SAN FRANCISCO — For years, tech industry financiers showed little interest in start-up companies that made computer chips. But then came the tech industry’s latest big thing — artificial intelligence.

A.I., it turned out, works better with new kinds of computer chips. Suddenly, venture capitalists forgot all those forbidding roadblocks to success for a young chip company.

Today, at least 45 start-ups are working on chips that can power tasks like speech and self-driving cars, and at least five of them have raised more than $100 million from investors. Venture capitalists invested more than $1.5 billion in chip start-ups last year, nearly doubling the investments made two years ago, according to the research firm CB Insights.

The explosion is akin to the sudden proliferation of PC and hard-drive makers in the 1980s. While these are small companies, and not all will survive, they have the power to fuel a period of rapid technological change.

It is doubtful that any of the companies fantasize about challenging Intel head-on with their own chip factories, which can take billions of dollars to build. (The start-ups contract with other companies to make their chips.) But in designing chips that can provide the particular kind of computing power needed by machines learning how to do more and more things, these start-ups are racing toward one of two goals: Find a profitable niche or get acquired. Read more from nytimes.com…

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