🎙 Listened to “The Most Amazing - and Dangerous - Technology in the World” from The Ezra Klein Show.

No, not AI, nuclear bombs or bioweapons, at least not directly. Here the discussion is about semiconductors, used to make computer chips.

Ezra talks to Chris Miller who has written about how chips “created the modern world”, infused as computer technology is into a vast array of domains of modern life. He’s the author of the book “Chip War”.

What’s probably the most mind blowing takeaway from it all is how fragile the chip manufacturing infrastructure is, particularly how few entities are capable of making especially the more advanced chips used in the modern world. If AI is indeed the huge deal many people believe it is then one can see that any vulnerabilities in the advanced chip supply chain may be extremely impactful.

A couple of examples:

  • 90% of the most advanced chips are produced by a single company, TSMC. TSMC is a Taiwanese company, a country that is not exactly in the most reassuringly stable condition at the moment. The UK foreign secretary recently warned that should China invade Taiwan it would destroy world trade, let alone the ability to make advanced chips.
  • Every EUV lithography machine, essential to the manufacture of cutting-edge chips, is supplied by a single company - the Dutch firm ASML.

Chip manufacture is thus very vulnerable and also a tempting target for weaponisation. The podcast has examples of how the US and China combat each other along these lines.