Intel, Nervana and the Dawn of Next Generation AI

Today, Intel announced the acquisition of Nervana Systems. Naveen Rao (CEO & Co-Founder) and the Nervana team are at the forefront of innovation in artificial intelligence (AI). In just two and a half years they broke numerous performance barriers and made deep learning widely accessible and affordable. Nervana is a testament to the magic of best in class technical teams coming together with a shared vision. We look forward to seeing this talented team build the compute architecture powering the next generation of intelligent applications as part of Intel.

Nervana’s acquisition underscores the growing understanding that AI will be indispensable across a wide spectrum of industries and applications. Over the past several years, interest in artificial intelligence has grown dramatically: (i) Major technology companies have identified AI as a cornerstone of their competitive positioning (e.g., Google, IBM, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Baidu, to name a few); (ii) AI startups have attracted billions of dollars in venture capital and significant acquisition activity.

Not surprisingly, this level of excitement combined with the prior history of unrealistic expectations from AI, have given rise to concerns that we are approaching another peak in the AI hype cycle.

At Omidyar Technology Ventures, we think that we are just at the start of the current innovation wave in AI, and that its long term impact will be felt across a broad range of industries and applications. We are particularly interested in startups pursuing the following areas:

(1) Companies that mitigate or leverage data scarcity. Data is, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, a critical element for building strong AI. Companies with access to large amounts of quality datasets will benefit from strong “network effects” and will be in a position to build large, defensible businesses.

(2) Companies that mitigate the massive shortage of AI talent. The dramatic interest in AI has exacerbated an already significant shortage of AI talent. A number of companies are trying to make it easier to leverage AI. Others are building tools and frameworks that make AI developers’ lives easier, or allow them to extend existing programing skills into the AI realm.

(3) Companies that push the state of the art at the algorithmic level either by developing more efficient algorithms, or new frameworks and approaches to training or cognition. Interestingly, developments in these areas can not only produce compelling innovations in their own right, but also have a broader AI system level impact by altering the amount of data or level of expertise required to build a robust AI solution in the first place.

Congratulations again to the Nervana team. They are a great example of the kind of entrepreneurs we look to partner with: a world class technical founding team leveraging unique insights that give them clarity of purpose and the conviction to pursue a massive market opportunity. If you share our long term view on AI and are building a company that is tackling such an opportunity, we’d love to talk to you.


Author: Todor Tashev • August 9, 2016