Categories
Uncategorized

Learning by Proxy | Chips

Potato Chips, known as Crisps in England are thin slices of potatoes that are deep-fried. The earliest known recipe can be found in a book published in 1817 called The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner. 

But that is not what this edition is about.

Technology dominates our life. Also, it plays an important role in everything we do. At the heart of that technology is a computer which we have come to call a Chip. 

The Chip

In 1960 William Shockley took the design of the transistor invented at the Bell Labs and left to Stanford with a business plan. Stanford at the time was giving away land next to the apple orchard to invite tech companies. Two of his proteges Robert Noyce and Michael Moore worked toward miniaturising the transistor. 

The first transistor

A transistor is a bipolar junction. An NPN junction, for example, has two negative poles and one positive pole. The genius of Robert Noyce was to figure out that you could dope (add impurity) silicon and create a Bipolar Junction. So imagine I take a 2 Cm X 2 Cm piece of silicon and cut four windows 1 Cm X 1 Cm each and add impurities in each window; effectively I have four transistors. Mr Noyce and Mr Moore went on to found a company called Integrated Electronics (Intel). They also figured how to make these windows smaller and smaller to squeeze more and more transistors on a chip; making them faster and faster. When a chip manufacturer says 10 nm process, they are referring to the size of the window.

A Silicon Chip

The ability to achieve a smaller window every 2-3 years is what we know today as the Moore’s Law and Andy Grove turned that into a business model.

That was the story of how silicon came to the valley.

The semiconductor business has two sides to it, design and fabrication. Intel was always vertically integrated and handled both sides of the business. But designing is high margin and high cost; whereas fabrication is a high investment and low margin business.

In the 1980s as more and more semiconductor companies were going fabless [not fabricating], Morris Chang, an engineer from Texas Instruments was wooed by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute to join them. In 1987 Chang founded Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) as a pure fabrication company. Companies like ARM, Qualcomm, AMD, Nvidia could outsource their fabrication. TSMC would create scale and bring fabrication chops while they could focus on creating intellectual property.

Today TSMC is one of the largest fabricators in the world!

Not just that they have moved their fabrication capabilities forward faster than Intel has been able to. 

At TSMC’s 26th Technical Symposium, TSMC officially confirmed that its 5nm and 6nm processes are already in mass production. In addition, the company also announced that it will release a higher version of the 5nm process next year. Furthermore, TSMC officially confirmed that more advanced 2nm, 3nm, and 4nm is in development.

Source: GizChina

There is a computer in almost every device today. From your cellphone to your car, to even refrigerators and microwave ovens. While this represents the consumer side of things; chips are also essential for defence technologies, space, telecom and several other critical infrastructures without which our cities will come to a halt.

TSMC has a huge fabrication capacity located in China. This leads many to believe that everything is built in China. But…

China will import $300 billion of semiconductors for the third straight year, underscoring how the world’s No. 2 economy remains tied to America despite billions invested in local chip-making know-how.

Source: BloombergQuint

The US has been increasingly hostile towards China and especially Huawei which has helped put 4G across most of the world. Most if not all developed countries have banned the use of Huawei equipment for the 5G rollout. In addition to this, there have also been sanctions from the USA which has restricted businesses from engaging with the company. 

“Unfortunately, in the second round of U.S. sanctions, our chip producers only accepted orders until May 15. Production will close on Sept. 15,” Yu said at a conference August 7th. “This year may be the last generation of Huawei Kirin high-end chips.” Huawei’s upcoming Mate 40 phone, scheduled for release in September, could be the last phone with a Kirin chip.

[…]

It also meant Google was barred from doing business with Huawei, preventing Huawei from being able to obtain an Android license and keeping Google apps off Huawei devices. The order used the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to justify the ban, and reads that “openness must be balanced by the need to protect our country against critical national security threats.”

Source: The Verge

For Huawei, it is a race against time to build an alternative solution. 

