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Jensen Huang NTU Commencement Speech 2023
Either you're running for food or you are running from becoming food.
Jensen Huang, two days after Nvidia's historic quarterly earnings, delivered the commencement speech at National Taiwan University – one of the elite universities in Taiwan.
He shared three near-death Nvidia stories – making the wrong architecture choice when building for its first customer Sega, betting the company on CUDA, and retreating from Android and the mobile phone market.
He also shared some inspiring but grounded messages about entrepreneurship, humility, and perseverance in the AI era, which everyone regardless of where we are in life can probably benefit from. I think this speech is as good, and could be as impactful, as Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech.
So below is my transcription of his speech for our readers, with a video of the full speech in the end. I hope you enjoy what Jensen, one of the best entrepreneurs and CEOs of our time, has to say.
Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed faculty members, distinguished guests, proud parents, and above all, the 2023 graduating class of the National Taiwan University.
Today is a very special day for you. And a dream come true for your parents. You should be moving out soon! It is surely a day of pride and joy. Your parents have made sacrifices to see you on this day.
(In Chinese) My father and mother are also here. My brother is also here. // 我爸爸妈妈也在。我哥哥也在。
(Back to English)
They're right here. Let's show all of our parents and our grandparents, many of them are here, our appreciation. I came to NTU for the first time over a decade ago. Dr. Chang invited me to visit his computational physics lab.
As I recall, his son, based in Silicon Valley, had learned of Nvidia's CUDA invention and recommended his father utilize it for his quantum physics simulations. When I arrived, he opened the door to show me what he had made.
Nvidia GeForce gaming cards filled the room, plugged into open PC motherboards and sitting on metal shelves in the aisles were oscillating Datong fans. Dr. Chang had built a homemade supercomputer, the Taiwanese way, out of gaming graphics cards.
And he started here an early example of Nvidia's journey. He was so proud and he said to me, Mr. Huang, because of your work, I can do my life's work in my lifetime. Those words touch me to this day and perfectly capture our company's purpose: to help the Einstein and Da Vinci of our time do their lives work.
I am so happy to be back at NTU and to be your commencement address. The world was simpler when I graduated from Oregon State University. TVs were not flat yet. There was no cable television and MTV. And the words “mobile” and “phone” didn't go together.
The year was 1984. The IBM PC AT and Apple Macintosh launched the PC revolution and started the chip and software industry that we know today. You enter a far more complex world with geopolitical, social and environmental changes and challenges.
Surrounded by technology, we are now perpetually connected and immersed in a digital world that parallels our real world. Cars are starting to drive by themselves. 40 years after the computer industry created the home PC, we invented artificial intelligence.
Like software that automatically drives a car or studies X ray images. AI software has opened the door for computers to automate tasks, for the world's largest multi-trillion dollar industries – healthcare, financial services, transportation, and manufacturing.
AI has opened immense opportunities. Agile companies will take advantage of AI and boost their positions. Companies less so will perish. Entrepreneurs, many of them here today, will start new companies and like in every computing era before, create new industries.
AI will create new jobs that didn't exist before. Like data engineering, prompt engineering, AI factory operations, and AI safety engineers. These are jobs that never existed before. Automated tasks will obsolete some jobs, and for sure, AI will change every job. Supercharging the performance of programmers, designers, artists, marketers, and manufacturing planners.
Just like every generation before you embraced technologies to succeed, every company, and you, must learn to take advantage of AI and do amazing things with an AI copilot by your side. While some worry that AI may take their jobs, someone who is an expert with AI will.
We are at the beginning of a major technology era, like PC, Internet, mobile, and cloud. But AI is far more fundamental, because every computing layer has been reinvented. From how we write software to how it's processed, AI has reinvented computing from the ground up.
In every way, this is a rebirth of the computer industry and a golden opportunity for the companies of Taiwan. You are the foundation and bedrock of the computer industry. Within the next decade, our industry will replace over a trillion dollars of the world's traditional computers with new accelerated AI computers.
My journey started 40 years before yours. 1984 was a perfect year to graduate. I predict that 2023 will be as well. What can I tell you as you begin your journey?
Today is the most successful day of your life so far. You're graduating from the National Taiwan University. I was also successful…until I started Nvidia.
At Nvidia, I experienced failures. Great big ones, all humiliating and embarrassing. Many nearly doomed us. Let me tell you three Nvidia stories that defined us today.
We founded Nvidia to create accelerated computing. Our first application was 3D graphics for PC gaming. We invented an unconventional 3D approach called forward texture mapping and curves. Our approach was substantially lower cost. We won a contract with Sega to build their game console, which attracted games for our platform and funded our company.
