Graphcore Ltd, a startup developing new technology to deliver massive acceleration for machine learning and AI applications, has completed a $30m Series-A funding round from a world-class line up of venture capital and strategic investors.
Graphcore founders Nigel Toon, CEO, on left, and Simon Knowles, CTO on right
Graphcore has spent the last two years building an experienced hardware and software team to develop a system designed from the ground up to accelerate both current and next generation machine intelligence applications such as natural language dialogue, autonomous vehicles and personalized medicines.
The company will bring its IPU (Intelligent Processing Unit) system to market in 2017 with the IPU-Appliance™ designed to lower the cost of accelerating AI applications in cloud and enterprise datacenters. The IPU-Appliance aims to increase the performance of both training and inference by between 10x and 100x compared to the fastest systems in use today.
The company also plans to make its low power IPU technology available for embedded consumer applications including autonomous cars, collaborative robots and intelligent mobile devices.
IPU systems will accelerate the full range of training, inference, and prediction approaches. Its huge computational resources and software tools and libraries are flexible and easy to use, allowing researchers to explore machine intelligence across a much broader front than the current focus on feed-forward neural networks. This technology will enable recent success in deep learning to evolve rapidly towards useful, general artificial intelligence.
A Bank of America Merrill Lynch report citing IDC research recently predicted that the AI industry will exceed $70 billion by 2020 and Tractica predicts that spending on hardware for deep learning projects will grow from $436 million in 2015 to $41.5 billion by 2024.
Graphcore CEO and co-founder, Nigel Toon, said, "Machine intelligence will have a bigger impact on our lives over the next 10 years than mobile technology has had in the last two decades. Next generation machine intelligence will allow us to translate foreign languages in real-time, help diagnose illnesses and develop personalized treatments, control robots that clean our houses and offices, drive cars autonomously and provide us with intelligent digital assistants that can help us organize our busy lives. The IPU is the first system specifically designed for machine intelligence."
Graphcore CTO and co-founder, Simon Knowles, said, "For 70 years we have built computers to do exactly what a software program says, step by step. The program is an algorithm for solving a problem, and that algorithm must come from a human. Today's computers do not actually help the human to solve the problem. Machine intelligence is turning that on its head. Intelligent machines can analyse data like humans, discover underlying patterns, and effectively write their own programs. They can then adapt their behaviour through trial and error, like humans. They can deal with probabilities and exercise judgement in the presence of uncertainty, like humans."
"We are at the dawn of this second age of computing, in which machines are given the capacity for intelligence. The value to society of intelligent computing will be far greater than that of all computing so far. Silicon is still our best technology for building such machines, but the design details will be quite different from today's microprocessors. Graphcore is at the vanguard of this revolution in computer design and has assembled a peerless engineering team to deliver the first processors designed from scratch for general intelligence."
Linley Gwennap principal analyst of The Linley Group commented, "Machine intelligence and deep learning applications are now popular enough to justify new silicon approaches. The team at Graphcore has a strong track record of creating successful new processors for emerging markets."
Dr Hongquan Jiang, Partner at Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH added, "Graphcore has a unique technology that has massive potential in the fast emerging market for deep learning. A new processor technology is needed for intelligent systems and Graphcore has the first technology that we have seen which really delivers the performance and efficiency needed for this style of compute. We are excited to have led this very significant investment round."
"Graphcore's approach is unique in its capability to enable advanced intelligent systems," said Ekaterina Almasque, Managing Director, Samsung Catalyst Fund, Europe. "It closes the gap between the level of intelligence we want to see on edge devices and compute limitations of existing hardware architectures. At Samsung Catalyst Fund, we invest in disruptive companies in this space, and believe tremendous value will be created in the next 10 years by artificial intelligence applications. Graphcore will play an important role as a key enabling technology."
Hermann Hauser, co-founder at Amadeus Capital Partners and a renowned technology entrepreneur, said, "I have worked with Nigel and Simon before in their previous companies where they achieved over $1bn in successful exits for their investors. The team they have assembled is second to none. Machine learning is becoming a major market and Graphcore has the technology to lead this next wave of computing."
Bill Elmore, General Partner and co-founder at Foundation Capital, one of Silicon-Valley's top venture capital firms behind a large number of highly successful companies including Netflix, said, "Graphcore will lower the cost of accelerating AI applications in the cloud. This is exactly the type of world-class systems company, with breakthrough technology, and a great team, that Foundation Capital supports."
Simon Cook, CEO Draper Esprit Plc, stated, "Graphcore is one of the first investments made since we publicly listed in London and Dublin. This is a sector we know well and a founding team that we have successfully backed before. Nigel and Simon have created an exciting company developing next generation processor technology and we are pleased to be investing at this key stage in its development."
Pascal Cagni, Founding Partner of C4 Ventures, Apple GM and VP EMEA (2000-2012), said: "Since its foundation C4 Ventures has been backing hardware companies revolutionising their sector and we believe Graphcore's disruptive technology is a game changer in the computing field. Graphcore's solution pushes further the boundaries of Machine Intelligence, which will unlock value across every industry."
Eyal Niv, Managing General Partner at Pitango Venture Capital, said: "We are very excited to become part of Graphcore and to be backing great entrepreneur like Nigel and Simon. I believe we are on the verge of a new and smarter era, in which computer intelligence, machine learning and deep learning, will transform every aspect of our lives. Smart personalized medicine, autonomous transportation and robotics, smart infrastructure and accurate business prediction are just some of the areas which will be transformed and immensely improved by machine learning technologies. I really believe machine learning will bring about the biggest transformation ever, bigger than the internet, mobile and social put together."