AI a future driver of IC market growth, says Etron chair

Siu Han, Taipei; Eifeh Strom, DIGITIMES Asia 0


Artificial intelligence (AI) will be a major application driving the growth of the global semiconductor market, according to Nicky Lu, chairman of IC design house Etron Technology and head of the AI on Chip Taiwan Alliance (AITA).

Lu believes AI development in the coming three to five years will be crucial, and due to Taiwan's critical role in the global semiconductor industry, AI development could become another economic lifeline for the country.

Lu also pointed to the importance of AI software and hardware development progressing together, as both are needed to achieve optimal results. That is why Lu is optimistic about AI-on-chip development.

According to estimates, AI software could have a market cap opportunity of US$80 trillion by 2030, deeply affecting every market, including finance, defense, consumer, and food. AI hardware is expected to reach US$2 trillion. Based on this, AI software has the potential to increase semiconductor value by 40 times.

Lu likened the current AI industry to Taiwan's semiconductor industry 30 years ago, adding that investment now will pay off later.

At present, AI use is goal-oriented, meaning it answers the needs of users. Lu believes that all goal-oriented applications can be solved with AI in the future, and will be replaced by more and more specialized AI, becoming a circular chain.

The complexity of the industrial cycle means that Taiwan must start training young talent now, Lu said, pointing out that AI requires a lot of software application talent, which is a current pain point for Taiwan.

Taiwan's semiconductor industry will begin mass production of 3nm chips in 2023 and begin R&D for 1.5nm. Lu believes that Taiwan's foundation in semiconductors will allow it to maintain its position as an industry leader for another 10 years, but after that, AI-led systems applications will become key.

To strengthen the semiconductor industry, Taiwan must build up its AI and microsystem capabilities. Taiwan already has semiconductors, AI design, and systems that others do not. As a result, Etron is optimistic Taiwan could gain 20% of the global AI chip market share in the future.

At present, Etron's AI layout includes vision systems with memory. Customers have already placed orders and been sent samples, according to Lu.

Findings from the Taiwan IC Design White Paper referred to China's active development of mature processes possibly surpassing Taiwan's IC industry in the future. Lu shares this concern and agrees that Taiwan's Chips Act should provide resources for IC design and AI development.

More government resources should also be put into solving the talent shortage problem in Taiwan, noting that children as young as eight can begin learning AI capabilities. Furthermore, in addition to general education, industrial education, including AI campuses, should be pushed.

Nicky Lu, chairman of Etron Technology and head of AI on Chip Taiwan Alliance (AITA). Credit: DIGITIMES

Nicky Lu, chairman of Etron Technology and head of AI on Chip Taiwan Alliance (AITA). Credit: DIGITIMES