More evidence of the financial power of video — and video gaming: Fortune names Jen-Hsun “Jensen” Huang, cofounder and CEO of “the red-hot Silicon Valley semiconductor and software company Nvidia,” its 2017 Businessperson of the Year.
The lede: “The cofounder and CEO of semiconductor and software maker Nvidia saw the future of computing more than a decade ago, and began developing products that could power the artificial intelligence era. Thanks to that vision, and relentless execution, his chipmaker today is perhaps the hottest company in Silicon Valley. And it may just be getting started.”
The context: “If you haven’t heard of Nvidia, you can be forgiven. It doesn’t make a chat app or a search service or another kind of technology meant to appeal to the average smartphone-toting consumer. No, Nvidia makes the muscular mystery stuff that powers all of it. Its GPUs, or “graphics processing units,” crunch the complex calculations necessary for cryptocurrency markets, so-called deep neural networks, and the visual fireworks you see on the big screen. The same technology that makes brutally realistic shooter games come alive helps self-driving cars take an “S” curve without assistance—enabling computers to see, hear, understand, and learn.”
The history: “A successful IPO on the Nasdaq in 1999 set in motion a flurry of milestones for Nvidia. That year it released the GeForce 256, billed as the world’s first GPU. In 2006 it introduced CUDA, a parallel computing architecture that allowed researchers to run extremely complex exercises on thousands of GPUs, taking the chips out of the sole realm of video games and making them accessible for all types of computing. In 2014, the company revived a failing bid for the smartphone business by repositioning those chips, called Tegra, for automotive use. Over time, these moves proved prescient, unlocking new revenue streams for Nvidia in industries such as defense, energy, finance, health care, manufacturing, and security.
Key quote: “We believed this model of computing could solve problems that general-purpose computing fundamentally couldn’t,” Huang says. “We also observed that video games were simultaneously one of the most computationally challenging problems and would have incredibly high sales volume. Those two conditions don’t happen very often. Video games was our killer app—a flywheel to reach large markets funding huge R&D to solve massive computational problems.”