Unleashing new frontiers: From chips to industries

This article is part of a Technology and Innovation Insights series paid for by Samsung. 

On this week’s The Next Wave, Young Sohn sits down with Arm CEO Simon Segars to discuss the blockbuster acquisition of his company by NVIDIA, announced in September. Over the course of their fascinating and wide-ranging conversation, they also dive deep into the future of computing and communications, covering such critical areas as 5G, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and hyper-secure networks.

Few companies in the world have had a greater influence on mobile computing than Arm. Over 180 billion semiconductor chips built on Arm’s efficient, low-power designs provide the key architecture for the essential devices of modern life — from smartphones and personal computers to datacenters. Now, Arm-based chips are poised to become the backbone of the Internet of Things, as everyday objects like lightbulbs, refrigerators, even sneakers get connected to the internet.

And Arm is about to get a lot more influential. The $40 billion acquisition by tech giant NVIDIA means that, unless you live off the grid, Arm-based chips will become and even more integral part of your daily life.

Arm CEO Simon Segars admits that his business is slightly unusual and often misunderstood. The company is typically described as a chip company — but that isn’t really what it does.

Yes, Arm designs microprocessors. But instead of putting those microprocessors inside chips, Arm licenses its designs to semiconductor companies. In essence, these companies use Arm designs as the building blocks for the complex devices they make.

“When the company was formed, we did not know what the killer application would be. But it turns out that embedding an intelligent microprocessor in pretty much any application can be incredibly useful.”

Arm recently turned 30 years old and Segars has been there since the start. In fact, he was lucky enough to be the 16th employee, working out of a converted turkey barn in the middle of the countryside in Cambridge, England. Today, he sometimes has to pinch himself when thinking about all that Arm has achieved.

In the latest episode of Samsung’s interview series “The Next Wave with Young Sohn,” Segars talks to Sohn about his company’s journey, how it has transformed the tech landscape, and how it will continue to shape the future of computing.

Creating a global standard

Segars recalls early days when he and his colleagues went knocking on doors, trying to convince people that if they wanted to put a processor inside their chip, it would be a good idea to help establish a global standard, because that would ultimately drive down costs. Arm’s goal from day one, he says, was to create this global standard for intelligence inside chips.

“The goal from day one was to create this global standard that would put intelligence inside chips, and that has turned out to be incredibly successful. By building this ecosystem, both the customer and the consumer can be successful.”

Arm had the radical idea — at least for the time — that if you could reduce power use as much as possible, then you would open the door to the creation of many more devices. The approach was to investigate where power was being consumed, then use smart design techniques to make the processor as energy efficient as possible.

Arm’s approach turned out to be wildly successful, enabling the company to build an industry-leading ecosystem that enables both customers and consumers to benefit tremendously.

AI: the next big thing

Arm is embarking on an exciting new chapter as it approaches its $40 billion acquisition by NVIDIA. Looking back, Segars says the ability to put so much intelligence in a piece of silicon at so little cost drove an explosion in the number of end devices. But, looking forward, he sees a transition ahead.

Specifically, he points to massive advances in the field of artificial intelligence. He believes the next generation of applications will be powered by a combination of conventional computing and AI-driven techniques and models, with data being used to search for patterns and make decisions in an autonomous way.

Both Arm and NVIDIA see AI becoming as pervasive in the future as conventional computing is today. By combining the strength of Arm (its ability to build great ecosystems) with the strength of NVIDIA (its accomplishments in the field of high-performance AI), the two will be uniquely positioned to influence the shape of AI — and future of computing.

What’s next

So what’s the next high-growth area for Arm beyond smartphones and mobile devices? Segars says there are a number of markets that will drive the next stage of expansion. The first is 5G and the advent of faster, low-latency, high-bandwidth 5G networks that can connect anything, anywhere, with improved performance, efficiency, and cost. As 5G continues to evolve, Arm-powered solutions will help more companies take advantage of its potential — from the compute infrastructure through to the network and device.

Arm will also benefit from the rise of IoT, as the company powers new IoT applications and business models to deliver value and improve operational efficiencies. Further, Arm has self-driving vehicles in its sights, with the recent introduction of new chip designs intended to make it easier for autonomous car developers to bring their creations to market.

The bottom line is that computing when combined with the lowest power footprint can improve our day-to-day lives and address the hardest problems we’ll face in the coming years, such as climate change, food security, and clean energy.

And Arm will be there. Segars believes that if you make it easier for people to access technology, you help spark their imagination and enable them to come up with ideas you never could have thought of on you own. And, ultimately, those ideas will change the world.

Catch up on all the episodes of The Next Wave including conversations with VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger, the CRO & CMO of Factory Berlin, the CEO of Solarisbank, the CEO of Axel Springer, the CEO of wefox, Rafaèle Tordjman, President and Founder of Jeito Capital, and Mobileye’s CoFounder and CEO, Amnon Shashua. 

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