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South Korea Seeks to Join AI Race as Startup Rebellions Launches New Chip

Rebellion's Atom is the most recent Korean effort to challenge global leader Nvidia Corp

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

SOUTH KOREA: Rebellions Inc., a South Korean startup, launches an artificial intelligence (AI) chip on Monday, vying to win administration contracts as Seoul seeks a place for homegrown firms in the burgeoning AI sector.

The firm’s ATOM chip is the most recent Korean effort to challenge global leader Nvidia Corp. (NVDA.O) in the hardware that drives the potentially ground-breaking AI technology.

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Artificial intelligence is the talk of the tech world, as ChatGPT—a chatbot from Microsoft-backed (MSFT.O) OpenAI that generates essays, articles, jokes, and even poetry—has evolved into the fastest-growing consumer application in history just two months after release, as per UBS. 

Nvidia, a U.S. chip designer, controls a sizable portion of high-end AI chips, accounting for around 86% of the computing capacity of the six largest cloud services in the world as of December, as per Mark Lipacis, a chip analyst at Jefferies.

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The South Korean government aims to boost domestic industry, investing more than $800 million over the following five years in research and development in an effort to expand the market share of Korean AI chips in domestic data centres from almost zero to 80% by 2030.

A senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, Kim Yang-Paeng, said, “It’s hard to catch up to Nvidia, which is so far ahead in general-purpose AI chips,” adding that “but it’s not set in stone because AI chips can carry out different functions and there aren’t set boundaries or metrics.”

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Rebellion’s Atom is made to be extremely effective at running chatbot and computer vision applications. Its chip uses only 20% of the power of an Nvidia A100 chip on certain operations since it focuses on a narrow range of jobs rather than a large variety of them, said Park Sunghyun, Rebellions’ co-founder and CEO.

The A100 chip, which is powerful enough to create—or, in business lingo, “train”—AI models, is the most popular chip for AI workloads. Rebellions’ ATOM, which is made by Samsung Electronics Co. (005930.KS), does not provide training.

While Taiwan, China, France, Germany, the United States, and other nations have comprehensive plans to help their semiconductor industries, the South Korean government is distinctive in focusing its efforts on AI chips.

Only domestic chipmakers will be permitted to submit bids for the two data centres, or “neural processing unit farms,” that Seoul will advertise this month, a Ministry of Science and ICT official told the media.

Rebellions declined to provide an outlook for its AI chip venture. It has raised 122 billion won (about $96 million), including 30 billion won from KT in an investment round with Singapore’s Temasek Pavilion Capital and 10 billion won in grants from the South Korean government.

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