13.5.23

Chip War: The Quest to Dominate the World’s Most Critical Technology

I finished recently Chip War: The Quest to Dominate the World’s Most Critical Technology (Chris Miller, 2022), and I can’t speak highly enough of the experience.

To start with, this book has lots of the ingredients that I personally find fascinating: history, technology, and geopolitics. And it delivers it masterfully on all of these fields.

In terms of history, the span of years since the start of the semiconductor technology until now has coincided with some profound changes in the world. On the 1960’s, when it all started, the US was the tech powerhouse fighting to catch up on its space program, the only field in which it lagged behind the Soviet Union. Since then, the soviet fall and the raise of Japan (or perhaps its resurgence) chocked the world, and semiconductors played a central role in the Japanese ascension to economic power. Alongside comes the intricacies of events in Europe, China, and a few other central places in Asia. Mainly Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, which all were drastically transformed in the last 70 years.

The book is a great source of information regarding multiple aspects of the chip technology. And what a technology it is! Moore’s law and the multiplication of transistors to the billions on a single chip are relatively well known. What the book also discuss in details is the lithography technology, for example, which is mind-blowing in itself. The related wireless communication revolution that followed with the advancements of chip, and the raise of the GPU’s from graphic to modern advanced Machine Learning model training are just but a few more examples of great technologies whose origin and developments the book describe in detail.

Finally, the geopolitics part is extremely relevant. It not only explains some of the decisions that were taken along the years and which resulted in the distribution of factories, suppliers, and countries that today control the R&D and manufacturing of virtually all chips. But it also projects its weight on the future of Taiwan, contested by China, and home to the most advanced chip fabs in the world.

All these ingredients are incredibly well served by the book. And it gives a glimpse on why and how the United States, the Netherlands, South-Korea and Taiwan are the main countries controlling the choke points of what is probably the most critical tech piece of our modern world. The developments in China on the coming years will also be determinant to the future of not only of Taiwan and China themselves, but also to the rest of us who probably couldn’t live without these incredible chips on almost all electronics we critically depend on.

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