Kenneth Afor with wire coy
China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba on Wednesday, unveiled its first micro-chip designed solely for artificial intelligence (AI) applications. The chip is the latest product from non-traditional chipmakers to develop its own hardware.
The chip, code-named Hanguang 800 is designed to carry out calculations used by most AI applications faster than normal chips.
This feat by the company is in line with the Chinese government’s drive on the campaign for self-sufficiency in semiconductors.
Jeff Zhang, chief technology officer, said the chip it would help the company provide clients with unrestricted access to advanced computing via its cloud computing platform, and will be used to support the search algorithms on its e-commerce platforms.
He Wei, technology expert at Tsinghua University, Department of precision instruments said companies should start developing their own chips adding that there are opportunities for tech companies to take the lead.
“There’s a trend now for non-traditional chip companies to start developing chips, especially for AI chips, where there isn’t a clear leader,” He Wei, said.
However, Alibaba is in the league with other Chinese tech companies like Baidu and Tencent including companies; Facebook and Google in Silicon Valley who are making their own custom made chips to measure up with the type of advanced computing systems designed for the next generation of AI technologies.
Wei added, “There will, of course, be some encouragement from the [Chinese] government for companies doing this.”
Similarly, Beijing is in the fore front of producing its own in-house in order to reduce the overdependence of foreign chips from companies in the United States like the U.S.’s Qualcomm and Intel.
In addition, as China is pushing for self-dependency in chip making, it will ultimately force chip makers in the U.S. to reposition and restrategize their sales models to source for buyers and also, the demand for the product from China will shrink in no distant time.
As the trade dispute between the U.S. and China is yet to reach its summit, Chines tech companies like ZTE and Huawei who were hugely affected by the trade dispute China is concerned about their inability to withstand the blow as the U.S. government is threatening to disengage her companies from supplying them chips for their electronics.
However, Bas Fransen, head, semiconductor management consultancy at TenX2, Hong Kon, said that despite the fact that China is lagging behind in traditional high-end processor chips making for now but the country is revving up in its AI chip drive.
“China has a lag of some two to three years in AI chips compared to the US because both countries are beginning from a lower, more recent starting point,” he said.
This has given non-AI chip makers an open market to source for the product using the RISC-V open-source chip architecture rather than paying for authorization to companies such as Arm and others.