With help from Derek Robertson

Welcome to our regular Friday feature, The Future in Five Questions. This week we interview Chris Miller, author of Chip War: The Battle for the World’s Most Critical Technology. Miller teaches international history at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What is an underrated big idea?

Moore’s Law is the prediction that the amount of computing power on each chip will double every other year. From the early 1960s to today, Moore’s Law has increased computing power a billion times. Exponential growth is almost impossible to understand. Imagine if every other year planes flew twice as fast and houses were twice as big. We have come to take it for granted in computing.

Today, the most advanced chips have billions of electrical circuits, each smaller than a coronavirus. Making them even smaller to fit more on each chip is mind-bogglingly difficult and very expensive. So there is a risk that Moore’s Law will simply become too expensive to continue in the next decade.

What technology do you think is overhyped?

Artificial intelligence and big data. “Data is the new oil,” say some analysts, but the dramatic increase in the use of artificial intelligence in the economy has not been driven by the increase in the amount of data in the world. And not because computer scientists have become more capable of writing intelligent programs. A key driver of artificial intelligence has been the vast expansion in the availability of computing power and memory, thanks to exponential growth in the quality of semiconductors. Today, the Nvidia H100 GPU has 80 billion transistors. An advanced chip from ten years ago had only one forty processing power.

What book has most shaped your vision of the future?

The best way to understand the future is to read history. Paul Kennedy The rise and fall of great powers it is a magisterial account of how great powers vie for influence and how this clash of influences is shaped by economic and technological factors. Every generation of people likes to think of their era as unique. When we talk about technology, we usually focus on what is new. But so much is not new. Geopolitical competition is a constant. Technologies change, but the competitive dynamics that drive them remain.

What can government do about technology that it can’t?

When most people think of “technology,” they think of social media or the Internet. But the most difficult part of the technology is the hardware on which it all rests. For too long, government has focused primarily on software and the Internet. This is obviously important, but it is only part of the story. We spent time debating how to regulate Facebook, but we took for granted the improvements in computing power, memory capacity, and signal processing that all major tech companies rely on. One of the main points of The Chip War is that Americans don’t think about “technology” that way. We are too focused on software and the web.

Other countries have done much more to develop the companies that make the chips on which all computing depends. In key East Asian countries such as Taiwan, Korea and especially China, tax regimes, regulation and licensing are simpler. It’s just easier to build manufacturing facilities there, which is why so much high-tech equipment manufacturing has moved to East Asia.

What surprised you the most this year?

How tough was the Biden administration when it came to restricting technology exports to China. The consequences will be huge. New restrictions faced not only the Chinese army. Big Chinese consumer-focused tech companies like Alibaba and Tencent will feel the effects. The technical disconnect goes deeper than most people expected.

More bad press for facial recognition technology: A a new study from Cambridge University’s Minderoo Center shows that three high-profile uses of technology in the UK fall short of even the most superficial ethical guidelines.

The report’s author, Minderoo’s Evani Radia-Dixit, points out several key areas where police in London and South Wales fell short of best practice for the technology in the nascent industry: privacy, as recognition tools were used widely and indiscriminately; bias for which the instruments were “not transparently assessed”; accountability, as there was no human user to inspect or intervene in the system and resolve potential complaints; and lack of regular supervision by other police officers.

But the problem with technology is not limited to police work. As Radiya-Dixit writes, “the line between the public and private sectors is increasingly blurred as police and private companies often collaborate in the development and deployment of facial recognition systems.”

The report concludes with a call for researchers to continue to scrutinize the use of the technology in the same vein — which, in particular, is similar to what has been done in the Biden administration.AI Bill of Rights”, and the EU AI Law is in the making – and for a ban on the use of this technology by the police in public places. — Derek Robertson

A little esoteric news you might have missed: Elon Musk has finally become the owner of Twitter.

Not only that, he brings a personal touch to the platform: He is also the company’s new CEO, having fired longtime executives, including his current predecessor, Parag Agrawal.

When I wrote about Musk’s initial bet on the platform back in April I opined that while this might sound strange to someone who is nominally obsessed with Martian colonies, giant networks of underground tunnels, brain-computer interfaces – you know, actually future things — being obsessed with owning an apparently old 2D program, it actually fits perfectly with his futuristic agenda in terms of the raw power it gives him.

Now the world will see how he decided to actually own it. (Read POLITICO’s Rebecca Kern at white joints in washington.) As this vision comes into focus, it will be impossible to ignore the ongoing case study of how simple text and image software can continue to shape public life. — Derek Robertson

Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Steve Heuser ([email protected]); and Benton Ives ([email protected]). Follow us @DigitalFuture on Twitter.

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