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Arm focuses on AI with its new Cortex-M CPU and Ethos-U NPU

By Frederic Lardinois

Arm today announced two new processors — or one and a half, depending on how you look at it. The company, which designs the chips that power the majority of the world’s cell phones and smart devices, launched both the newest Cortex-M processor (the M55) and the Arm Ethos-U55 micro neural processing unit (NPU).

Like its predecessors, the new Cortex-M55 is Arm’s processor for embedded  devices. By now, its partners have manufactured over 50 billion chips based on the Cortex-M design. This latest version is obviously faster and more power-efficient, but Arm is mostly putting the emphasis on the chip’s machine learning performance. It says the M55, which is the first CPU based on Arm’s Helium technology for speeding up vector calculation, can run ML models up to 15 times faster than the previous version.

For many use cases, the M55 is indeed fast enough, but if you need more ML power, the Ethos-U55 will often be able to give device manufacturers that without having to step up into the Cortex-A ecosystem.  Like Arm’s stand-alone Ethos NPUs, these chips are meant to speed up machine learning workloads. The U55, however, is a simpler design that only works in concert with recent Cortex-M processors like the M55, M33, M7 and M4. The combination of both designs can speed up machine learning performance by up to 480 times.

“When you look back at the most recent years, artificial intelligence has revolutionized how data analytics runs in the cloud and especially with the smartphones, it’s simply augmenting the user experience today,” Thomas Lorenser, Arm’s Director of Product Management, told me. “But the next thing or the next step is even more exciting to me: to get AI everywhere. And here we are talking about bringing the benefits of AI down to the IoT endpoints, including microcontrollers and therefore to a much larger scale of users and applications — literally billions more.”

That’s very much what this combination of Cortex-M and Ethos-U is all about. The idea here is to bring more power to the edge. For a lot of use cases, sending data to the cloud isn’t feasible, after all, and as Loresner stressed, oftentimes turning on the radio and sending the data to the cloud uses more energy than running an AI model locally.

“Although I think a lot of the early discussions in AI were dominated by very loud voices in the cloud space, what we’ve been seeing is the innovation, the actual implementation and deployment, in the IoT space is massive and some of the use cases are fantastic.,” Dennis Laudick, VP Commercial and Marketing for Machine Learning at Arm, added.

Tencent to grow gaming empire with $148M acquisition of Conan publisher Funcom in Norway

By Ingrid Lunden

Tencent, one of the world’s biggest videogaming companies by revenue, today made another move to help cement that position. The Chinese firm has made an offer to fully acquire Funcom, the games developer behind Conan Exiles (and others in the Conan franchise), Dune and some 28 other titles. The deal, when approved, would value the Oslo-based company at $148 million (NOK 1.33 billion) and give the company a much-needed cash injection to follow through on longer-term strategy around its next generation of games.

Funcom is traded publicly on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and the board has already recommended the offer, which is being made at NOK 17 per share, or around 27% higher than its closing share price the day before (Tuesday).

The news is being made with some interesting timing. Today, Tencent competes against the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in terms of mass-market, gaming revenues. But just earlier this week, it was reported that ByteDance — the publisher behind breakout social media app TikTok — was readying its own foray into the world of gaming.

That would set up another level of rivalry between the two companies, since Tencent also has a massive interest in the social media space, specifically by way of its messaging app WeChat . While many consumers will have multiple apps, when it comes down to it, spending money in one represents a constraint on spending money in another.

Today, Tencent is one of the world’s biggest video game companies: in its last reported quarter (Q3 in November), Tencent said that it make RMB28.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in online gaming revenue, with smartphone games accounting for RMB24.3 billion of that.

Acquisitions and controlling stakes form a key part of the company’s growth strategy in gaming. Among its very biggest deals, Tencent paid $8.6 billion for a majority stake in Finland’s Supercell back in 2016. It also has a range of controlling stakes in Riot Games, Epic, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip. These companies, in turn, also are making deals: just earlier this month it was reported (and sources have also told us) that Miniclip acquired Israel’s Ilyon Games (of Bubble Shooter fame) for $100 million.

Turning back to Funcom, Tencent was already an investor in the company: it took a 29% stake in it in September 2019 in a secondary deal, buying out KGJ Capital (which had previously been the biggest shareholder).

“Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games,” said Funcom CEO Rui Casais at the time. “The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

In retrospect, this was laying the groundwork and relationships for a bigger deal just months down the line. 

“We have a great relationship with Tencent as our largest shareholder and we are very excited to be part of the Tencent team,” Casais said in a statement today. “We will continue to develop great games that people all over the world will play, and believe that the support of Tencent will take Funcom to the next level. Tencent will provide Funcom with operational leverage and insights from its vast knowledge as the leading company in the game space.”

The rationale for Funcom is that the company had already determined that it needed further investment in order to follow through on its longer-term strategy.

According to a statement issued before it recommended the offer, the company is continuing to build out the “Open World Survival segment” using the Games-as-a-Service business model (where you pay to fuel up with more credits); and is building an ambitious Dune project set to launch in two years.

“Such increased focus would require a redirection of resources from other initiatives, the most significant being the co-op shooter game, initially scheduled for release during 2020 that has been impacted by scope changes due to external/market pressures with increasingly strong competition and internal delays,” the board writes, and if it goes ahead with its strategy, “It is likely that the Company will need additional financing to supplement the revenue generated from current operations.”