Can money buy friends? Intel is hoping so


Intel has shown its defensive side with a humble-brag that it has invested $1 billion in artificial intelligence. We didn’t realize Intel had to use money to make friends, but each to their own.

In an editorial piece by CEO Brian Krzanich, Intel has decided to shout at the top of its voice in a bit of a transparent attempt for attention. We have a massive bank account, it seems to be saying, I’m popular because I can buy massive rounds of Jägermeisters. Don’t forget about me, I was the guy who was popular a couple of years back before it was cool to be into technology.

“To drive AI innovation, Intel is making strategic investments spanning technology, R&D and partnerships with business, government, academia and community groups,” said Krzanich.

“We are deeply committed to unlocking the promise of AI: conducting research on neuromorphic computing, exploring new architectures and learning paradigms. We have also invested in start-ups like Mighty AI, Data Robot and Lumiata through our Intel Capital portfolio and have invested more than $1 billion in companies that are helping to advance artificial intelligence.”

Everyone seems to have that one acquaintance who always has to be the best. Who knows what they are compensating for, but there is a constant need to justify themselves and demonstrate to you that they are doing well in life. You didn’t ask about the new car, or the holiday next month, or the new kitchen, but you know about it. You’re not annoyed they are doing well, you’re annoyed that they had to tell you without being asked.

This seems to be the position Intel has found itself in. It’s not as popular as it used to be so is getting a bit defensive. It’s throwing its wallet around as a means to make friends and its making sure everyone knows about it. You know the sort. They don’t have much going on, so they try to buy themselves to relevance.

And you can see why. A few years back there was this little breakthrough called a smartphone, and the whole thing pretty much passed Intel by. This was not for lack of effort. The Intel team slaved away trying to make its processors small enough, efficient enough and yet powerful enough to get in on the smartphone party, but alas it couldn’t.

Maybe this humble-brag is a sign of maturity as opposed to defensive. It might have just accepted it does not have the engineering capability in-house to crack the artificial intelligence world so it is looking to buy it in. And while this might sound like a petty idea, you can’t argue with the success it has brought other people. Google did not rise to the top of the game by cultivating the Deepmind talent for years, it bought the capabilities for $500 million in 2014.

Let’s have a look at Intel’s bets in the autonomous car space. In 2015 it bought Altera, who make field programmable gate arrays, for $16.7 billion. 2016 saw the acquisitions of Yogitech (semiconductor designer that specializes in adding safety functions to chips), Arynga (software allowing cars to receive over-the-air updates), Itseez (machine learning) and Moviduis (computer perception software). This year it bought Mobileye for $15.3 billion. We might have missed a couple out, but this is some serious cash.

It’ll eventually be a case of the ends justify the means. Whether it is in the data centre or on devices, the blossoming world of artificial intelligence has the potential to make billions upon billions for the processor gang, and Intel is doing a bit of spread betting. Xeon for the servers in the data centre, Mobileye for cars, Movidius for machine learning at the edge; one question is whether Intel is spreading itself too thin, even if it does have mountains of cash.

Intel is one of those companies who can afford to through around this sort of money, having banked between $1.5 billion and $3.5 billion a quarter consistently for years, but they do need a win. For every lost bet the pressure will mount. We won’t find out who will sit at the top of the table for a long-time, but it would appear Intel is hoping success can be bought.

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