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Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang named one of Time’s most influential people

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Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang has built Nvidia into the most valuable chip company in the U.S. It’s a pioneer in both graphics and artificial intelligence technology. And now the awards are catching up with him, as he was named one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people.

On November 18, he will also receive the chip industry’s highest honor, the Robert N. Noyce Award. These recognitions for Huang — as well as others who made Time’s list (Tesla founder Elon Musk and Apple CEO Tim Cook) — show how important the technologies that his company has built have become to the world.

“Artificial intelligence is transforming our world,” wrote computer scientist Andrew Ng in the story on Huang. “The software that enables computers to do things that once required human perception and judgment depends largely on hardware made possible by Jensen Huang.”

Above: Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang is one of Time’s 100 most influential people for 2021.

Huang founded Nvidia in 1993 and has served as CEO since its inception. (Huang showed me a demo of the company’s graphics chip and its “Windows accelerator” application. That was when I was at the San Jose Mercury News in 1995, and it was Huang’s first interview with the press).

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The rapid innovations in 3D hardware for gaming were a big part of why it became the world’s largest entertainment industry. More recently, Nvidia tapped the parallel processing it used for its graphics processing units (GPUs) to do non-graphics compute tasks. That turned into a huge application in AI, where Nvidia’s chips are becoming the brains of computers, robots, and self-driving cars.

In the over 25 years since the company’s first chip, scene complexity in computer graphics has increased around 500 million times, Huang said. Moore’s Law, which predicts chip performance will double every couple of years, would have increased only 100,000 times in the same period if unaided by better chip design.

That relentless innovation has paid off. Nvidia is now worth $555 billion on the stock market and employs 20,000 people. Much of that growth came as Nvidia saw huge success in AI.

“Huang’s gamble paid off largely because he is among the world’s most technically savvy CEOs,” wrote Ng. “He’s also a compassionate steward of his employees and a generous supporter of education in science and technology. With still emerging AI technologies creating an insatiable hunger for more computation, Huang’s team is well-positioned to keep driving technological advances for decades to come.”

On to the metaverse

Above: Jensen Huang is CEO of Nvidia. He gave a virtual keynote at the recent GTC event.

Huang is also a fan of the intersection between science fiction and technology and has recently been talking more about the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.

Huang is a recipient of the IEEE Founder’s Medal; the Dr. Morris Chang Exemplary Leadership Award; and honorary doctorate degrees from Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University, National Taiwan University, and Oregon State University. In 2019, Harvard Business Review ranked him No. 1 on its list of the world’s 100 best-performing CEOs over the lifetime of their tenure. In 2017, he was named Fortune‘s Businessperson of the Year.

Prior to founding Nvidia, Huang worked at LSI Logic and Advanced Micro Devices. He holds a BSEE degree from Oregon State University and an MSEE degree from Stanford University.

Above: Jensen Huang in his early years as an engineer.

He also recently received a distinguished lifetime achievement award by the Asian American Engineer of the Year from the Chinese Institute of Engineers (CIE) group. Huang pointed out he was “destined to be an engineer,” as his father was an engineer in Taiwan. His brothers were engineers, and his wife, Lori, whom he met as a sophomore at Oregon State University, is also an engineer.

In his acceptance speech for the CIE award, Huang made a rare comment beyond Nvidia’s business matters, noting the scourge of recent anti-Asian violence: “Racism is one flywheel we must stop.”

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