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From silicon chips to tortilla chips, the A.I. ecosystem takes shape

December 8, 2022, 2:05 PM UTC
Wei Li, vice president and general manager of A.I. and analytics at Intel, speaks at Fortune's Brainstorm A.I. summit in San Francisco on Dec. 6, 2022.
Nick Otto for Fortune

Artificial intelligence may not be ubiquitous yet, but the technology is finding its way into many corners of the business world as an open A.I. ecosystem develops. That was the message from four leaders during a Fortune conference on Tuesday.

For Wei Li, vice president and general manager of A.I. and analytics (AIA) with Intel Corp., deploying A.I. everywhere is a personal passion. “It just means anybody can use A.I.,” Li said at Fortune‘s Brainstorm A.I. summit in San Francisco. “It would be helping the lives of every human being on this planet.”

Li highlighted “A.I. acceleration” inside semiconductor giant Intel’s widely used products, including A.I.-specific processors. “Our silicon is everywhere today already,” he said. “If we make every piece of silicon smart, with A.I. in it, we really have an opportunity to contribute to the move to A.I. everywhere.”

Chipotle Mexican Grill has adopted A.I. across its business, said Zach Sippl, vice president of data and analytics for Chipotle. For example, the company is looking at an autonomous robot that makes a different kind of chip—tortilla chips. Location intelligence is another use: after a customer places an order on the Chipotle app, its A.I. can chat with them if they go to the wrong location.

“It’s not just for our customers and crew, but it also helps with other things like food waste,” Sippl said. “The accessibility of A.I. has allowed us to really think about it in every piece of our strategy as we move forward.”

Andrea Huels, Lenovo’s head of A.I. North America, works with Fortune 500 executives in sectors such as retail, restaurants, supply chain, and manufacturing, “inspiring them in how they can leverage artificial intelligence to increase operational efficiencies and make smarter decisions.” Huels cited retail clients using “face matching” and computer vision to identify and deter potential thieves.

She also stressed the importance of teamwork in building the A.I. ecosystem, which consists of hardware makers, independent software vendors (ISVs), systems integrators and customers offering feedback. “What I will always do, and I speak almost every week at a different conference, is I put the entire ecosystem onstage.”

Over the past two weeks, 90% of the companies that have pitched Greylock Partners for investment are leveraging A.I. in some way, said Saam Motamedi, a partner with the venture capital firm. Motamedi explained that Greylock puts A.I. in two buckets: applications and infrastructure.

For startups creating applications, “We want the ecosystem to make it such that they can just focus on the customer problem that they’re solving,” Motamedi said. “And then leverage tooling, both on the hardware and software side, from infrastructure companies like Intel on actually powering the A.I.”

And infrastructure? “On the infrastructure side, we have a number of companies that are working on democratizing A.I. in the context of the large enterprise.”

Motamedi thinks there’s an opportunity to create software that lets business users harness the power of machine learning, along the lines of what Tableau did for business intelligence. “As we see those software blocks fall into place, the accessibility of M.L. and A.I. inside organizations is just going to explode.”

Looking ahead, Li envisioned an A.I. ecosystem that combines a general-purpose platform with vertical solutions targeting niche markets. “Because if you have a world where everyone has to customize, then it’s not scalable,” he said. “That’s why software is key here. Eventually, we’re looking at foundational software that can become a unified layer for this.”

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