US chips pave China’s path to AI superiority and there is no easy fix

Chips designed by US companies help China work on: his goal to become a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, according to a new report out this week from the Center for Security in Emerging Technology, or CSET. But solving that is not as simple as just passing new checks.

Some 97 public records of Chinese military purchases of AI chips show that “almost all of them were designed by Nvidia, Xilinx (now AMD), Intel or Microsemi” — all American companies, the researchers wrote. “By comparison, we couldn’t find any public records of [Chinese military] units or state-owned companies that place orders for high-end AI chips designed by Chinese companies, such as HiSilicon (Huawei), Sugon, Sunway, Hygon or Phytium.”

In addition, those US-designed chips are largely manufactured in bulk by Asian companies such as Samsung in South Korea and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in Taiwan — the self-governing island that the leaders of the US Indo-Pacific Command say can be invaded by China within five years.

Graphics processor units, or GPUs, designed by Nvidia are the international market leader in chips to run complex artificial intelligence applications. While the Chinese government has spent a lot to develop its own chips, the report says, “High barriers to entry, including a reliance on intrinsic knowledge and highly specialized equipment, have so far prevented Chinese companies from catching up.”

In 2020, the Trump administration imposed restrictions to keep US chip designs out of China; the Biden administration has maintained those controls. But that hasn’t stopped the Chinese military from obtaining chips through various avenues, including purchases by Chinese middlemen and, in some cases, setting up fake companies.

To curb the problem, the US government could look at more controls, but without an increase in the government’s enforcement and investigative capabilities, new controls on their own are unlikely to achieve the desired effect. “Chips themselves are hard to track. While they are technically advanced, physical inputs to AI development, chips in transit do not bear an easily observable signature,” the authors write.

Instead, they say, the Commerce Department should work with industry to better identify which chips are most relevant to the Chinese military’s AI goals and “coordinate with partners to screen targeted end-users and monitor their exports.” to prevent.” And the US intelligence community should expand its analysis of open source intelligence on Chinese chip contracts. The CSET investigators “identified seven Chinese military suppliers that are not included in US end-user export control regimes. There is scope for open source analytics to address other security challenges.”

Taiwanese manufacturers are also: press the United States for grants to speed up the process of building new manufacturing facilities in the United States.

In January 2021, Congress passed the CHIPS Act – as part of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act – to secure nearly $52 billion to boost chip manufacturing development in the United States. But chip makers have complained that the funds are not moving fast enough.

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