@HPCpodcast-42: Chris Miller on Chip War
Chris Miller, author of the important and riveting book Chip War, joins us to discuss the crucial nature of the semiconductor industry and and the global competition that has been a part of its history since early days. He is Associate Professor of International History at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Eurasia Director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Chip War has been shortlisted for the Financial Times Business Book of the Year award.
We had a long list of topics and questions:
- How did we get here? Was it poor risk management, shear complexity, or too many black swans?
- The impact of political dysfunction, social polarization, and policy inconsistency on waging such wars.
- Might Western values and standards of privacy and individual freedom a competitive disadvantage in the age of AI where raw data superiority can lead to economic superiority?
- Has technology shifted from a situation where it’d be used first in govt/military, then companies, then consumers to now, when it’s the reverse: the consumer market, then companies, then government?
- How much time is there to regain competitiveness? Why did the US not learn its lessons after Japan’s rise in memory chip fabrication technology? Is there something missing in the public-private partnership model in the US?
- Is supercomputing its own race or is it subordinate to the bigger tech issue?
- Was there a lost opportunity to formulate a different, more harmonious, world order?
- What is the impact of current trade barriers? What options do other countries have?
- Several of the leading cast in the book seem to have had challenging personal journeys before they became prominent. Is that a coincidence or a requirement to build a world-leading semiconductor company?! Can it be that it is an effective way to instill the kind of discipline and culture that is required to succeed in the chip business?
And we got through most of them.
Join us for this fascinating discussion.
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November 12, 2022 @ 1:54 am
Thanks for a great podcast but too short!
It was a far superior conversation with Chris Miller than the one I saw in London. There the description of the semiconductor process and supply chain was painfully simplistic because of the technical literacy of the audience. The HPC listener will find this more worthwhile but a still flawed analysis of Chips.
The FT had an article where the “collective Blindspot” of the ‘establishment’ about supply chains was admitted. I’d argue that they also fail to see the ‘Innovation Ecosystem’. Even the US, Chinese et al go to acquire IP from places that are not subject to the ‘group think’ that is now being admitted by policy makers.
I loved the final para of the NYTimes review of the book,
“it’s good to read a book about tech that’s not about software. Silicon chips are the substrate of digitization. Trying to understand the digital world by studying only Facebook or Google is like trying to understand architecture by studying only frescoes.”
Shahin started with the right question – risk analysis.
He was also absolutely correct about the warnings given, especially by engineers. It is easy to see Trump as having escalated the “Chip War”, that is the title of the book, but I’d refer people to the White House PCAST Semiconductor report given to President Obama and look at the warnings Eric Schmidt is now giving on AI.
(on the privacy question a whole other discussion on Federated Learning and crypto would be useful)
I’ve long told people that I found the Bloomberg article by Andy Grove hugely prescient and more so as the Big Tech companies are facing layoffs.
Like Shahin, I recall the semiconductor industry of the 1980s and all the subsequent cycles – we are facing one of the ‘corrections’ now.
But the companies still complain about the “skills shortage” and even Taiwan is creating new colleges and courses to address the issues it has. Many of the problems are cultural and it would be interesting to see this explored further. The demographic issues are a major concern in Korea, Taiwan etc.
I’d argue that the Chinese have been very open with their 5 year plans about how they want to be self-reliant. They too have seen inequality rise and will defend the one party above all other things. They were perhaps spelling this out a bit more clearly a decade ago when fewer people were listening.
And as for US R&D, STEM PhDs…. this is the flaw that Morris Chang sees in the USA.
So, the real issue is who is listening? Who has a voice? For me Shahin has a great filter of many parts of the future technology landscape that Chris admitted is extremely complex.
The pace of tech development is increasing and it is hugely unpredictable
It definitely needs more conversations like this.