Huawei's campaign to become a global AI leader advanced a step today with the launch of a brawny new chip and a simplified development framework.
The new solutions are part of a full-stack strategy in which the company is investing roughly $1.5 billion annually, according to current rotating chairman Eric Xu. (See Huawei Goes All-In on AI but Acknowledges Telco Job Losses.)
The new chip, the Ascend 910, is intended for AI model training and delivers 256 teraflops in computing power -- two orders of magnitude more than the output of CPUs and GPUs.
The new Mindspore framework is intended to simplify development and support all kinds of AI applications. It will be turned over to open source early next year.
Xu told today's launch in Shenzhen that currently brute force computing was critical for AI.
He hopes the new Ascend chip would be adopted by universities and other research teams working on compute-hungry AI problems.
"If you don't have computing power you cannot expect significant outcomes from AI," he said, observing that Google was the biggest source of AI research papers because of its massive internal computing resources.
Huawei sees AI as the next general-purpose technology, like electricity or computing, that will be deployed right across the economy.
But while the company is investing heavily in AI, it was not planning on becoming an AI company, Xu said.
"We position ourselves as a provider of infrastructure solutions and a device maker."
He says AI is already being deployed in Huawei products, such as wireless network automation and preventive maintenance, as well as in various key technologies in smartphones.
But it is opening up new business areas as well. Huawei has just set up a new unit, autonomous driving solutions, to work with vehicle manufacturers.
Xu said one of Huawei's most active AI areas was internal operations, driven by founder Ren Zhengfei.
The company has set aside $200 million a year for internal AI projects to improve efficiency and learn more about the technology. One project in the finance department has resulted in 5 million documents now being processed without any manual intervention.
Xu said the US prohibition on supplying components to Huawei has had no impact on its AI plans.
The continued blacklisting "could make our investment in AI more determined and bigger because it does not impact there," he said.
The granting of the 90-day extension to temporary licensing arrangements, allowing Huawei to continue buying US products despite its inclusion on the so-called Entity List, had also made no difference to Huawei’s supply chain, according to Xu.
The extension only applies to products for existing contracts and does not allow for the commencement of new orders, he said.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading