Bitmain Aspires to Develop an AI Chip

Bitmain is getting more serious about its entry into the AI market after its booming success in the cryptocurrency space.

The elusive Chinese company that sells up to 80% of the world’s mining ASICs is now considering getting into the ever-challenging AI game.

Bitmain’s co-chief executive, Jihan Wu, said that the company feels “lucky” because of its immense revenue from ASIC sales. Now, the mining rig manufacturer is looking to expand in other directions.

This wouldn’t be the first time Bitmain’s made a foray into the AI market. In October 2017, the rig manufacturer released the Sophon BM1680, a deep learning accelerator that attaches to computer systems for neural network training and inference.

It was much like a GPU for deep learning as opposed to graphics rendering and processing.

Currently, Google is already established in the world of AI with its Tensor Processing Unit, a deep learning ASIC that can process an incredible amount of image data and recognize words inside of them. Then again, the TPU is offered only to customers of Google’s cloud services, which are blocked in China. Here, Bitmain has a significant advantage and plenty of room to grow into a global competitor.

Bitmain’s reputation for chipmaking comes because of a decision that Wu made when he was mulling the company’s business model. He was also thinking of making it a cryptocurrency exchange, but then backed out of that when realizing that it was too much of a legal risk considering China’s regulatory environment and potential government action elsewhere.

“The only thing that is good to do is Bitcoin mining, because it is 100% sure it is legal,” he said.

The decision to concentrate more on AI might have resulted from the intense amount of pressure against Bitmain’s ASIC business from almost every other cryptocurrency with the exception of Bitcoin. Some development teams have even made “ASIC-resistant” into a marketing buzzword.

Since the ASIC giant already has experience in specializing chips for these kinds of applications, Bitmain just might have what it takes to make a significant impact in AI technology, becoming one of the several companies driving the limited but highly promising space.