Samsung has committed $22 billion over the next three years to fund technology development in artificial intelligence (AI), 5G telecommunications, automotive electronics components, and biopharmaceuticals.
Most of the money is expected to be directed toward Samsung Electronics, which accounts for the majority of the tech giant’s revenue. From the description of the investment in the press announcement, it looks like the major focus will be on AI and 5G, two areas critical to Samsung’s electronics manufacturing business.
With regard to AI, Samsung is expecting to increase the number of researchers in this area to 1,000, which will be spread across its global AI centers. Although not explicitly referenced in the announcement, Samsung, like many of its competitors, has been developing artificial intelligence chips for its smartphones to imbue these devices with more advanced AI capabilities. And as cars transform into intelligent devices, AI has also become a crucial element in automotive electronics.
Also not explicitly mentioned is Samsung’s fledging GPU development, which is initially targeted to graphics for its smartphone business, but could end up to fulfilling more generalized roles in AI and data analytics. The company’s GPU effort is being led by Dr. Chien-Ping Lu, an NVIDIA alum who developed the nForce integrated graphics processor.
The 5G investments will go toward developing chipsets and related devices. Unlike previous telecommunication technologies, 5G will provide the necessary performance required across a wide array of applications in areas such as autonomous driving, the Internet of Things, and robotics.
Although Samsung didn’t explicitly earmark the entire $22 billion for R&D, it’s safe to assume that most of it will be spent for this function. The announcement actually described a total investment of more than $160 billion that will go toward capital expenditures, business expansion, and ecosystem development; the $22 billion was just the component directed toward technology development.
In general, Samsung has not been a big spender in R&D relative to its revenue. An analysis by IC Insights determined the company spent just 5.2 percent ($3.4 billion) of its revenue on research development in 2017 – the lowest recorded by the top 10 semiconductor companies. Intel, the industry leader in this regard, spent 21.2 percent ($13.1 billion) of its revenue on R&D. In that sense, the Samsung investments can be seen as an attempt to bring the company more in line with its competition.
Whether any of this new Samsung R&D money and any subsequent chips that emerge from it make their way into server-side hardware and high performance computing environments, remains to be seen. With the exception of its memory and SSD products, the company doesn’t much of a presence in the datacenter. Thus far, Samsung has been generally content to keep its chip IP on the client side. But if the history of companies like Intel and NVIDIA is any guide, that could certainly change.