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OpenAI Agreed to Buy $51 Million of AI Chips From a Startup Backed by CEO Sam Altman


US concern about Prosperity7’s deal with Rain also raises questions about another effort by Altman to increase the world’s supply of AI chips. He has talked to investors in the Middle East in recent months about raising money to start a new chip company to help OpenAI and others diversify beyond their current reliance on Nvidia GPUs and specialized chips from Google, Amazon, and a few smaller suppliers, according to two people seeking anonymity to discuss private talks.

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Rain, founded in 2017, has claimed that its brain-inspired NPUs will yield potentially 100 times more computing power and, for training, 10,000 times greater energy efficiency than GPUs, the graphics chips that are the workhorses for AI developers such as OpenAI and primarily sourced from Nvidia.

Altman led one of Rain’s seed financings in 2018, the company has said, the year before OpenAI agreed to spend $51 million on its chips. Rain now has about 40 employees, including experts in both AI algorithm development and traditional chip design, according the disclosures.

The startup appears to have quietly changed its CEO this year, and now lists founding CEO Gordon Wilson as executive adviser on its website, with former white-shoe law firm attorney Passo gaining a promotion to CEO from COO.

Wilson confirmed his exit in a LinkedIn post Thursday, but did not provide a reason. “Rain is poised to build a product that will define new AI chip markets and massively disrupt existing ones,” he wrote. “Moving forward I will continue to help Rain in every way I can.” Over 400 LinkedIn users, including some whose profiles say they are Rain employees, commented on Wilson’s post or reacted to it with a heart or thumbs-up emoji—Passo wasn’t among them. Wilson declined to comment for this story.

The company will search for an industry veteran to permanently replace Wilson, according to an October note to investors seen by WIRED.

Rain’s initial chips are based on the RISC-V open source architecture endorsed by Google, Qualcomm, and other tech companies and aimed at what the tech industry calls edge devices, located far from data centers, such as phones, drones, cars, and robots. Rain aims to provide a chip capable of both training machine algorithms and running them once they’re ready for deployment. Most edge chip designs today, like those found in smartphones, focus on the latter, known as inference. How OpenAI would use Rain chips could not be determined.