Nvidia sees Israel as a key to leadership in AI technologies

US maker of processors is looking to add up to 100 workers to its new R&D team in Tel Aviv

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Nvidia's Santa Clara headquarters (Courtesy)
Nvidia's Santa Clara headquarters (Courtesy)

Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia Corp. sees Israeli talent and innovation as an integral part of its activities as the $98 billion firm completes its transition from maker of processors for gaming and computer graphics to leader in artificial intelligence and visual computing technologies.

“Nvidia is a real deep technology company and Israel is a very deep technology country, so it is a perfect fit and perfect match,” said Jeff Herbst, VP of business development at the firm, which has seen its share price surge almost 200 percent in the past 12 months on the Nasdaq.

Nvidia has been active in Israel for the past eight years, both selling its processors locally and buying stakes in startups. The company has invested some “tens of millions of dollars” in three startups over the past five years: Zebra Medical, the maker of a medical imaging insight software using artificial intelligence; Deep Instinct, which uses deep learning to predict cyber-threats; and Rocketick, a simulation and chip testing company which was then bought by Cadence in 2016 for a reported $40 million.

Now Nvidia has set up a new 20-person research and development team in Israel and is looking for new offices in Tel Aviv and for 15-100 additional workers in the near future, Herbst said in an interview with The Times of Israel.

Jeff Herbst, VP of business development at Nvidia Corp. (Courtesy)
Jeff Herbst, VP of business development at Nvidia Corp. (Courtesy)

The idea is to both tap into local technologies and talent in Israel and teach local developers and entrepreneurs how to integrate and use Nvidia’s processors in the products they create.

“We want to be able to support and be the central platform for the ecosystem of companies large and small in Israel that do advanced development of technology,” Herbst said. “The more applications that we have that work on our platform, the more platforms we can sell and the more products we can sell. It is extremely symbiotic.”

The R&D team will be working on developing deep learning and AI technologies and graphics that will feed into Nvidia’s other platforms for autonomous driving, data centers, financial and healthcare applications and security applications, he said.

Nvidia is “making a transition from being a gaming company to artificial intelligence and visual computing company, he said. “And Israel is going to become the hub, or one of the hubs, for developing artificial intelligence technology that goes into all these various verticals that we are interested in.”

Artificial intelligence is only just taking off as a field, but is growing at a compounded annual rate of almost 63 percent since 2016 and is expected to be a $16 billion market by 2022, according to MarketsandMarkets, a research firm. Industries globally will have to adapt to computers taking over tasks traditionally done by humans, and the race is on for who will lead this technological transformation. Companies like Nvidia, Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm Corp. are all competing for a piece of that lucrative space.

Tapping into Israel’s talent pool

Israel is a “hotbed of talent,” said Herbst, and is globally known for its abilities and research into artificial intelligence, high-performance computing and computer vision, both in academia and on the ground, said Herbst.

“We want to tap into that pool of talent,” he said. That pool, incidentally, has been tapped by rival Intel since 1974.

Intel employs some 10,00 workers in Israel, making it the nation’s largest privately held employer and exporter. Some 60 percent of its employees work in R&D. The US giant in June said it was expanding its cybersecurity operations in Israel and in March it made a $15.3 billion deal to acquire Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based maker of automotive technology.

Intel has “been great for Israel and some of the best work for Intel has been done in Israel,” said Herbst. “That is why we know there is great talent here. We are not going to try and compete with them in terms of being as big as they are in Israel. We will do it on our own terms and as it makes sense, but the fact of the matter is we want to tap into the same pool of talent that they have known about for many years.”

Nvidia is “growing extremely rapidly right now” he said, doubling the number of its employees at the firm in the last few years. “So, we have to find talent everywhere around the world.”

In October Nvidia is planning to host a major conference focused on Artificial Intelligence and its graphics processing unit (GPU) processors in Tel Aviv. Its CEO Jensen Huang will be the keynote speaker at the event, which will hold a startup competition to choose the leading local firm in artificial intelligence.

“It is going to be a premier artificial intelligence conference here and a signal to Israel that we are ready to ramp up our activities,” Herbst said. “AI is affecting every area of business, life, social interactions, technology, so the market will continue to grow and we are going to continue our leadership position by developing the ecosystem as quickly as possible and help solve the world’s toughest problems, whether this is automotive, health, finance or security. This is such a big area, and I think Israel will play a big part of it.”

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