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Intel acquires AI startup in data centre push

Thu 11 Aug 2016

Intel AI

Intel has acquired artificial intelligence (AI) startup Nervana Systems in an effort to bolster its data centre portfolio for the future.

The move comes as the chipmaker attempts to steer away from its lagging PC business, which recently reported falling Q2 results for desktop and laptop sales.

While Intel has not revealed any financial details of the deal, reports suggest that the acquisition closed at around $408 million (approx. £314 million).

San Diego-based Nervana – a 48-person startup – is headed by co-founder and former Qualcomm researcher Naveen Rao. The company was set up two years ago and delivers cloud-based software and hardware for deep learning applications.

Intel’s data centre business, its most-profitable and fastest-growing unit, is keen to advance deep learning and AI algorithms, fending off competition from rivals such as Nvidia. Intel commented that it is exploring ways to use the technology to cater for emerging services like voice and picture recognition. A key development, the company noted, would be to optimise its Math Kernel Library and its integration into industry standard frameworks.

‘Nervana’s Engine and silicon expertise will advance Intel’s AI portfolio and enhance the deep learning performance and TCO of our Intel Xeon and Intel Xeon Phi processors,’ explained Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Center Group.

Rao added: ‘The semiconductor integrated circuit is one of humanity’s crowning achievements and Intel has the best semiconductor technology in the world. Nervana’s AI expertise combined with Intel’s capabilities and huge market reach will allow us to realize our vision and create something truly special.’

Intel’s interest in Nervana follows hot on the heels of Apple’s recent AI acquisition of machine learning firm Turi, which reportedly cost the tech giant over $200 million. Apple’s plans for Turi’s technology remain unclear, but the company has been making a concerted push into AI capabilities with the expansion of its Siri personal assistant, among other projects.

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