Rebellions Inc, a South Korean startup, launched an artificial intelligence (AI) chip on Monday, racing to win government contracts as Seoul seeks a place for local firms in the exploding AI industry.
The company’s ATOM chip is the latest Korean attempt to compete with global leader Nvidia Corp (NVDA.O) in the hardware that powers potentially game-changing AI technology.
According to UBS, ChatGPT, a chatbot from Microsoft-backed (MSFT.O) OpenAI that generates articles, essays, jokes, and even poetry, has become the fastest-growing consumer app in history just two months after launch.
Nvidia, a U.S. chip designer, has a commanding share of high-end AI chips, accounting for approximately 86% of the computing power of the world’s six largest cloud services as of December.
“It’s difficult to catch up to Nvidia, which is so far ahead in general-purpose AI chips,” Kim Yang-Paeng, senior researcher at the Korea Institute of Industrial Economics and Trade, said. “However, it is not set in stone because AI chips can perform a variety of functions and there are no set boundaries or metrics.”
The South Korean government wants to foster a domestic industry, investing more than $800 million in research and development over the next five years in order to increase the market share of Korean AI chips in domestic data centres from essentially zero to 80% by 2030.
The ATOM from Rebellions is built to run computer vision and chatbot AI applications. Because it focuses on specific tasks rather than a broad range, the chip uses only about 20% of the power of an Nvidia A100 chip on those tasks, according to Rebellions co-founder and CEO Park Sunghyun.
The A100 is the most popular chip for AI workloads, as it is powerful enough to create – or “train” – AI models. ATOM is a robot designed by Rebellions and manufactured by the Korean conglomerate Samsung Electronics Co (005930.KS).
While Taiwan, China, France, Germany, and the United States have extensive plans to support their semiconductor companies, the South Korean government is unusual in focusing on AI chips. Seoul will issue a notice this month for two data centres known as neural processing unit farms, with only domestic chipmakers permitted to bid.
Rebellions will attempt to join the government project in a consortium with KT Corp (030200.KS), a major Korean telecom, cloud, and data centre operator, in the hope of weaning Nvidia customers away from the U.S. supplier. “With the world’s high reliance on foreign GPUs (graphics processing units), the collaboration between KT and Rebellions will enable us to have a ‘AI full stack’ that includes software and hardware based on domestic technology,” said KT vice president Bae Han-chul.
Rebellions has refused to provide a forecast for its AI chip venture. It has raised 122 billion won ($96 million), including 30 billion won from KT in a funding round co-led by Singapore’s Temasek Pavilion Capital and a 10 billion won government grant from South Korea.