Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Review of Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (11/09/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) How Does Digital Technology Modify Society?

Watch Short Review


“Unlike oil, which can be bought from many countries, our production of computing power depends fundamentally on a series of choke points: tools, chemicals, and software that often are produced by a handful of companies – and sometimes only by one.  No other facet of the economy is so dependent on so few firms.” – Chris Miller, Introduction, Page 19

“Compared to almost any other type of technology, semiconductor technology was racing forward.  The size of transistors and their energy consumption was shrinking, while the computing power that could be packed on a square inch of silicon roughly double every two years.  No other technology moves so quickly – so there was no other sector in which stealing last year’s design was such a hopeless strategy.” – Chris Miller, Chapter 8: “Copy It”, Page 63

“Unlike when integrated circuits were first invented, the chip industry had become less focused on military production.  Firms like Intel targeted corporate computers and consumer goods, not missiles.  Only consumer markets had the volume to fund the vast R&D programs that Moore’s Law required.” – Chris Miller, Chapter 14: Pentagon’s Offset Strategy, Page 98


Is This An Overview?

Electronics have become ubiquitous and they run on integrated circuits, referred to as chips.  Chips have become a strategic product for consumer markets and military power.  Access to chips and control of chip production gives states the ability to defend their interests.  Chip development was accelerated due to a need for miliary applications, but then the military became dependent on consumer markets to fund R&D that would enable military applications. 

Chip manufacturing is complex and requires a global supply chain network to obtain the components, tools, and resources needed for production.  Few firms are capable of providing something needed within the production chain.  A global division of labor that spread the costs of production.  The complex and concentrated network was the result of a series of private and public decisions.  To obtain favorable political influence, and to enable profits. 


What Is The Division Of Labor In Chip Production?

There are many different types of firms that enable the production of chips.  From the resources, tools, software, design, manufacturing, the final assembly with product that needed the chip.  No matter where on the supply chain a firm is, they have contacts in Silicon Valley.  Silicon Valley created a supply chain network that made it practically impossible to produce chips with input from Silicon Valley.  Other states have to rely on Silicon Valley for tools, software, and customers.  R&D efforts in Silicon Valley are paid by the large consumer market of America.  Other states have entered chip production industry through subsidizing firms, but they still have Silicon Valley connections.

The science behind transistors has been clearer than how to manufacture them reliably.  A division of labor that was given prominence in this book was between firms that design the chips and firms that manufacture the chips.  Firms used to design and manufacture chips, but that has become too expensive which led to a division of labor between designing the chips and manufacturing them.  The Mead-Conway Revolution enabled students to design chips that were then quickly fabricated without the students actually going to fabrication facilities. 

Mass production works with standardized parts.  For chip manufacturing, standardization was impossible.  There are too many sensitive variables in various aspects of production.   Chips also advance every few years, which required changing the tools that make them.  Chips had gotten extremely small by the 1990s, but possible to be smaller.  The problem was that it required more precise lithography tools which were difficult to mass produce. 

Chip fabrication has become too expensive for all but a few firms.  The expense caused the division of labor between chip design and manufacturing, with claims that some firms might not have survived if they needed to build chip manufacturing capacity along with design aspects.  Alternatively, Samsung has a conflict of interest as it produces consumer goods along with chip production.  Therefore, competing with their own customers.  By 2010s, chip production became less profitable than selling ads on apps.  

Manufacturing chips was a labor intensive process.  Charlie Sporck used strategies to keep unions weak, but also provided stock options to employees.  Women were hired because they were cheaper.  America did not have enough cheap labor to produce chips at scale, which lead to efforts to offshore assembly. 

The public sector with military and space paid for chip R&D initially.  But as governments cut costs, civilian products became the source of revenue that paid for R&D. 

Many U.S. tech firms were going bankrupt during the 1980s, which lead to claims that they might be desperate enough to sell valuable technologies.


Is There A Source For How Chip Technology Came To Be?

