Chip architect Jim Keller has joined Canadian AI chip startup Tenstorrent as president and CTO. Keller, who also joins Tenstorrent’s board, has had a long and impactful career to date with stints at AMD, Intel, Tesla and Apple in previous years.
Tenstorrent, based in Toronto, is developing AI accelerator chips for the data center. The company launched its data center inference processor, Grayskull, this spring. The 120-core design runs on 65 W and offers 368 TOPS inference performance.
Until June 2020, Keller was senior vice president of Intel’s silicon engineering group. Prior to that Keller was Tesla’s VP of Autopilot and low voltage hardware, creating the Full Self-Driving chip.
Before that, Keller led AMD’s Zen x86 core design, credited with helping bring the company back to profitability. His tenure as corporate VP and chief cores architect was Keller’s second stint at AMD. Years earlier, he worked on the company’s K7 (Athlon) and K8 micro-architectures.
Keller also designed several generations of mobile processors for Apple, including the Apple A4-A7 processors found in millions of Apple iPhones, iPads and other products. He also served as VP engineering and chief architect at PA Semi, which was acquired by Apple. While at PA Semi, he led the team responsible for building a powerful networking system-on-chip and its integrated PowerPC processor.
During his career, Keller was also instrumental in creating the x86-64 instruction set and HyperTransport interconnect.
Tenstorrent’s power-efficient architecture takes advantage of sparsity, allowing branches of a neural network that result in zeroes not to be propagated, reducing wasted compute and saving energy. Tenstorrent’s 120-core chip, Grayskull, is for inference servers, but in the works is a training-capable chip, Wormhole, due later in 2021.
As CTO, Keller will lead Tenstorrent’s efforts to address what the company calls Software 2.0 – the shift away from traditional software towards machine learning approaches.
“Software 2.0 is the largest opportunity for computing innovation in a long time. Victory requires a comprehensive re-thinking of compute and low-level software,” Keller said, in a statement. “Tenstorrent has made impressive progress, and with the most promising architecture out there, we are poised to become a next gen computing giant.”