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South Korean Startup Rebellions Introduces A New Chip As The Country Targets To Enter The AI Race

South Korean Startup Rebellions Introduces A New Chip As The Country Targets To Enter The AI Race
Rebellions Inc., a South Korean startup, unveiled an artificial intelligence (AI) chip on Monday as it competed for government contracts and Seoul sought a place for homegrown firms in the burgeoning AI sector.
The firm's ATOM chip is the most recent attempt by Korea to compete with Nvidia Corp., the market leader in the hardware that drives the potentially ground-breaking AI technology.
ChatGPT, a chatbot from Microsoft-backed OpenAI that generates articles, essays, jokes, and even poetry, is the fastest-growing consumer app in history just two months after launch, according to UBS. AI is the talk of the tech industry.
According to Mark Lipacis of Jefferies, a chip analyst, Nvidia, a US chip designer, accounted for about 86% of the computing power of the six largest cloud services in the world as of December.
In an effort to increase the market share of Korean AI chips in domestic data centers from practically zero to 80% by 2030, the South Korean government is investing more than $800 million over the next five years for research and development.
"It’s hard to catch up to Nvidia, which is so far ahead in general-purpose AI chips," said Kim Yang-Paeng, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade. "But it's not set in stone because AI chips can carry out different functions and there aren't set boundaries or metrics."
The ATOM from Rebellions is made to be extremely effective at running chatbot and computer vision applications. According to Park Sunghyun, co-founder and CEO of Rebellions, the chip uses only 20% of the power of an Nvidia A100 chip on those tasks because it focuses on a narrow range of tasks rather than performing a wide range of them.
The most well-liked chip for AI workloads is the A100, which is potent enough to "train" (or, in business parlance, "create") the AI models. ATOM, created by Rebellions and produced by Samsung Electronics Co. in Korea, does not provide training.
While Taiwan, China, France, Germany, the United States, and other nations have extensive plans to support their semiconductor companies, the South Korean government is unusual in focusing its efforts on AI chips.
Only domestic chipmakers will be allowed to submit bids for two data centers, or "neural processing unit farms," that Seoul will advertise for this month, a Ministry of Science and ICT official told Reuters.
The government of a nation whose businesses provide half the world's memory chips wants to develop a market that can serve as a testing ground for AI chipmakers in an effort to foster international competition.
"The government is twisting the arm of the data centres and telling them, 'Hey, use these chips'," Rebellions' Park, a former Morgan Stanley engineer, told Reuters.
Without it, he claimed, data centers and their clients would probably continue using Nvidia chips.
The project will also include Sapeon Korea Inc., according to the SK Telecom Co. subsidiary.
State-run Korea Development Bank and South Korea's top search engine Naver Corp.-backed FuriosaAI confirmed to Reuters that it will also compete.
"There's a lot of momentum behind Nvidia's developments. These startups have got to build momentum, so that will take time," said Alan Priestley, an analyst at IT research firm Gartner. "But government incentives such as what's happening in Korea could well affect the market share within Korea."
In an effort to wean Nvidia customers away from the US supplier, rebellions will look to join the government project in a consortium with KT Corp, a significant Korean telecom, cloud, and data center operator.
"Amid high dependence on foreign GPUs (graphics processing units) globally, the cooperation between KT and Rebellions will allow us to have an 'AI full stack' that encompasses software and hardware based on domestic technology,” said KT vice president Bae Han-chul.
Refusing to provide a forecast for its AI chip business, Rebellions. It has raised 122 billion won ($96 million), including 10 billion won in a grant from the South Korean government and 30 billion won from KT in a funding round with Temasek Pavilion Capital of Singapore.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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