Although mechanical computers were created before WW2, their technological capacity was accelerated due to the war.  Bombers used a mechanism to compute when to drop the bombs.  A few inputs and only one output.  The outcomes were better than pilot guesswork.  Even with the mechanism, bombs rarely hit their targets, with the war being decided on quantity of bombs rather than the mechanisms accuracy.  More calculations would be needed for accuracy.  Mechanical gears were then replaced by computers with electrical charges. 


What Was The USSR Strategy With Chips?

The USSR was effective at producing various resources in quantities, but lacked the advanced manufacturing to produce quality.  USSR was not able to obtain advanced technologies due to limited transfers to communist countries. 

Obtaining chips through spy networks and theft did not help USSR as the chips did not come with instructions on how the chip was made.  Chip production was complicated and relied on knowledge that was not contained within a single source.  Copying chips was also not an effective strategy because chip technology advanced far too quick to enable the copy strategy to be effective.  What the copy strategy did was keep USSR technologically behind. 

The USSR had poor management of chip manufacturers, which relied mostly on military demand.  USSR also lacked an international supply chain.  An international supply chain that enabled U.S. and other states to spread R&D costs. 

Americans could not compete with the quantity of weapons with USSR, but they could compete in quality.  War became a contest of accuracy which the U.S. had an advantage.  U.S. reliance on technological superiority to win makes chips a strategic product.


How To Increase American Influence?

America helped rebuild Japan and supported Japan’s technological capacity to have Japan bound to American system.  Alternatively, Taiwan wanted to have American company’s plants in Taiwan for Americans to want to defend Taiwan which would foster economic growth and political stability.  Semiconductor assembly facilities were globally based and integrated into U.S. politics rather than communist states.   


An Unfair Competition?

Spying among chip facilities was the norm.  Domestic, and foreign spying.  There were many accusations and legal cases against each other for stealing employees, ideas, and intellectual property. 

While some governments, like Japan, subsidized chipmakers and enabled them to work together.  Other government, like the U.S., had antitrust laws that prevented chip firms from colluding.  U.S. firms claimed Japan’s efforts were evidence of unfair competition.  This is during a time when U.S. firms were losing a competitive advantage, while the U.S. government were funding the firms through other ventures such as providing grants for speculative technologies and innovation.  Japan had cheaper capital to fund firms due to lower interest rates, and Japan was funding firms that in the U.S. would have been driven to bankruptcy.  As Japan was gaining more of the chip market, Japan did not consider their practices unfair given U.S. providing chipmakers help such as in the form of defense contracts. 

During the 1980, American manufacturers in multiple industries such as chip makers, steel, and cars were losing their competitive advantage.  The claim was that while Americans were investing in lawyers, Japan was investing in engineers.  The Japanese work culture was more effective. 

Japan’s production capacity in chipmaking made it possible for Japan to make claims against America rather than the previous American lead agendas since 1945.


What Was China’s Strategy?

In China, Mao promoted farming and reduced the capacity to rely on foreign investments and generally invest in technology.  Electronics were deemed anti-socialist.  Alternatively, in other countries such as Taiwan, and South Korea, leaders were putting farmers into the manufacturing plant position. 

China might be able to provide software for e-commerce and related products, but is reliant on foreign hardware.  China provided subsidies for fabrication plants in provinces, which were investments based on politics that lead to them being inefficient.  They rely on subsidies and do not produce meaningful technology. 

What gives China an advantage is doing business with failing foreign companies that provide China with technological information in exchange for saving their business.



This book is a scientific, political, and economic history of chip production.  Some of the history themes repeat, and can make the history appear self-similar just with different competitors. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are integrated circuits known as chips?
•What is the chip manufacturing supply chain?
•How did the military effect chip development?
•Why are chips needed in military application? 
•Why pays for the R&D efforts? 
•How does Silicon Valley effect chip production? 
•Why is chip production expensive? 
•What risks are posed by bankrupt tech firms? 
•What is the Mead-Conway Revolution?
•How did Charlie Sporck effect chip production? 
•How did chips come to be? 
•What was the USSR strategy with chips?
•What was China’s strategy with chips?
•What happened to Huawei? 
•Why did America enable Japan’s technological capacity?
•Why did Taiwan want to be a chip manufacturer? 
•What is the role of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC)?
•How did Morris Chang transform TSMC? 
•Did Japan have unfair competition? 
•What was the role of spies? 
•How did Charlie Sporck effect chip manufacturing? 
•What was the effect of unions on chip production? 
•What did the company Fairchild do? 
•What happened to GCA?
•Why use x86 architecture? 
•What are the classic physics problems of making chips smaller?  
•How does Intel effect U.S. policy? 
•How does do chips effect A.I.?
•What is beamforming? 
•What decision did Intel make about phones? 

