ambition to lead any possible tech that will transform into new industry standard.

Asked about that development, Narveen Rao, General Manager at Intel’s AI Products Group said the company treats all threats carefully. “But what Intel has built up is not easy to replicate,” he said.

Rao added, that apart from Intel’s key technology and know-how, Intel’s strength in channel partners will allow the company to foster innovation and identify areas for joint AI efforts in China.