Legendary chip architect Jim Keller responds to Sam Altman's plan to raise $7 trillion to make AI chips — 'I can do it for less than $1 trillion'

Tenstorrent
(Image credit: Tenstorrent)

Reports say that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman plans to raise $5 to $7 trillion to build a network of fabs to produce enough chips for artificial intelligence (AI) applications, raising many eyebrows in the industry. Nvidia's Jensen Huang said that the architectural innovation of AI processors is more important than the quantity of these processors. Now, Jim Keller, a legendary CPU developer who now works at Tenstorrent developing AI and HPC processors, essentially claims the same thing.

"I can do it for less than $1 trillion," Keller wrote in a quote tweet in response to Altman's tweet that says "f* it why not 8" in an apparent reference to raising the fundraising amount to 8 trillion.

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Altman's plan to raise trillions of dollars and build enough AI processors for all workloads and emerging AI companies is very ambitious. Still, it essentially involves a radical expansion of the semiconductor supply chain, which could lead to overcapacity at foundries and devaluation of these processors on the market. But instead of building more chips for AI, both Keller and Nvidia CEO Huang say that these processors (see our list of best CPUs) must get more sophisticated. Furthermore, the supply chain of AI hardware has to get simpler to reduce the costs of AI servers and other devices.

"Start by eliminating the margin stacking," wrote Keller, implying the cost or profit margin added by each participant in the supply chain to deliver a product to the end user. "There are two–three layers. Then, make chips way faster so the hardware matches the software. That is harder but doable."

Tenstorrent itself has a very ambitious roadmap that involves the development of processors for AI and HPC applications. Each AI processor in the roadmap increases the number of processing units, and the units become more advanced, improving their performance efficiency. Yet, demand for AI performance is growing fast, so only time will tell whether Tenstorrent and other companies will catch up with it in the foreseeable future.

Altman's fundraising goal of $5 trillion to $7 trillion far exceeds the present valuation of the worldwide semiconductor industry, which recorded sales of $527 billion last year and is anticipated to hit the $1 trillion mark by 2030. Meanwhile, chip manufacturers invested $99.5 billion in chip fabrication equipment in 2022 and are projected to allocate $97 billion for fabrication tools this year.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • ivan_vy
    Altman wants to solve the problem by just throwing money at it...looks like the solution came from ChatGPT.
    Reply
  • void555
    Could you please stop mixing up billions with trillions
    Reply
  • abufrejoval
    Could someone please explain to me who will pay with what the return on that investment?

    Even if Microsoft manages to push Co-mplot into every product and niche, how does that make everyone spend enough money on that to make it worthwhile?

    A trillion in invests is a thousand bucks for each of a billion people and typically buyers want a return in value.
    And if it puts people out of well paying jobs, the onus just gets bigger on those who manage to profit.

    I just don't see myself spending a thousand bucks on AI because I don't see the two thousand bucks return in value I'd expect for that.

    At the moment I'd rather spend a thousand bucks on diminishing world conflict than on advancing Altman: far more tangible value.
    Reply
  • ekio
    Altman really sounds like a new rich brat.
    He never heard about ecological issues regarding energy and materials that such a plan would create? Not even mentioning how wasteful it would be economically.

    Nowadays, there are ways such as minimizing data distance transportation inside the processors that could lead to 99x consumption reduction, much better AI designs not originating from tweaked GPU platform that could do 10x better per watt.
    Jim Keller knows what he’s talking about so much more, it hurts.
    Reply
  • vanadiel007
    I can do it for $750 million, I promise. Just need an advance of $50 million to get started.
    Quickly, this offer will not last long!
    Reply
  • vanadiel007
    ekio said:
    Altman really sounds like a new rich brat.
    He never heard about ecological issues regarding energy and materials that such a plan would create? Not even mentioning how wasteful it would be economically.

    Nowadays, there are ways such as minimizing data distance transportation inside the processors that could lead to 99x consumption reduction, much better AI designs not originating from tweaked GPU platform that could do 10x better per watt.
    Jim Keller knows what he’s talking about so much more, it hurts.

    The future of AI is with quantum computing. You need way less cells if they can store both 0 and 1 and anything in between in a single cell.

    So a quantum brain is the future, not a digital high end tensor core processor.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    vanadiel007 said:
    The future of AI is with quantum computing. You need way less cells if they can store both 0 and 1 and anything in between in a single cell.

    So a quantum brain is the future, not a digital high end tensor core processor.
    Yeah but in the decades it will take to make a quantum brain there is a lot of money to be made with GPUs npps and so on.
    Reply
  • CmdrShepard
    ivan_vy said:
    Altman wants to solve the problem by just throwing money at it...looks like the solution came from ChatGPT.
    Altman and his agenda makes it all sound like Skynet is already here.
    Reply
  • viggen123
    vanadiel007 said:
    The future of AI is with quantum computing. You need way less cells if they can store both 0 and 1 and anything in between in a single cell.

    So a quantum brain is the future, not a digital high end tensor core processor.
    Don't get ahead of yourself. Quantum computing won't work exactly analogously to classical computing- this storage argument isn't the whole story. First, you need to repeat the computation over and over in order to build enough statistics to determine correlation, which is mired by the fact that it's way slower than just turning over bits in a register and, second, performing the manipulations to do a quantum calculation is underpinned by interfacing to classical computing. They aren't fundamentally separate as it is. Considering that classical computing experts keep finding ways to show that quantum computing isn't yet an advantage, the future is definitely not set. The reality will be a hybrid, at best.
    Reply
  • DougMcC
    void555 said:
    Could you please stop mixing up billions with trillions
    It looks like they fixed the article, all the billions and trillions are correct now.
    Reply