It was found out over the weekend that Samsung Electronics apparently invested in a Chinese artificial intelligence startup called DeePhi Tech in August. Industry sources are now claiming that the South Korean company’s move was likely due to political consideration. 

In an interview with The Korea Herald, one industry source disclosed that Samsung made a big investment in the Tsinghua-based startup that focuses on deep learning technologies. However, the decision to invest in the 1-year-old company is said to be not primarily due to DeePhi Tech’s expertise. Instead, it is believed to be politically motivated. 

“Samsung appears to have made considerable investment in the Chinese company, in line with the Chinese government’s move to foster homegrown AI tech firms,” the source said. “The investment could have been made out of political consideration, not necessarily over the company’s technological prowess.”

On the other hand, there is also information saying Samsung invested in DeePhi Tech for it is interested in the latter’s neural network-based AI chipsets for portable devices. Such technology is capable of quick speech recognition, neural language processing and other vital recognition tasks on smartphones. 

This is corroborated by Samsung Electronics’ system LSI business senior researcher Kim Il-san’s statement at the Semiconductor Exhibition 2017 last Thursday about the imminent adoption of neural processing units or NPUs in smartphones. “Because it is inefficient to have the current CPUs in smartphones to process deep learning algorithms, adding NPUs will become a mainstream trend,” Kim Il-san said. “It is still difficult to comment on NPU adoption in the following Samsung Galaxy phones.” 

Meanwhile, it was also recently found out that South Korean mobile carrier SK Telecom has also offered an investment to DeePhi Tech this summer. However, the startup turned down the offer for some undisclosed reason. 

This isn’t the first time that Samsung invested in a foreign startup. In late October, it was disclosed that Samsung was among the firms that raised the $30 million fund for U.K.-based computer chip startup Graphcore. The startup was reportedly creating an Intelligent Processing Unit (IPU) system that will be used in various applications including driverless cars, cloud computing and many others. 

In a phone interview with CNBC, Graphcore CEO Nigel Toon claimed that Graphic Processing Units (GPUs) — chips that are currently used in running machine learning technologies — won’t be as useful in the future. “GPUs have been built to run programs that completely describe the algorithm. Machine learning is different. You are trying to teach the system using data and that requires a different style of compute,” Toon said at the time. 

Toon also revealed what led big companies to invest in its chips. “We have Bosch as a strategic investor, we have Samsung as an investor and Bosch is interested in autonomous vehicles and the next generation of transportation, while Samsung is interested in missing word edge of network devices,” Toon said. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Samsung invested in both Graphcore and DeePhi Tech though. An official from the tech giant has after all confirmed that the Galaxy Note 8 maker has decided to increase its investments in AI-related startups around the world moving forward. 

Samsung Samsung has reportedly invested in Chinese AI startup DeePhi Tech. Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji