Graphcore Was the UK’s AI Champion—Now It’s Scrambling to Stay Afloat


Final month, the UK authorities introduced the house for its new exascale supercomputer, designed to provide the nation an edge within the world synthetic intelligence race. The £900 million ($1.1 billion) undertaking can be inbuilt Bristol, a metropolis within the west of England famed for its industrial heritage, and the machine itself can be named after the legendary native engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The Brunel AI undertaking ought to have been an enormous second for an additional Bristolian export—Graphcore, one of many UK’s solely large-scale chipmakers specializing in designing {hardware} for AI. Valued at $2.5 billion after its final funding spherical in 2020, the corporate is attempting to supply an alternative choice to the US giant Nvidia, which dominates the market. With AI quick turning into a difficulty of geopolitical in addition to industrial significance, and international locations—including the UK—spending lots of of tens of millions of {dollars} on constructing strategic reserves of chips and investing in large supercomputers, corporations like Graphcore ought to be poised to learn. In Might, Graphcore’s CEO Nigel Toon wrote to the government, asking that among the exascale undertaking’s funding be allotted to British chipmakers—i.e., to his firm.

However that deal hasn’t come by, and the corporate has struggled to show early hype round its merchandise into gross sales. This week, Graphcore filed accounts displaying that it urgently wants to lift new funding. If it could possibly’t accomplish that by Might subsequent yr, the corporate faces “materials uncertainty” over whether or not it could possibly stay a going concern, as losses mount.

“I feel a variety of this [business] is absolutely about with the ability to maintain your very capital-intensive improvement for lengthy sufficient till you get acquired,” says Jakub Zavrel, founder and CEO of analysis firm Zeta Alpha, which tracks the {hardware} utilized in AI analysis. “I feel Graphcore has gotten squeezed in that sport.”

Graphcore spokesperson Iain Mackenzie declined to touch upon the corporate’s want to lift funding.

Based in 2016 by Toon and Simon Knowles after the pair bought their earlier {hardware} firm to Nvidia, Graphcore has spent the previous couple of years promising to construct the following technology of chips. As an alternative of GPUs, graphics processing models, that are the present customary for AI functions, Graphcore focuses on IPUs, intelligence processing models. Graphcore claims its IPUs are higher suited to the particular necessities of AI than GPUs, that are multipurpose chips initially designed for picture processing. Early traders included Microsoft—now one of many giants within the vanguard of AI, and an enormous backer of OpenAI, developer of the ChatGPT chatbot. However in 2020, Microsoft stopped utilizing Graphcore’s chips in its cloud computing facilities.

Zavrel says that Graphcore might have struggled as a result of its know-how is considerably completely different from the Nvidia GPUs that customers are accustomed to. “I feel what you see with Graphcore is that they don’t seem to be in a position to take these researchers and engineers in a easy manner from the Nvidia-dominated ecosystem into their very own factor, these IPUs that they’re producing,” he says.

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