In late March, Microsoft published at least three job openings within its Azure public cloud division, looking for candidates to work on features for an AI chip. The following month the team listed an opening for a silicon program manager, and "an engineer for software/hardware codesign and optimization for AI acceleration."
Under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft is showing it's willing to spend the money it takes to have a full-featured cloud as it competes with Amazon Web Services and Google. Specialized processors are one way Microsoft can prove it's serious about bulking up its AI services for businesses within its cloud.
Google, which trails AWS and Microsoft in the cloud market, first promoted the idea of a custom chip for AI in the cloud. The company is now on the third iteration of its tensor processing unit (TPU), an alternative to Nvidia's graphics processing unit (GPU), which has become the early industry standard for performing AI workloads.
TPUs and GPUs can be used for training artificial neural networks, which can analyze large amounts of data, such as photos, and learn to recognize patterns. After being trained, they can make predictions based on what they know, helping computers recognize different people or pick up on the presence of certain objects.