Nvidia is ‘no longer a graphics company’

It’s no secret that Nvidia has quickly morphed into an AI company. Although it creates some of the best graphics cards for PC gamers, the company’s supercomputing efforts have catapulted it into being a trillion-dollar company, and that transformation was spurred on by the monumental rise of ChatGPT. That shift, from a graphics company to an AI company, was intentional choice by Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang.

In a moment of saying the quiet part out loud, Greg Estes, the vice president of corporate marketing at Nvidia, said: “[Jensen] sent out an email on Friday evening saying everything is going to deep learning, and that we were no longer a graphics company. By Monday morning, we were an AI company. Literally, it was that fast.”

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Estes shared this bit of internal restructuring with The New Yorker in a story that chronicles the history of Nvidia, the rise of AI, and the many times in which Nvidia’s CEO has bet the company on new business ventures. According to the article, the unofficial corporate motto of Nvidia is “our company is 30 days from going out of business,” which refers to the big gambles it has made on everything from coining the term “GPU” to its revolutionary CUDA product stack.

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The email where Huang declared Nvidia an AI company came after the development of AlexNet. Alex Krizhevsky and his research partner, Ilya Sutskever, were among the first to use Nvidia graphics cards to train an AI model, which they called AlexNet. Krizhevsky was quickly snatched up by Google, and Sutskever is currently the chief scientist of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. In an interview for the story, Sutkever said, “GPUs showed up and it felt like a miracle.”

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Nvidia bet on CUDA in 2006, and although it has seen a rise in popularity since, it hit a fever pitch with the development of ChatGPT. Thousands of Nvidia GPUs were behind the model that built ChatGPT, and almost overnight, Nvidia had thousands of new customers looking to capitalize on the AI revolution. It has made Nvidia one of the most valuable tech companies in the world, sitting only slightly behind Amazon and Alphabet (Google).

Given that context, it makes sense why Nvidia is less interested in being a graphics company than it once was. We’ve certainly seen that reflected in some products Nvidia has released, though. Graphics cards like the RTX 4060 Ti radiate apathy, with high pricing and disappointing performance gains, while halo products like the RTX 4090 showcase massive performance improvements for an equally massive price.

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Nvidia’s investment in AI has paid off in some ways for PC gamers, though. Its DLSS 3.5 tech, which applies AI to frame generation, upscaling, and ray tracing, has provided a massive boost to visual quality and performance in games like Cyberpunk 2077. Nvidia’s ACE tool, which hasn’t made its way into any games yet, is said to drive characters in games entirely by AI, generating new lines of dialogue, facial animations, and audio.

The focus on AI leaves room for the competition, however. Intel is now focusing on creating budget GPUs, and that’s an area where Huang doesn’t seem comfortable. In an interview with The New Yorker, Huang said, “I don’t go anywhere near Intel. Whenever they come near us, I pick up my chips and run.”

There’s also AMD, which takes a back seat to Nvidia’s high-end GPUs, but is still its fiercest competitor. Huang says that’s not the case, telling The New Yorker that “we’re not very competitive.” The article points out that Nvidia employees can pull the relative market share of Nvidia and AMD graphics cards out from memory.

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Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
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