How Jensen Huang’s Nvidia is powering the AI revolution

How Jensen Huang’s Nvidia is powering the AI revolution

Stephen Witt writes:

The revelation that ChatGPT, the astonishing artificial-intelligence chatbot, had been trained on an Nvidia supercomputer spurred one of the largest single-day gains in stock-market history. When the Nasdaq opened on May 25, 2023, Nvidia’s value increased by about two hundred billion dollars. A few months earlier, Jensen Huang, Nvidia’s C.E.O., had informed investors that Nvidia had sold similar supercomputers to fifty of America’s hundred largest companies. By the close of trading, Nvidia was the sixth most valuable corporation on earth, worth more than Walmart and ExxonMobil combined. Huang’s business position can be compared to that of Samuel Brannan, the celebrated vender of prospecting supplies in San Francisco in the late eighteen-forties. “There’s a war going on out there in A.I., and Nvidia is the only arms dealer,” one Wall Street analyst said.

Huang is a patient monopolist. He drafted the paperwork for Nvidia with two other people at a Denny’s restaurant in San Jose, California, in 1993, and has run it ever since. At sixty, he is sarcastic and self-deprecating, with a Teddy-bear face and wispy gray hair. Nvidia’s main product is its graphics-processing unit, a circuit board with a powerful microchip at its core. In the beginning, Nvidia sold these G.P.U.s to video gamers, but in 2006 Huang began marketing them to the supercomputing community as well. Then, in 2013, on the basis of promising research from the academic computer-science community, Huang bet Nvidia’s future on artificial intelligence. A.I. had disappointed investors for decades, and Bryan Catanzaro, Nvidia’s lead deep-learning researcher at the time, had doubts. “I didn’t want him to fall into the same trap that the A.I. industry has had in the past,” Catanzaro told me. “But, ten years plus down the road, he was right.”

In the near future, A.I. is projected to generate movies on demand, provide tutelage to children, and teach cars to drive themselves. All of these advances will occur on Nvidia G.P.U.s, and Huang’s stake in the company is now worth more than forty billion dollars.

In September, I met Huang for breakfast at the Denny’s where Nvidia was started. (The C.E.O. of Denny’s was giving him a plaque, and a TV crew was in attendance.) Huang keeps up a semi-comic deadpan patter at all times. Chatting with our waitress, he ordered seven items, including a Super Bird sandwich and a chicken-fried steak. “You know, I used to be a dishwasher here,” he told her. “But I worked hard! Like, really hard. So I got to be a busboy.”

Huang has a practical mind-set, dislikes speculation, and has never read a science-fiction novel. He reasons from first principles about what microchips can do today, then gambles with great conviction on what they will do tomorrow. [Continue reading…]

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