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Undeniably, wars henceforth would be fought in the Cyber Space, so the country who has an edge, will surge ahead in world domination. Though China is talked about favourably to win the Artificial Intelligence race based on the sentiments on the World Economic Forum this year, it cannot even be said as the first world on the subject, leave as the last world. This technology is so nascent, nebulous and the total impact unknown. Beneath the war of AI and emerging technologies, the fundamental battleground is in semiconductors. The Economist calls it as the Chip Wars.

Behind with the strength and jazz of digital economy and digital age polity are computer chips, which are the foundations of the digital economy and national security. As it euphemistically told cars are computers on wheels, banks are computers storing & moving money and armies fight with silicon as well as steel. Chinese global ambitions without a commensurate control of the semi conductor industry may sound hollow. America, South Korea and Taiwan dominate the most advanced areas of this industry. In the list of top 15 semiconductor firms by sales, China is conspicuous by it’s absence.

“Made in China 2025,” transformational program features semiconductors prominently. America knows for sure that it’s edge in technology gives it power over China. Since Barrack Obama, the American strategy is of stalling any technology transfer by varied means till sanctions. Blocking of Intel selling high ends chips to China, stalling Chinese firms likely acquisition of a German chipmaker and now Trump making a national champion of Qualcomm, blocking a bid for it by a Singaporean firm are shining examples. America could see the ghost of China it. The Cyber War would be fought on the superiority gained out of technology wars.

China blends governmental and corporate resources to achieve it’s goals, a replication of the silicon valley success. It’s tech giants are on board: Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei etc are investing heavily in chips. There are limits to American protectionism, in the long it may be futile. Attracting engineering talent from outside and the depth of their innovation is all well known. Moore’s law is reaching it’s physical limits, new technologies like quantum computing to specialized AI chips would provide China a rare chance to catch up.


Sanjay Sahay

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