Book Details
Publisher:               Scribner [Simon & Schuster]
Edition ISBN:         9781982172022
Pages to read:          357
Publication:             2022
1st Edition:              2022
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5

Friday, December 15, 2023

Review of The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (03/30/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) What Makes Science A Science?, 2) The Evolution of Evolution

Watch Short Review


“But, in reality, scientific theories are not ‘derived’ from anything.  We do not read them in nature, nor does nature write them into us.  They are guesses – bold conjectures.  Human minds create them by rearranging, combining, altering and adding to existing ideas with the intention of improving upon them.  We do not begin with ‘white paper’ at birth, but with inborn expectations and intentions and an innate ability to improve upon them using thought and experience.  Experience is indeed essential to science, but its role is different from that supposed by empiricism.  It is not the source from which theories are derived.  Its main use is to choose between theories that have already been guessed.  That is what ‘learning from experience’ is.” – David Deutsch, Chapter 1: The Reach of Explanations, Page 12

“The better we come to understand phenomena remote from our everyday experience, the longer those chains of interpretation become, and every additional link necessitates more theory.  A single unexpected or misunderstood phenomenon anywhere in the chain can, and often does, render the resulting sensory experience arbitrarily misleading.  Yet, over time, the conclusions that science has drawn have become ever truer to reality.  Its quest for good explanations corrects the errors, allows for the biases and misleading perspectives, and fills in the gaps.” – David Deutsch, Chapter 2: Closer to Reality, Page 44

“It is inevitable that we face problems, but no particular problem is inevitable.  We survive, and thrive, by solving each problem as it comes up.  And, since the human ability to transform nature is limited only by the laws of physics, none of the endless stream of problems will ever constitute an impassable barrier.  So a complementary and equally important truth about people and the physical world is that problems are soluble.” – David Deutsch, Chapter 3: The Spark, Page 67


Is This An Overview?

Progress depends on explanations.  On good explanations.  Explanations are claims about what something is and how that something behaves.  Problems are a conflict within the explanation, with problems resolved by a good explanation that resolves the conflict within them.  Problems fail to be resolved when they rely on bad explanations.  Problems are inevitable but are soluble with good explanations. 

Problems come for various sources such as communication which can create a problem with misinterpretation, and physical reality can create a problem for survival.  The various sources create potentially infinite problems.  As the potential problems are infinite, they require infinite progress to resolve them.  Resolving some or many problems, still leaves an infinite of problems.  Making progress always at the beginning of infinity.  Progress has no bounds, as there will always be an infinite more to accomplish.   

Explanations are an act of creativity.  Scientific theories start as guesses that are error corrected and improved upon.  Theories are not derived from anything, not even from experiences.  But experiences shape which theories survive.  Testable predictions are not enough in science, for predictions do not self-explain how something works.  Understanding how something works requires an explanation.  Explanations themselves are not enough for a variety of claims can be made to explain testable evidence.  A fundamental flaw of bad explanations is that they drastically vary their claims without changing the predictions.


What Are The Limits To Empiricism?

Empiricism has limits about what is not experienced.  Much of reality cannot be experienced.  Predictions about what has not been experienced, and are based on how they are.  The problem is that the future is not like the past.  Logical deductions based on experiences does not explain anything other than what has been experienced.    

Experiences are based on the senses.  The senses might not be deceptive, but the interpretations derived from the senses can be.  Making them part of the explanation paradigm for the Interpretations are fallible, and therefore can be improved through criticism and testing.  Empiricism is flawed because it requires pre-existing knowledge to know what to observe and how to interpret the information.


Does Science Need An Authority?

Science needing authority is a misconception derived from a need for certainly.  A bias called justificationism.  This leads to trying to prevent ideas from changing.

