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Bitmain Considers Artificial Intelligence Alternative For Cryptocurrency-Focused ASIC Business



De Silva

“We have to be prepared,” said Bitmain's CEO, who worries about the Chinese government prohibiting cryptocurrency mining. His chip development company is readying itself for a second act: artificial intelligence.

This week, during an interview with Bloomberg, Bitmain CEO Jihan Wu revealed that his company enjoyed approximately $3.5 billion in revenue during 2017. (A spokesperson later said the figure was closer to $2.5 billion and that the CEO had misspoken.) Despite its terrific financial success in the cryptocurrency industry (providing application-specific integrated circuits to miners), Bitmain is not resting on its laurels.

The company appears poised to enter the artificial intelligence (AI) industry. Wu said, that AI "requires lots of computations," a quality that is common between the burgeoning deep learning sector and present-day bitcoin mining. Of course, Bitmain launched its Sophon AI chip in August 2017, perhaps a precursor to additional developments.

Wu's statements this week are notable for a few reasons:

First, regardless of the longevity of individual cryptocurrencies or projects, chip development has clear benefits outside of blockchain technology. While he didn't single out any crypto-specific advances that might prove useful, it's easy to imagine some overlap between the computationally intensive pursuits.

Second, it's curious that Wu expressed concern about Chinese governmental oversight of the cryptocurrency industry. "As a China company," he said, "we have to be prepared." His perspective as a mining insider demonstrates that the Chinese government retains significant control over all activity within its jurisdiction and possibly foreshadows future governmental restrictions. Readers should remember that Chinese authorities forbade initial coin offerings in September 2017 and reportedly asked for the "orderly exit" of cryptocurrency mining operators in January 2018.

This last point is relevant to tech enthusiasts at large. The artificial intelligence industry, unlike the cryptocurrency industry, has the full support of the Chinese government. In July 2017, China's State Council published a development plan that showcased its goal of becoming the global AI leader by 2030.

Matthew De Silva

Matthew has a passion for law and technology. He graduated from Georgetown University, where he studied international economics and music. Matthew enjoys biking and listening to tech podcasts. He lives in Los Angeles.

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