In the chip and microprocessor design and manufacturing world, few names command the same kind of respect as Jim Keller. Jim has worked with two of the biggest brands in consumer electronics – AMD and Apple – where he was responsible for some of the most innovative chip design in years (the K7 (Athlon) and K8 (Ryzen) CPU cores at AMD and the A4 and A5 chipsets at Apple). Jim joined electric automobile manufacturer Tesla in late 2015, where he was leading the company’s work on building a new AI chip for its self-driving vehicles – until yesterday. It is now confirmed that Jim has quit his job at Tesla to join the biggest name in chip manufacturing – Intel.
Jim’s move to Intel is likely to raise a few eyebrows, as he was instrumental in developing the AMD processor that became the first major challenge to Intel’s dominance in the microprocessor space. However, in the years since, Jim focused his attention on other projects, and Intel, for its part, has seen its once-unparalleled supremacy in microprocessors come steadily under threat, particularly in the mobile, desktop, and server verticals. Hence, the decision to hire Jim might make a lot of sense for a company that is trying hard to regain its innovative edge and regain the ground it has lost to rivals in the last few years.
The biggest loser because of this change will undoubtedly be Tesla. Elon Musk’s company is in dire straits, with the production of its Model 3 sedan severely behind schedule. Tesla halted the production of the Model 3 for the second time earlier this month, ostensibly because of over-reliance on automation. At the time, CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake…Humans are underrated.” However, automation is a cornerstone of Tesla’s vision for the future of its vehicles, and the company needs all the support it can get in the field, particularly as it comes under intense scrutiny after an accident in San Francisco last month where a Model X vehicle crashed while on Autopilot, killing the driver.
In a statement to Electrek, a Tesla spokesperson confirmed the news of Jim’s departure, saying, “Today is Jim Keller’s last day at Tesla, where he has overseen low-voltage hardware, Autopilot software, and infotainment. Prior to joining Tesla, Jim’s core passion was microprocessor engineering and he’s now joining a company where he’ll be able to once again focus on this exclusively. We appreciate his contributions to Tesla and wish him the best.” Jim will be replaced by Pete Bannon, a former Apple colleague who was responsible for the development of Apple’s A5-A9 processor range.
This is the third major shakeup in Tesla’s Autopilot team in just over a year – Jim took over from predecessor Chris Lattner only in June 2017, while Autopilot Program Director Sterling Anderson quit in January this year to set up his own self-driving car company. Despite these changes, Tesla reiterated its commitment to building its own AI chip, with a spokesperson commenting, “Tesla is deeply committed to developing the most advanced silicon in the world and we plan to dramatically increase our investment in that area while building on the world-class leadership team we have in place.”