Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Sunday, October 21, 2018
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Intel Increases AI, Chip Investments 

Intel Corp.’s venture capital arm unveiled a dozen new investments in startups this week spanning AI, cloud, Internet of Things and semiconductor technologies.

Intel Capital announced the new investments totaling $72 million Tuesday (May 8) during a company summit. The chip maker said the new investments bring its total for 2018 to more than $115 million. Intel Capital also announced an initiative with the National Basketball Association “targeting technology disruption in the sports and entertainment industries.”

Among the silicon investments were funding for startup SiFiveof San Mateo, Calif., developer of processor core intellectual property based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture. Founded by the inventors of reduced instruction set computing framework, the startup aims to help system-on-chip designers deliver custom, open-architecture processor cores.

Intel Capital participated in the startup’s $50.6 million Series C funding round announced in April. Existing investors Sutter Hill Ventures, Spark Capital and Osage University Partners led the round.

The chip maker (NASDAQ: INTC) also announced investments in five AI startups, including one based in China. Reconova, Xiamen, China, develops computer vision and machine learning technologies that have been integrated into “smart” retail and home applications along with facial recognition products.

Intel Capital also led an early financing round for AI startup Avaamo, a deep learning software developer based in Los Altos, Calif., specializing in “conversational interfaces.” Its goal is to use neural networks, speech synthesis and deep learning to bring “conversational computing” to enterprises, the partners said.

Ram Menon, Avaamo’s founder and CEO, said the startup’s conversational intelligent assistants are deployed in more than 40 countries. Menon said the startup is focusing on enterprises seeking “an AI-based conversational computing solution to improve last mile automation.”

Intel and others are also investing in AI approaches that accelerate machine learningwhile reducing the amount of time required to train new models to perform specific tasks. Among Intel’s AI investments is a Boston-area startup called Gamalon Inc.that promotes its machine learning approach as an “AI platform that teaches computer actual ideas.”

Customer service applications of the “idea learning” technology include conducting user surveys, transcribing online chats and routing customer complaint tickets.

Intel and other chip makers also are focusing on AI and IoT applications as the market slows for server processors and other traditional datacenter applications. Hence, the chip maker’s investment unit also is targeting AI semiconductor developers such as “neural decision processor” startup Syntiantof Irvine, Calif.

Among the company’s goals is “accelerating the transition of machine learning from the cloud to edge devices,” Intel said. Syntiant’s neural processor incorporates deep learning algorithms into its chip design used in low-power neural computers integrated with battery-powered devices.

“These innovative companies reflect Intel’s strategic focus as a data leader,” said Wendell Brooks, president of Intel Capital.

Intel Capital and the NBA also announced a multiyear partnership to identify and invest in technology companies that reshape “the future of the NBA, sports and entertainment,” the partners said, adding that the rollout of 5G wireless networks would enable the deployment of AI technologies that could boost fan engagement.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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