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Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang will receive the chip industry’s highest honor, the Robert N. Noyce Award.
Huang will receive the honor from his peers at the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) annual awards dinner on November 18. The award is named after Intel cofounder Robert Noyce, who is credited with numerous pioneering achievements at the dawn of the chip industry. He was nicknamed the “mayor of Silicon Valley” and known for aphorisms like, “Don’t be encumbered by the past. Go out and do something wonderful.” Noyce passed away in 1990.
The award recognizes a leader who has made outstanding contributions to the semiconductor industry in technology or public policy.
SIA president and CEO John Neuffer said in a statement that Huang’s extraordinary vision and tireless execution have greatly strengthened the chip industry, revolutionized computing, and advanced artificial intelligence. He said Huang’s accomplishments have fueled countless innovations — from gaming to scientific computing to self-driving cars — and he continues to advance technologies that will transform the industry and the world.
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Huang founded Nvidia in 1993 and has served as CEO since its inception. Starting out in 3D graphics, 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.
Nvidia went on to help build the 3D gaming market into 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 $490 billion on the stock market and employs 20,000 people.
On to the metaverse
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.
Last year, the Noyce award went to Lisa Su, CEO of rival Advanced Micro Devices. She mentioned to me once that Huang is actually a distant relative of hers.
“I am honored to receive the 2021 Noyce Award and do so on behalf of my colleagues at Nvidia, whose body of work this award recognizes,” Huang said. “It has been the greatest joy and privilege to have grown up with the semiconductor and computer industries, two that so profoundly impact the world. As we enter the era of AI, robotics, digital biology, and the metaverse, we will see super-exponential technology advances. There’s never been a more exciting or important time to be in the semiconductor and computer industries.”
He 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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