The Company that brought Silicon to the valley, Intel is is falling behind when it comes to designing. Last month they announced that their 7nm process is going to be released by 2022. In the meantime, TSMC is racing towards a 3nm process. Intel has always been able to hold themselves in a position of dominance but that dominance has been sliding and now it seems they might be spiralling out of control. The US government has given TSMC Billions to bring production capacity to the US to protect themselves. 

Which brings us to the next generation of telecom. 5G. Huawei is one of the largest suppliers of telecom infrastructure and across China, they have been rolling out 5G infrastructure. Till January they were also rolling out the infrastructure in the UK. The truth is nobody is holding the whole widget!

Huawei has already concluded that it won’t be able to use its chips designed in-house and on Friday Reuters reported that Taiwan-based chip designer MediaTek has requested U.S. permission to supply Huawei with chips once the new export rules go into effect in the middle of next month.

Source: Phone Arena

This battle for silicon is not over yet. Setting up fabrication in the US is one thing. Scaling it to cater to the needs of the US alone, we would be another thing. It may take a decade. 

This could result in 5G deployment being very slow outside of China. It can also result in production struggle for certain if not all, manufacturers while useful capacity lies unused in China. You may have heard of a win-win scenario, this is the classic lose-lose scenario.

The most likely outcome in a Classic Prisoner’s Dilemma.

As if computers in all of your devices and infrastructure was not enough, Elon Musk wants to put it in the human body.

Chip = Computer = Brain

A human brain is an interpretation machine. The human eye does not see colour. It responds to light and sends a set of electrical impulses which the brain interprets as colour. Evolution has meant the brain determined that there are certain colours or sounds that it does not need to interpret. This has resulted in humans having a limited ability to perceive.

Elon Musk wants to expand the scope while at the same time making it possible to use our brains to engage with machines. Creating a Brain-Machine interface. Neuralink, the company he founded showcased its product for the very first time. Our brains are awfully complicated and the human understanding of how it works is laughable.

Musk and Neuralink have plenty of speculation – you’ll be able to stream music directly to your implant and listen to it in your skull, for example – but the only concrete ability we’ve seen is the device interpreting brainwaves as beeps. And that’s something we can do with stick-on sensors right now.

The future could be bright for Neuralink, perhaps one day it’ll live up to its hype. But it’s doubtful whether that’ll happen in Musk’s lifetime. There’s nothing solid to support the idea that a simple implant can suddenly turn the human brain into an OS-accessible database ready for read/write functionality from a classical computer.

Source: The Next Web

In the meantime in India…

Intel engineers in Bengaluru, he says, have worked on its latest Foveros technology, where multiple silicon dies manufactured in different technologies are combined into a single product (Lakefield) using sophisticated interconnect and 3D stacking, redefining Moore’s law from 2D to 3D. The Qualcomm India team is working on world-leading Snapdragon mobile processors combining latest technologies in low power, processing speed, camera functions, AI/ML and a broad variety of interfaces like 5G, GPS and Navic. The AMD team has done a superb job with power optimisation techniques in the 7nm technology for Ryzen-4000 series. Similarly, very high-end work is being done by engineers at ARM, Texas Instruments, NXP, Micron, Xilinx, Western Digital, Mediatek and many other semiconductor giants, he says.

[…]

Indian fabless companies, Gupta says, struggle for funding. A fabless startup in India needs a $3 to $5 million investment and a minimum three-year gestation period. The country, he says, should create an environment to enable this. 

Source: Gadgets Now

Two weeks ago, I had mentioned how the government had announced an Rs. 4.3 Crore competition to encourage microprocessor development in India. 

Self-reliant indeed!

Apple – Energy – Manufacturing

Apple is one of the few companies in the world that has made a firm commitment to renewables. They ensured initially that all of their operations in the USA including their data centres ran of wind or solar power. They have been working hard to ensure that their entire supply chain is now running on renewable power. This is an example of corporate activism to effect change. 

TSMC bought up all the energy from a Danish wind farm because Apple wants to green its supply chain.

