Nvidia CEO Touts India as Major AI Market in Bid to Hedge China Risks

During a five-day tour of India earlier this month, Nvidia Corp. Chief Executive Officer Jensen Huang visited four cities, dined with tech executives and researchers, took numerous selfies, and sat for a one-on-one conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the AI sector. Huang’s India itinerary was so crammed that he confessed to surviving entire work days on spicy masala omelets and cold coffees.

Huang may have been treated like a head of state, but the trip’s purpose was all business. For Nvidia, whose graphics processors are vital to the development of artificial intelligence systems, the South Asian nation of 1.4 billion people presents a rare opportunity. As the US increasingly clamps down on exports of high-end chips to China and the world seeks an alternative electronics manufacturing base, India could shape up to be a source of AI talent, site for chip production and market for Nvidia’s products.

At a meeting with leading researchers in Delhi, Huang spoke of re-training entire swaths of the country’s workforce and building future AI models using Indian data and talent, according to multiple attendees. Huang also told one executive in India’s tech hub Bangalore that he’s a big believer in the country’s engineering talent, particularly graduates from its top engineering schools, Indian Institutes of Technology.

“You have the data, you have the talent,” Huang said at a news conference in Bangalore. Huang added: “This is going to be one of the largest AI markets in the world.”

Nvidia and India have a shared interest in betting on, and speeding up, the country’s AI ascendancy. Chipmakers cannot sell top-end microprocessors to China, which accounts for a fifth of Nvidia’s sales, amid fears the chips could be used to develop autonomous weaponry or wage cyberwarfare. “India is the only market remaining so it isn’t surprising that Nvidia wants to put multiple eggs in that basket,” said Neil Shah, vice president of research at Counterpoint Technology Market Research.

While Indian engineers are a vital part of the digital workforce, the country is still far away from developing the cutting-edge capabilities needed to manufacture Nvidia’s sophisticated chips. But India has ambitions to boost electronics manufacturing as well as harness AI to buoy its digital economy. The country is plowing billions in subsidies to set up chip manufacturing infrastructure to lure the likes of Nvidia, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp.