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OpenAI CEO mulls visiting Seoul to seek chip partner

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Jan. 22, 2024 - 15:25

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SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won (left) and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (SK Group, AP-Yonhap) SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won (left) and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (SK Group, AP-Yonhap)

Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, is reportedly arranging a meeting with SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won on his trip to Korea this week, as he seeks to meet a growing need for semiconductors while reducing reliance on the US artificial intelligence chip leader, Nvidia.

Altman’s upcoming visit will mark his first in seven months since he was in Seoul at the invitation of the Ministry of SMEs and Startups in June 2023. The OpenAI chief previously showed a strong willingness to explore joint chip collaborations with domestic chipmakers to develop AI accelerators in his meeting with businesspeople here.

The OpenAI chief is likely to discuss AI chip cooperation with major semiconductor industry figures here during his visit, as well as seeking to establish a stable memory supply chain with SK by pursuing a meeting with Chey, according to industry sources Monday.

SK hynix, SK Group’s chipmaking unit, has ​​rapidly increased its dominance in the high bandwidth memory market. In 2022, the memory chipmaker became the first company to supply its fourth-generation HBM product, HBM3, to Nvidia. The mass production of HBM3E, which is the extended version of HBM3, is scheduled to begin in the first half of the year.

"If the two firms agree to enhance the AI alliance, SK will have a powerful AI firm as its key customer and OpenAI will also secure stable product procurement to compete against Nvidia," an industry source said on condition of anonymity. An SK Group official, however, has not officially confirmed the two chiefs' meeting in Seoul.

Industry sources also noted the possibility of OpenAI cooperating with Samsung Electronics, as they believed that the US AI company needs to enhance cooperation in diverse areas from foundries and packaging to HBM, in order to produce high-performance semiconductors sufficient to be used for ChatGPT.

Another anonymous source said, "Samsung Electronics is highly regarded in the AI chip market for having both foundry and memory semiconductor manufacturing capabilities. Accordingly, OpenAI may look for not only technological cooperation with Samsung, but also investment opportunities from the tech giant."

Meanwhile, Altman is reportedly working on a new project worth billions of dollars to develop the chips required to train and build AI systems, and the plants required to fabricate them, and ensure an adequate chip supply.

The 38-year-old CEO is in talks with investors in the United Arab Emirates about funding the ambitious new project, while he is in talks with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., about a partnership to fabricate the chips.

Other firms that have held discussions with Altman include Abu Dhabi-based G42 and Japan's SoftBank, according to media reports.