Static societies remove the source of ideas which is creativity.  They generate institutions that prevent people from coming up with new ideas.

Alternatively there is fallibilism which goes against authoritative sources of knowledge.  In this view, people create knowledge through better understanding of what is and expecting the ideas to be challenged and improved.  That the ideas will change.  Knowledge does not have an authority to rely on, it comes from any source.  The Enlightenment created a tradition of criticism. 


What Makes A Good Explanation?

Testability nor prediction is the purpose of science because appearances are not self-explanatory.  If appearances contained self-evident explanations, there would be no need for science.  Testable predictions do not explain how something works.  That requires an explanation, which are claims about reality for the workings of the appearance. 

Bad explanations, even with testable predictions, are unscientific.  Many theories are rejected without experimentation because they are bad explanations.  Removing a faulty theory is not enough, for a better explanation is needed.  Good explanations are hard to vary without being tested.  Predictions are made from good explanations, while prophecy are claims about the unknowable.

Claims have become more distant from everyday experiences, which makes misinterpretation more likely.  Science becomes better even with the misinterpretations, as science can error-correct the interpretations and fill in data gaps.  Misinterpretations can come from communication, as the same words can have different meanings for the recipient and communicator, requiring guesswork which is subject to error correction. 

Knowledge that has become common is background knowledge, rules of thumb.  They appear to be explanationless predictions, but there are always explanations for them. 


How Does Biology Effect Knowledge?

Biological knowledge is non-explanatory which makes it have limited reach and depend on random mutations.  Explanatory human knowledge has unlimited reach and are based on conjectures that are constructed intentionally for a purpose.

Evolution has created many defects in the biological species.  Evolution can make beneficial and harmful changes to biology.  Defects which are in conflict with a designer. 


What Is A Better Explanation For Earth’s Status?

Earth is sometimes portrayed as a space ship that provides all that humans needs to sustain themselves.  That humans are squandering what the Earth has provided.  That humans are insignificant.  The problem with this view is that most of the universe is cold, dark, and empty which makes Earth remarkably untypical. 

Much of Earth’s environment leads to death for humans rather than a life-supporting system made for humans.  It takes human ingenuity to designing technology to enable them to live in the life threatening system.  Extinctions of the past occurred because the beings were living the lifestyles they evolved to rather than adept to changing conditions.  Nature did provide raw materials for survival, but it took knowledge to make use of the materials to enable people to survive and thrive.  Evolution did not provide knowledge on how to transform the materials.  It is explanatory knowledge that gives people power to transform nature.  It takes the right knowledge to accommodate people no matter the environment, whether space ship or ruined biosphere.  Civilizations of the past were destroyed for lack of knowledge on how to resolve their problem. 



An explanation is needed to understand how something works, but the logic of what makes a good and bad explanation needs a better explanation, as they can appear contradictory.  Most chapters provide an example of a bad explanation, the errors contained in the explanation, how to correct the explanation, and a better explanation.  Taking the reader through the process of obtaining better explanations.  The examples are diverse, with their quality depending on the readers understanding and interest in the topic. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is an explanation?  What makes an explanation good or bad? 
•What is a problem?
•What is the beginning of infinity?
•What is empiricism? 
•What are the limits to experiences? 
•What is inductivism? 
•Does science need an authority?
•What are static societies? 
•What is fallibilism? 
•What is the purpose of science?  What is not the purpose of science? 
•What are rules of thumb?
•What is biological knowledge? 
•What effect does evolution has? 
•What is instrumentalism?
•What is relativism? 
•What is creationism? 
•How do explanations become universal? 
•How much has AI improved science Turning’s era? 
•What is the Infinity Hotel? 
•How do memes effect behavior? 
•What kind of political system is needed? 
•Is there a difference between math and physics? 
•How are explanations communicated? 
•Is Earth like a space ship given the claim Space Ship Earth? 
•What were the Enlightenment movements?

Book Details
Edition:                  First American edition
Publisher:               Viking [Penguin Group]
Edition ISBN:         9781101549827
Pages to read:          403
Publication:             2011
1st Edition:              2011
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall          4