After one year of development, we realized our architecture was the wrong strategy. It was technically poor, and Microsoft was about to announce Windows 95 Direct 3D, based on inverse texture mapping and triangles.
Many companies were already working on 3D chips to support this standard. If we completed Sega's game console, we would have built inferior technology, be incompatible with Windows, and be too far behind to catch up. But we would be out of money if we didn't finish the contract. Either way, we would be out of business.
I contacted the CEO of Sega and explained that our invention was the wrong approach, that Sega should find another partner, and that we could not complete the contract and the console.
We had to stop. But I needed Sega to pay us in whole or Nvidia would be out of business. I was embarrassed to ask. The CEO of Sega, to his credit and my amazement, agreed. His understanding and generosity gave us six months to live.
With that, we built RIVA 128 just as we were running out of money. RIVA 128 shocked the young 3D market, put us on the map, and saved the company. The strong demand for our chip led me back to Taiwan, after leaving at the age of four, to meet Morris Chang at TSMC, and started a partnership that has lasted 25 years.
Confronting our mistake, and with humility asking for help, saved Nvidia. These traits are the hardest for the brightest and most successful, like yourself.
In 2007, we announced CUDA GPU accelerated computing. Our aspiration was for CUDA to become a programming model that boosts applications from scientific computing and physics simulations, to image processing. Creating a new computing model is incredibly hard and rarely done in history. The CPU computing model has been the standard for 60 years, since the IBM System 360.
CUDA needed developers to write applications and demonstrate the benefits of the GPU. Developers needed a large installed base. And a large CUDA install base needed customers buying new applications. So to solve the chicken or the egg problem, we used GeForce, our gaming GPU, which already had a large market of gamers to build the install base.
But the added cost of CUDA was very high. Nvidia's profits took a huge hit. For many years, our market cap hovered just above $1 billion. We suffered many years of poor performance. Our shareholders were skeptical of CUDA, and preferred we focus on improving profitability.
But we persevered. We believed the time for accelerated computing would come. We created a conference called GTC and promoted CUDA tirelessly worldwide. Then the applications came: seismic processing, CT reconstruction, molecular dynamics, particle physics, fluid dynamics, and image processing. One science domain after another, they came. We worked with each developer to write their algorithms and achieved incredible speed ups.
Then, in 2012, AI researchers discovered CUDA. The famous AlexNet trained on GeForce GTX 580 started the big bang of AI. Fortunately, we realized the potential of deep learning as a whole new software approach and turned every aspect of our company to advance this new field.
We risked everything to pursue deep learning. A decade later, the AI revolution started and Nvidia is the engine of AI developers worldwide. We invented CUDA and pioneered accelerated computing and AI. But the journey forged our corporate character to endure the pain and suffering that is always needed to realize a vision.
One more story. In 2010, Google aimed to develop Android into a mobile computer with excellent graphics.
The phone industry had chip companies with modem expertise. Nvidia's computing and graphics expertise made us an ideal partner to help build Android. So we entered the mobile chip market. We were instantly successful and our business and stock price surged. The competition quickly swarmed. Modem chip makers were learning how to build computing chips and we were learning how to build modems.
The phone market is huge. We could fight for share. Instead, we made a hard decision and sacrificed the market. Nvidia's mission is to build computers to solve problems that ordinary computers cannot. We should dedicate ourselves to realizing our vision and to making a unique contribution.
Our strategic retreat paid off.
By leaving the phone market, we opened our minds to invent a new one. We imagined creating a new type of computer for robotic computers with neural network processor, safety architectures that run AI algorithms.
At the time, this was a zero billion dollar market. To retreat from a giant phone market to create a zero billion dollar robotics market, we now have billions of dollars of automotive and robotics business and started a new industry.
Retreat does not come easily to the brightest and most successful people like yourself. Yet strategic retreat, sacrifice, deciding what to give up is at the core, the very core, of success. Class of 2023, you're about to go into a world witnessing great change.
And just as I was with the PC and chip revolution, you are at the beginning, at the starting line of AI. Every industry will be revolutionized, reborn, ready for new ideas. Your ideas. In 40 years, we created the PC, Internet, mobile, cloud, and now the AI era.
What will you create? Whatever it is, run after it like we did. Run, don't walk. Remember, either you're running for food or you are running from being food.
Either you're running for food or you are running from becoming food. And oftentimes you can't tell which. Either way, run! And for your journey, take along some of my learnings, that you will have humility to confront failure, admit mistake, and ask for help.
You will endure the pain and suffering needed to realize your dreams. And you will make sacrifices to dedicate yourself to a life of purpose and doing your life's work. Class of 2023 I extend my heartfelt congratulations to each one of you.
(In Chinese) Go get’em // 加油!