Uri Frank: Google has been in AI for many years

Amit Krig, Uri Frank, and Daniel Benatar in conversation with Assaf Gilead   credit: Tamar Matsafi
Amit Krig, Uri Frank, and Daniel Benatar in conversation with Assaf Gilead credit: Tamar Matsafi

Google's Frank, Intel's Daniel Benatar, and Nvidia's Amit Krig appeared together on a "Globes" panel to discuss the future of chip production, Israel's standing in AI, and what matters to their employees.

Wherever you look these days, whether at the world of technology, or at stock markets, or even art, it’s impossible to avoid the letters AI - artificial intelligence. Within the AI revolution, chip makers have become the big stars of the technology sector.

In a unique panel at the "Globes" Tech IL conference moderated by "Globes" technology editor Assaf Gilead, senior managers of the world’s three leading chip companies gathered on one stage to discuss the future of the industry: Intel corporate vice president Daniel Benatar, co-general manager of Intel Worldwide Semiconductor Manufacturing and co-general manager of Intel Israel; Uri Frank, vice president of engineering and general manager of the chip implementation and innovation team at Google Cloud; and Amit Krig, senior vice president of software R&D at Nvidia and head of Nvidia’s Israel development center.

Krig was asked whether AI, or at least the share prices of companies in that field, amounted to a kind of bubble, and he explained that this was not the case. "We’re just at the beginning of the road in harnessing AI to more areas. In every area that we touch, it’s possible to make extensive use of AI - in medicine, video, in fact anything."

The panel moderator Assaf Gilead asked the participants where Israel stood in AI and what was being developed in Israel. Krig responded that building a supercomputer like Open AI required tens, even hundreds, of thousands of servers with very efficient communications between them, and that some of the calculations would be performed on the network. This, he said, was where Israel’s greatest contribution came in, and so the country was very important for Nvidia.

It’s claimed that not enough new AI startups are coming up here, and that most of the companies are concentrated in other places, such as San Francisco and the UAE, so that Israel has missed out on the AI era.

Krig: "It’s hard to say missed out, but much more needs to be invested, first of all in Israel’s infrastructure, because the human capital exists. We built a supercomputer, and we intend to make it accessible to startups. So we haven’t missed out, and we do need to invest much more, with the investment coming from the government, and of course from the big companies, in order to expand the pool of startups."

Uri Frank sees the AI revolution as only at the beginning. "If we look at this field in future years, there are applications that we can’t even begin to imagine. So it’s not true that Israel has missed out. Certainly, there are some main players, but if we look ten years ahead, there are plenty of opportunities," Frank said. This was a first public appearance for Frank, formerly a VP at Intel who left that company in 2021 to manage the development of server chips at Google that incorporate graphics accelerators and a core processor that were unveiled at an event held by the company last week..

Daniel Benatar said that the State of Israel had an advantage that started with education. "School prepares its pupils for the colleges and universities, and if we channel them to artificial intelligence, and continue to produce brilliant minds here, we’ll continue to create an advantage. It has to be a cooperative effort with the state and the education system and industry, and we mustn’t take our foot off the gas. The revolution is only at the beginning, and we have no idea where it will go in the coming years, but that’s where we must put the emphasis and invest. The Ministry of Education should introduce this field into school studies in collaboration with scientists and the industry, in order for it to take root as early as the school stage, and certainly in the universities and colleges."

How will we train the next generation of AI people?

Frank: "I have two children in secondary school who emerged with more programming knowledge than I learned in a first degree at the Technion. Progress is being made in education, and it works. The universities still have an important role in further development, but most of the studies are meant to open up the mind and broaden horizons. For what people are going to do in their work, there are many years to do it at the workplace. So it’s worth studying both computers and electricity."

Amit, one of the signs is that everyone on the street knows about Nvidia and artificial intelligence. Ten years ago, only veteran gamers could say "Nvidia". How does that grab you on a personal level?

Krig: "It really is funny. I joined Mellanox in 2000 from Intel, and down the years, my children didn’t really know where I worked and what I did. As soon as I joined Nvidia, the first phone calls I had were about whether I could get hold of graphics cards for their friends or sell them some. So I realized what it was to be at a well-known company. Today, it’s part of life, starting from my daughter coming home from school and telling me that they had a lesson on the jump in Nvidia’s share price, and a boy said ‘Yael’s father works at Nvidia.’ So we’re at a moment of hype in growth."

At the beginning of his remarks, Krig mentioned Avinatan Or, an Nvidia employee who was abducted and taken to the Gaza Strip by Hamas on October 7. "After two hours, at the beginning of the incident, we received video clips and terrible news. Avinatan started work at Nvidia two years ago. He’s a charming, sociable person, and yesterday I looked at lots of files that he uploaded to our system. I saw that he was connected to all the new projects that have now been released. As Nvidia, we support his family and stand by its side. Every evening, Nvidia workers come to military headquarters in Tel Aviv, and we hope that Avinatan and all the hostages will return as soon as possible."

Danny Benatar, Intel has one of the biggest production facilities in the world, and it’s located 30 kilometers from the Gaza border. What have you experienced in the past six months?

Benatar: "The past year has been very challenging for Intel in Israel, and especially in Kiryat Gat. October 7 caught us all unprepared, that Saturday morning. I shiver when I talk about the our precious employees - all of them contributed. People went to reserve duty, others came to work. Our supply chain continued to operate. We haven’t missed a single shift or lost a single workday during the whole period. I contacted Intel Corporation’s CEO (Pat Gelsinger) in the US daily and reported the situation to him.

"There were some tricky moments, but we supported the supply to our customers. As Intel, we helped our employees, whether in providing babysitting services, assistance with working from home, or work at irregular hours. Not only did we not miss a shift, but we continue to build the new fab in Kiryat Gat at an investment of $25 billion."

How hard was it to persuade Intel’s management to announce the new fab, which they did during the war?

Benatar: "Talks on building the new fab began in 2019. We went into the pandemic during the negotiations. In December last year, we reached agreement with the government. We’re celebrating 50 years of Intel in the State of Israel. People came before me who led Intel to where it is now. I am strengthening and improving Intel’s position for the sake of the south of the country and for Intel’s sake. I also hope to hand on to the next generation the legacy of what my predecessors started. We have excellence and special creativity here in the State of Israel. Something special in the desire and hunger to excel all the time."

"To change the chip-making map"

During the panel, Benatar commented on the greatest strategic change in Intel’s history recently announced by the company. "Intel decided to split the company into two parts. One part is made up of production and development, and the other is made up of business units and product development. We decided to call this IDM 2.0 (integrated device manufacturing) in which Intel is opening up to external customers. Intel’s CEO came along with an amazing vision of opening up to external customers. The fab in Israel is being prepared, as are the rest of the fabs around the world. It means that we are not only learning from ourselves, but also from those customers outside Intel."

What does it look like from the inside?

Benatar: "We’re learning what the customers want, how to improve our systems, how to open the fab to outside customers and also protect their privacy. And how to plan processes, so that whatever the customers want, we can say to them ‘Yes’."

We have seen the imposition of US restrictions on Chinese chips, and there are restrictions that the Chinese government wants to impose on buying American chips. What lies behind the fab building strategy?

Benatar: "When we emerged from the Covid pandemic, there was a world shortage of chips, whether for producing cars, washing machines, or laptop computers. Today, 80% of global production is in the Far East (Taiwan and China) and 20% in the West. We want to change the equation, to transfer as much production as possible to the West and not to be dependent on the Far East. We are building a supply chain: from producing the processors, to packaging, to delivery to customers. We are currently building fabs in the US - in Arizona and Ohio; in Europe - in Germany and Poland; and, as mentioned, a huge fab in Israel. It’s not a matter of a year or two; this is a long-term strategy for transferring production to the West. In the end, the process will change production to 80% in the West and 20% in the Far East."

Has Israel’s role in chip production weakened?

Benatar: "I don’t think so. We building one of the most significant fabs in the world here. Within four to five years, we’ll be manufacturing with technology that today is considered science fiction. Israel is an integral part. The south of the State of Israel can’t be stopped."

"Everyone wants more computing power"

While Intel has decided to open up its production lines to external customers, Frank was asked about Google’s independent chip production capability. "We do produce some of the chips ourselves, some of them for Google’s needs, since the company is a large consumer of computing and cloud services, while some of the hardware and services are outsourced," he said.

"Google has been manufacturing chips for nearly eight years. We are certainly expanding our capacity and investing more. We have built the Axion chip family, which is offered to customers and users of services such as Google Earth and others. We continue to invest in artificial intelligence chips (TPU). We have video coding chips that everyone uses when they upload a video to YouTube."

Why does Google need to develop its own chips?

Frank: "Google is in artificial intelligence in a unique niche, and has defined itself as an AI-first company. The company built a system that used AI for many years. Anyone who uses Google products has been using Google’s AI for a long time. Because of Google’s uniqueness and its research capability, it understood that AI was coming, and that the CPU wasn’t good enough for it. Therefore, many years ago, we developed AI accelerators, because there was nothing else to buy. The entire AI model known as Gemini trains and provides service on internal chips. From the applications to the models, it allows us to build very efficient things."

Is it possible to receive Google cloud services in which everything operates on Google hardware?

Frank: "Yes. We give customers what they want. They can buy services on Nvidia hardware. But there are also those who work on Google hardware."

We’re seeing an interesting phenomenon, that entities like OpenAI are thinking about producing chips independently, and on the other hand we are seeing companies like Google turning to hardware.

Frank: "There are computing waves in which suddenly there’s a need for far more hardware than can be produced. It has happened in the past in computing, at the beginning of home computing, and then with telephones. Now, we have this situation with AI. What is limiting the technology today is computing capacity, and so hardware supply has become significant. Everyone wants more computing power, and it’s expensive. Certainly the big companies need good hardware to train their good models. And also to facilitate monetization. This will continue for a good few years."

Krig: "If you look at history, we are now at a tipping point of computing consumption. Today, we don’t leave home without using a supercomputer, perhaps going into ChatGPT, which operates very strong processing power. We need processing power, from using video to help in writing emails and so on."

Pay isn’t everything

Towards the end of the panel, the three participants were asked to comment on the question of how to cultivate the Israeli worker, and it appears that all of them are of the opinion that high pay is not the be all and end all.

"Pay is important, but it’s not the main thing," Benatar explained. "Employees who come to work want humane treatment, they want development, they want to go back home and be proud of what they do. In AI, there are no feelings. A manager does have feelings. The salary is important, and it sometimes buys health and education. There’s the vector of feeling and relationships and personal development. This is something that we can give in Israel better than in other places. I don’t see competition between the three of us. The stronger that Amazon, Google and Nvidia become in Israel, the better, and it’s excellent for the country."

Krig: "It’s true that pay is important, but most of our employees come to us through ‘a friend brings a friend’. People who understand what happens at the company at the social level. One of the advantages of the fact that there’s competition over talent is that in the end talent brings much more talent. It puts more people who come along in the pipeline. I think that pay can bring someone in, but it can’t keep them over time in the same company. Nevertheless, we could all hire more people."

Benatar: "We talk a lot about talent. It must be remembered that within an Israeli company the lowest socio-economic class has to be pulled upwards. At Intel, we have hired people without twelve years of education. We let them complete matriculation. It’s part of the culture in Israel that doesn’t happen elsewhere."

The Tech IL conference was sponsored by ONE ZERO Bank, Microsoft, HP, KPMG, AT&T, Indigo, with participation by Mekorot and the Israel Innovation Authority.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 17, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Amit Krig, Uri Frank, and Daniel Benatar in conversation with Assaf Gilead   credit: Tamar Matsafi
Amit Krig, Uri Frank, and Daniel Benatar in conversation with Assaf Gilead credit: Tamar Matsafi
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