Greetings from rainy Las Vegas, where last night I interviewed Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, CEO of the 25-year overnight success chipmaker worth $134 billion.
Huang’s and Nvidia’s story is an epic tale of a very good market turning into a market for the ages. Nvidia for years made something called graphical processor units, chips that solved “massive computational problems” that made video games sing. The central processing units Intel sold powered a generation of PCs, while Nvidia occupied a lesser-followed but still lucrative niche.
A niche no more, Nvidia’s market has morphed into supplying the brains for artificial intelligence. The same smarts that create a “virtual reality” for gamers now envision what the world looks like for all sorts of industrial applications. Chief among them is self-driving cars, and Nvidia announced partnerships this week with Uber and Volkswagen.
Huang, the CEO for Nvidia’s entire existence, is enjoying his moment. I asked why Nvidia hadn’t experienced the same kind of security concerns Intel had, and he scoffed. Asked if today’s automobiles could be retrofitted with AI-worthy chips, Huang essentially said: Not so much.
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Huang painted a nuanced view of what autonomous vehicles will look like. Cars driving fixed routes in “geo-fenced” area will come first, followed by over-the-road truckers. True self-driving cars will be further off, and even once they come people will still drive for “entertainment,” he said.
The Nvidia CEO’s most fascinating observation is that his chips will power software that will write software. In other words, AI will beget AI to solve problems humans didn’t know they had.
Defensive moves. Apple fired back at critics who accused the iPhone maker of hooking kids on smartphones. “We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids,” Apple said after several big investors asked the company to do more.
Defensive moves, part II. Microsoft halted the distribution of one of its security patches intended to protect against the Spectre attack against CPUs. The patch was causing problems on some older PCs with CPUs made by Advanced Micro Devices, the companies said.
Offensive moves. The fired Google engineer who authored a sexist memo about the company’s hiring practices is suing. James Damore, who wrote that women were biologically less suited to the field of engineering, claims that Google “singled out, mistreated, and systemically punished and terminated” employees that didn’t agree with its stance on diversity.
Surprise. A policy change by a top tracker of of digital currency prices to exclude some markets in Korea made Monday’s fall in prices of many cryptocoins look more severe. Some digital currency enthusiasts said CoinMarketCap should have been more transparent about its intention to stop including data from the Korean firms.
Siri, get me a pizza. At CES, Toyota Motor unveiled its e-Palette concept vehicle, which will be part of a network of electric autonomous shuttle vans that can ferry people or packages. Toyota is partnering with Amazon, Uber, Didi Chuxing, Mazda, and Pizza Hut on the project.
Marathon music session. Also at CES, Qualcomm announced a new set of chips to power Bluetooth wireless gear, like headphones and ear buds. Qualcomm says the new “QCC5100 Low Power Bluetooth SoC” will triple battery life and make connections to phones and other devices more reliable.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The cost of mining digital currency is basically the price of a PC with a strong graphics card and then the ongoing bill for electricity. Some enterprising undergraduates have realized that they could use the free electricity they get at school to mint some cryptocash for themselves, as Karen Ho writes for Quartz. One MIT student, called “Mark” in the article, was making quite a profit.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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Chip Wars 2018: What Intel, Nvidia, AMD and Qualcomm Announced At CES By Aaron Pressman
BEFORE YOU GO
The best Wi-Fi security standard, known as WPA2, is nearly 20 years old and was recently cracked. So the group that sets standards for the ubiquitous transmission technology, the Wi-Fi Alliance, finally announced a new, tougher security set up that will be called WPA3. Compatible devices should be on the market later this year.