Monday 4 December 2023

Has the US had its chips? Chip tech under fire

First published at Anna's new website: ANNA CHEN

Chip tech (Photo Jiefeng Jiang)

The US semiconductor technology war against itself

US chip tech once more faces government friendly fire, courtesy of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s rant about cutting off China from AI technology. Severance in the same way you might close a stable post equine scarper: is it the door or the horse that’s bolted?

Welcome to late stage capitalism where making a buck is no longer the name of the game. Trashing your competitor is the aim.

Military interests are now prioritised over straight up capitalist concerns, which must be worrying for supertech manufacturer Nvidia. “Such is life, protecting our national security matters more than short term revenue,” scolded Raimondo.

It’s alarming to see the USA lurch deeper into self-harm as it loses its top-dog ranking. But, however much it yearns for its old supremacy, it can howl at the moon and gnash its teeth all it likes. That won’t rescue the oligarchs from their self-made predicament. Which stage of grief are we at now? Still stuck at anger?

The intellectual, diplomatic and economic skillsets supposedly exemplified by America in the postwar years should have come to its rescue. Instead, it grew old before it grew wise. We’re left with geriatric grandpa having a tantrum and spraying his nappy contents over the world while the rest of us duck and cover.

Behind the rage, however, fear stalks the upper crust. Abandoning cooperation in its bullying hubris, the elite discovered itself to be incapable of competing on a level playing field. A fundamental aspect of its national self-image, this failure to win has been wounding.

A last-ditch attempt to regain past glories resorted to mobster tactics when all else collapsed. Trying to smash China’s kneecaps at every turn was so not a good look. Especially when it rebounded spectacularly, spurring China on to even bigger and better advancements in chip technology.

The glass slipper fitted Cinderella courtesy of a cosmos that was evidently on the newcomer’s side. Cutting off its own toes wouldn’t help the Ugly Sister one bit.

Yet here is America doing exactly that when the chips are down.

Because if it’s Monday it must be tech time. Again.

Joe “Not on my watch” Biden explicitly aims to handicap China’s chip tech for 10 years. China’s had its chips and it ain’t getting ours, says Gina Raimondo, as if this is a brilliant new strategy, even though depriving the rising superpower of semi-conductors has only accelerated its advances. Suffer ye Silicon Valley to save our status.

“Chip tech ours. No way are we letting China catch up. Biggest threat. China not our friend. Protect America. Game on, game on. Exterminate, exterminate, exterminate!” (Okay, either that last bit was a dalek or I’ve been listening to too much news.) If madness is repeating the same act over and over despite getting the same results, then the boomerang must have hit America square in the noggin.

An obsolete system even chip tech protectionism can’t save

The US represents an old mode of thinking for an obsolete system that no longer works for its people. While it may be horrible to live through these events, it is also undeniably fascinating. Like watching the fall of the Roman Empire in a few years rather than decades, in fast motion speed for a modern sensibility conditioned by binge-watching.

It has painted itself unnecessarily into a corner where it behaves like the proverbial cornered rodent when it should have held on to friendship and cooperation. They’d have been better off if military supremacy had never been tested but had remained a mystery. After all, China’s a known quantity when it comes to helping the Numero Uno superpower out of a tight spot. Think of the 2008 US Great Crash, when China raced to the rescue instead of letting the global economy burn.

Now China’s forced to take defensive measures and spend on building up its armed forces. And, hey, guess what? They’re even catching up on that. The US’s only remaining advantage is decades of advertising psychology: whipping up fear, desire, unrealisable self-image. All converging in war fever.

And who is this for? Not the American working and middle classes who’ve seen their share of national wealth drop alarmingly.

“America leads the world in artificial intelligence … That’s because of our private sector,” Raimondo boasted. Private wealth, not public good.

Without a change of heart and a return to cooperation, all the US state has left to look forward to is continued collapse. Or at questionable best, ossification as the world’s military overlord, maintaining its position through brute terror. Suzanne Collins nailed this structure in The Hunger Games with the Capitol, ruled by President Snow, at the centre of Panem’s 13 districts.

“Panem is a sovereign nuclear state and democratic constitutional republic established sometime after a series of ecological disasters and a global conflict brought about the collapse of modern civilization. It is situated in North America, consisting of a federal district, the Capitol, and thirteen outlying districts.”

And there you have it. The American model for the future with a shrinking number of beneficiaries feeding off the districts whose people yearn to be free. “Protect the Capitol! Hide the chips!”

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Tech links below courtesy of William Huo. Follow him at Twitter for reliable China tech info.

HOW HUAWEI MADE A CUTTING EDGE CHIP IN CHINA AND SURPRISED THE US: China’s flagship smartphone maker pulled off the feat despite sanctions. Hush, hush, sweet Charlotte … “This article from Ars Technica tells the story of how Huawei and SMIC managed to produce a powerful smartphone chip, the Kirin 9000S, despite the US sanctions that cut them off from global semiconductor supply chains. It reveals how the companies used vast resources, state support, and innovative techniques to overcome the challenges and achieve a breakthrough in AI chip production.” WH

US CHIP SANCTIONS “KNEECAP” CHINA’S TECH INDUSTRY: The toughest export restrictions yet cut off AI hardware and chipmaking tools crucial to China’s commercial and military ambitions. “This article from WIRED explains how the US export controls, announced in October 2022, aim to keep China’s AI industry stuck in the dark ages by blocking its access to advanced chips and chipmaking equipment. It also discusses how the restrictions affect China’s leading tech companies, such as Alibaba, Baidu, and ByteDance, and what strategies they might adopt to cope with the situation.” WH

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IMPOSES SWEEPING TECH RESTRICTIONS ON CHINA: New rules include measure to exclude China from using semiconductor chips made anywhere in world with US tools – Reuters/Guardian 7 October 2022. “Report on the Biden administration’s decision to publish a set of export controls in October 2022, including a measure to cut China off from certain semiconductor chips made anywhere in the world with US tools. It describes how the rules are designed to slow down China’s technological and military advances, and how they have sparked criticism and backlash from China and some US companies.” WH

US CHIP TECH SANCTIONS MAY NOT BE ENOUGH TO DETER CHINA’S MILITARY AMBITIONS: “East Asia Forum report, 30 August 2023, analyzes the impact and limitations of the US chip sanctions on China’s military modernization. It argues that the restrictions may not be effective in deterring China’s development of data-intensive AI models, supercomputers, and hypersonic missiles, as China has alternative sources of chips and can leverage its domestic capabilities and partnerships. It also suggests that the US should pursue a more cooperative and constructive approach with China on technology issues.” WH

SHAKEDOWN: Timeline of America’s 21st Century War on China — the Opium Wars on steroids

DON QUIXOTE IN THE WHITE HOUSE: from windmills to stray weather balloons, the monsters inside the American id

US CHIPS AND SCIENCE ACT July 2022 to subsidise the highly profitable US semiconductor industry with $280b budget. Passes in August 2022.


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