India courts IBM, Intel, and Tower for chip partnerships - all in one day

Big Blue in early talks to advance local RISC-V designs

India’s pursuit of a slice of the world’s semiconductor industry has seen it court three major players – Intel, Tower Semiconductors, and IBM – on a single day.

The Intel and Tower talks appear to have been broad. Tech Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar met with Tower CEO Russell Ellwanger in an exchange he described as a discussion about a “partnership in semiconductors” without elaborating further.

The minister wrote that his Intel meeting, with Chipzilla chief operating officer Keyvan Esfarjani, covered “how to grow the India-Intel partnership from current level to pursue the many opportunities in Semicon, Electronics, AI, global talent requirements, research and infrastructure.”

Big Blue got the most attention after signing three memorandums of agreement, one of which will see IBM become a partner of the India Semiconductor Mission (ISM), New Delhi’s $10 billion plan plan to attract companies willing to build chip plants on its shores.

IBM’s partnership may see it “share its experience with ISM on intellectual property, tools, initiatives, and skills development, aimed at promoting innovation in semiconductor technologies such as logic, advanced packaging and heterogeneous integration, and advanced chip design technologies, using modernized infrastructure.”

Buried in IBM’s announcement of the partnership is something a little more interesting: Chandrasekhar stating his ministry is “… in early talks with IBM to add to our indigenous microprocessor strategy of our DIR-V and RISC-V processor.”

India has created a program to create home-grown processors that Chandrasekhar has said will deliver “industry-grade silicon and design wins by December 2023."

At the time of writing, there’s no evidence that goal will be met.

The other two MoUs India signed with IBM cover AI and quantum computing.

There’s not much certainty about what the pair will do in the latter field, with India’s government describing an intention to “explore opportunities for working together to support the advancement of India’s National Quantum Mission by building competency in quantum computing technology, applications in areas of national interest, and a skilled quantum workforce.”

The AI collaboration is more defined, with India and IBM to “establish a world-class national AI Innovation Platform (AIIP) for India that will focus on AI skilling, ecosystem development, and integrating advanced foundation models and generative AI capabilities”.

AIIP will have access to IBM’s watsonx platform, “including the ability to use models in language, code and geospatial science with the intent to train models for other domains as needed.”

In other words, India’s a customer.

India’s government has well and truly hopped on the AI bandwagon, consistent with government policy that the nation has embarked on a “techade” of activity in which digital technology of all sorts will become more prevalent, and potent, across the public and private sectors.

That plan highlights India’s tricky relationship with big tech, which is often called on to contribute to economic development even as India also works to ensure local companies aren’t stymied by foreign companies’ power and first mover advantage. IBM can more easily escape that sort of attention because it’s a pure business-to-business company and therefore doesn’t impact individual lives in the same way as Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. ®

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