Several Google engineers have left secretive AI project to form start-up


Google has slowly been pulling back the curtain on homegrown silicon that could define the future of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Some key creators of that project — the Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU — recently left to team up with Chamath Palihapitiya, one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent and outspoken young venture investors, on a stealth start-up.

Groq Inc. is the name of the company, at least for the time being.

There are no promotional materials or website. All that exists online are a couple SEC filings from October and December showing that the company raised $10.3 million, and an incorporation filing in the state of Delaware on Sept. 12.

“We’re really excited about Groq,” Palihapitiya wrote in an e-mail. “It’s too early to talk specifics, but we think what they’re building could become a fundamental building block for the next generation of computing.”

Groq names three principals in the SEC documents: Jonathan Ross, who helped invent the TPU, Douglas Wightman, an entrepreneur and former engineer at the Google X “moonshot factory” and Palihapitiya, founder of investment firm Social Capital. The listed address is Social Capital’s headquarters.

Palihapitiya told CNBC last month that he invested in a team of ex-Googlers who helped build the chip, which he first heard about on an earnings call 2 ½ years ago.

“They randomly mentioned that they built their own chip for AI and I thought, ‘what is going on here, why is Google competing with Intel?'” Palihapitiya said in an interview on “Squawk Box.”

The company (which we now know is Groq) now has eight of the first 10 people from the TPU team “building a next-generation chip,” he said.

All start-ups are hard, but a new chip company is something most venture capitalists won’t touch. The research and development costs required to get a working prototype can be exorbitant. Then there’s manufacturing and the Herculean challenge of finding device makers to take a chance on unproven technology.

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