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Google selling access to its giant AI cloud systems

Google will give access to its artificial intelligence data centers to other companies... for a fee, of course.

Published onFebruary 12, 2018

google tensor processing unit


google tensor processing unit
  • Google has developed massive, artificially intelligent cloud computers to advance its AI products.
  • Today, the company announced it is opening those systems to other companies, for a fee.
  • Lyft, a company Google has also heavily invested in, has already spent time with the system, and lauded its potential.

It’s no secret that Google is heavily invested in artificial intelligence and its front-facing product Google Assistant. Now that the company has built an artificially intelligent, cloud-computing powerhouse, it is figuring out other ways to make money off its new toys.

Today, The New York Times reported that Google is looking to sell access to its custom AI chips. This would give companies that could never afford to build and maintain the multibillion-dollar computer systems necessary for AI processing the ability to innovate, while simultaneously helping Google pay for that system.

“We are trying to reach as many people as we can as quickly as we can,” Zak Stone told The Times. He is part of the small team who designed the AI chips used in the mega server, called “tensor processing units,” or T.P.U.s (pictured at the top of this article).

Google confirmed the move in a blog post.

A major company that has already had access to Google’s AI chips is Lyft, which used the chips to help teach its driverless cars how to recognize objects like street signs and (hopefully) pedestrians. Anantha Kancherla, part of the Lyft driverless car project, says that using Google’s chips could reduce learning time from days to hours.

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google lens identifying plant

This is all more bad news for companies like Intel and NVIDIA, which make most of their money from supplying chips to other companies. With Google now big enough to make its own chips and other companies heading to Google in the future to lease time on its T.P.U.s, members of the technology industry will become less reliant on other chip-makers.

That doesn’t mean that Google will no longer work with NVIDIA, the company from which it gets most of its chips. It just means that Google isn’t exclusively a chip-buyer and now has more leverage to negotiate prices. In other words, the industry is shifting.

Artificial intelligence is white hot in the world of investing, with some companies raising over $100 million before even having a releasable product. With Google opening its doors up to anyone who can pay for time, we can expect even more AI startups to begin popping up.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated Google’s AI data center helps engineers develop and build chips. That statement was incorrect and has since been removed. We regret the error.

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