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Courtesy of Midjourney

Sam Altman’s wish on a $7 trillion star

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, needs more chips. He needs a lot more chips. The only thing stopping his $100 billion startup — if you can still call it a startup — may be the current supply of powerful chips.

The semiconductor fabrication process is notoriously slow and expensive, and the global supply chain runs through a few big, highly specialized firms. There are only a small number of companies that actually design chips made for generative AI — AMD, Intel, and Nvidia. And they’re pricy: Nvidia, which is set to take 85% of the market next year by one estimate, sells its H100 chips for about $40,000 a pop.

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Semiconductor chips on a circuit board.

Florence Lo/Illustration/Reuters

Crunch time for chipmakers

The Biden administration wants to supercharge US chip manufacturing, which is why the 2022 CHIPS Act allotted $280 billion for the domestic chipmaking sector. But Republicans in Congress just halted a key provision of the administration’s plan.

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Blinken meets Xi in Beijing
Blinken meets Xi in Beijing | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Blinken meets Xi in Beijing

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and Tony Blinken is not. No, he's coming back from Beijing, the US Secretary of State, the once-postponed and now-on-again weekend trip to Beijing. It's the first time he, as Secretary of State, has been there. Also, this was a last-moment meeting that included President Xi Jinping, and that's very important because on the ground in China, no attention being given publicly to the trip until Xi meets with Blinken, 35 minutes long, and then suddenly it is everywhere, and it's over 1 billion views, and it's all over state media, and it's all over social media. In a sense, the Chinese blessing the visit to their public and showing that they want to have a more constructive or at least stable relationship.

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A researcher wearing cleanroom suit displaying a wafer in the lab of Shanghai Microsemi Semiconductor Co., Ltd. in Shanghai, China.

Reuters

Who’s winning the war over chips?

When it comes to semiconductor production, there’s just one superpower: Taiwan. The self-governing island produces more than two-thirds of the world’s chips, and almost all of the advanced ones.

But with Taiwan’s geopolitical fate uncertain, both Washington and Beijing are racing to build their own dominance and self-sufficiency in the chip industry.

We sat down with Eurasia Group geo-technology expert Xiaomeng Lu to learn more about where this battle is heading. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Semiconductor manufacturing.

Annie Gugliotta.

The semiconductor battle is heating up

Global semiconductor supply chains have some big resistance points that threaten to make microchips a macro-geopolitical flashpoint. On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden will visit Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC’s facility in Arizona, where he'll spotlight the White House’s efforts to ramp up US chip manufacturing amid the US-China chip race.

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In technology, as in geopolitics, a little resistance can make all the difference. Consider semiconductors, the nearly invisible microchips essential for running everything from our computers to our cars to our cruise missiles. They work by doing something deceptively simple: They use carefully calibrated resistance to slow the flow of electricity through a circuit in ways that make computing possible. The smaller they get the more powerful our devices become.

The trouble is, global semiconductor supply chains have some big resistance points of their own, choke points that threaten to make microchips a macro-geopolitical flashpoint.

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Taiwan’s outsize importance in manufacturing semiconductor chips
Taiwan’s Outsize Importance in Manufacturing Semiconductor Chips | GZERO World

Taiwan’s outsize importance in manufacturing semiconductor chips

A big reason the Chinese leader is pushing harder than ever to annex Taiwan is actually quite small. The self-governing island has an outsize manufacturing capacity for semiconductors – the little chips that bind the electrical circuits we use in our daily lives. Cell phones, laptops, modern cars, and even airplanes all rely on these tiny computer wafers. Taiwanese chip manufacturer TSMC alone makes more than half of the chips outsourced by all foreign companies, which means your iPhone likely runs on Taiwanese-made semiconductors. What would happen to the world's semiconductor chips if China were to take control of Taiwan?

Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: What could spark a US-China war?

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