Nvidia shifts Israel strategy to focus on training developers in AI skills

Nvidia shifts Israel strategy to focus on training developers in AI skills

US gaming and computer graphics giant is also ‘constantly looking’ to invest in Israeli startups, VP of business development says

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

Nvidia Corp., a US gaming and computer graphics giant, is changing its strategy for Israel. Whereas a year ago it aimed to set up an R&D unit in Israel with up to 100 workers to focus on developing artificial intelligence-based technologies, the US firm is now looking to train as many local developers as it can on how to better use its graphic processors in their work.

You have to “teach people how to use what you have,” said Jeff Herbst, VP of business development at the firm, which has seen its shares surge almost 50 percent in the past 12 months.

The firm’s processors, called Graphic Processing Units (GPUs), which have high processing and computational abilities, were developed originally for creating advanced computer games and 3D images.

Now, however, these capabilities are being used more broadly to speed up computational workloads in areas such as financial modeling, cutting-edge scientific research and oil and gas exploration. And as the tech world needs more and more computational powers, especially for all things concerning artificial intelligence, Nvidia sees itself transitioning from being just a maker of processors for gaming and computer graphics to a leader in artificial intelligence and visual computing technologies.

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

“We have kind of changed our strategy a little bit” for Israel, he said, as Nvidia has realized it can make a bigger impact locally if it gets local developers more familiar with its technology.

“The tech that is developed here in Israel and the software that is developed in Israel makes its way all over the world,” Herbst said in an interview in Tel Aviv.

“But in the short run what we have recognized is that we can leverage our resources much more effectively by training the developers — almost making every developer in Israel part of our R&D efforts.”

This means being in touch with academia, researchers, startups, schools and large organizations, and teaching them the uses of GPU computing and artificial intelligence to create a new ecosystem, he explained.

The more developers use the GPU platform, the more software gets written that takes advantage of advanced computing capabilities, leading to more GPUs being deployed around the world in data centers, research labs or desktops, said Herbst.

Nvidia’s R&D center in Israel employs 20-30 workers, Herbst said, similar to the number it had a year ago when it set up the team. This is in recognition of the fact that even while the US firm continues to build up its R&D team locally, it will “probably never be as big” as the R&D teams set up by other multinationals locally. “It is going to take us a while to get there.”

Nvidia’s founder and CEO Jensen Huang speaking at the firm’s GTC developers conference in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2017 (Courtesy)

Nvidia has been active in Israel for the past eight years, both selling its processors locally and buying stakes in startups and setting up the R&D unit. 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.

Regarding investment in additional Israeli startups, he said, “we are constantly looking. We have things in the pipeline,” mainly in AI-based software solutions.

“We talk to everybody and we encourage them all to come and talk to us.”

The company is planning to hold its second developer conference in Israel, an event focused on artificial intelligence and deep learning, later this year, attended by the CEO Jensen Huang.

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