TSMC is an Apple supplier, one of 71 so far that have committed, at Apple’s urging, to procure all of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Greening that supply chain is crucial to the consumer electronics giant’s goal, announced in July, to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. Only about 1% of the company’s emissions—which in 2019 were about equal to those of Sri Lanka—come from its own stores and offices; almost all the rest are from the factories that produce its products.

Source: Quartz

Apple production plants are moving out of China. I am interested to see what this means for the Indian renewable energy market. It would be interesting to watch the energy markets at all the places where Winstrom and Foxconn are setting up sites.

Third World Beneficiaries

One of the greatest beneficiaries of the Trump Rule in America is the third world countries or NOT WESTERN countries. Before Trump whenever shit hit the roof, people from all countries would look towards America and try to immigrate. Now they see America, shake their heads and say let’s fix our own country. 

Disgusted with Lebanon’s corruption and seeing no future at home, he moved years ago to Dubai, where he worked in sales before returning on vacation last month.

But, he said, “When I saw the people, the crowd — not the government, not the police or anything — I’m proud to be Lebanese now, to be honest.”

New improvements had materialized at the gas station over the course of the day. Someone had welded together a metal rack to dispense the plastic rolls. Two tons of fresh vegetables had been distributed.

Sarah Barakat, 21, an architecture student overseeing the vegetables, said that she, too, planned to leave Lebanon for graduate studies.

“But I’m coming back as soon as I finish my master’s,” she said. “Who else is going to rebuild this city?”

Source: New York Times

In India, a lawyer tweeted criticising the former CJI. A case of contempt of court was against him built up. He refused to apologise stating that a false expression of regret “would amount to the contempt of my conscience.” The case started drawing attention and was amounting to a test of the freedom of expression.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for two of his tweets, was on Monday let off with a token fine of Re 1 by the Supreme Court.

The bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, directed the lawyer to deposit the amount by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years.

Source: Indian Express

While a symbolic sentence, both sides won.

The Acquisition Reality Show

The Indian government announced a few weeks ago that it was going to ban 59 Chinese apps for security reasons. Of all the apps that were banned only one caused a stir – TikTok. Trump heard this during his daily briefing and thought, hmmm, here is a something I can turn into reality TV. What if I issue an order saying a Chinese app, which has content worse than reality TV, had to be sold to a US company within 45 days. Would help my campaign and keep the media occupied! Killing two birds with one stone.

Since then everyone from Microsoft to Oracle to Twitter to Disney and now Walmart is supposed to be bidding to buy. In the meantime, TikTok has sued the US government claiming that forcing it to sell would be unlawful. And then the Chinese government also joined the show!

China’s commerce ministry expanded its technology export controls (pdf, link in Chinese) to include a wide range of new advanced technologies ranging from drone manufacturing to artificial intelligence (AI). Among the new additions to the list, the most eye-catching entry is “data-based personalized information recommendation service”—or the kind of algorithm core to TikTok’s global success. That means its Chinese parent would need to seek government approval before it could reach a deal with foreign buyers, and could be forced to enter protracted discussions with authorities about what parts of the company are covered by the rules. ByteDance has said it will strictly abide by the rules.

Source: Quartz

China has been remarkably restrained, to say the least. Imagine they had been like Trump. They would have probably asked Apple to sell its China business to Xiaomi and get out. Apple would again be a 1 Trillion Dollar company today.

Nobody will acquire TikTok. But this reality show is sure to continue until the elections.

Also

Most of Northern USA will be swamped by the smoke emanating from the Californian forest fires. Maps

The problem is not electric cars, it is battery technology. A battery invented in the 1980s, commercialised by Sony in the 1990s because they had multi-million dollar machines sitting around idle, which could be put to use, to make the first Lithium-Ion batteries. Could a radioactive diamond powered battery offer a solution

Since my childhood, I was told that the Americans are sitting on vast Alaskan oil reserves and they are just waiting for the world to run out of oil. Trump opened up the Alaskan Wilderness to exploration and… Crickets. Nobody is interested.

You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

Signing off…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *