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What does Kirin 9000S tell us about the future

I've been wrong, again, pooh-poohing another Eurasian autocracy. Or so it seems.

On 29 August 2023, to great jubilation of Chinese netizens («the light boat has passed through a thousand mountains!», they cry), Huawei has announced Mate 60 and 60 Pro; the formal launch is scheduled for September 25th, commemorating the second anniversary of return of Meng Wanzhou, CFO and daughter of Huawei's founder, from her detainment in Canada. Those are nice phones of course but, specs-wise, unimpressive, as far as flagships in late 2023 go (on benchmarks, score like 50-60% of the latest iPhone while burning peak 13W so 200% of power). Now they're joined by Mate X5.

The point, however, is that they utilize Huawei's own SoC, Hisilicon Kirin 9000S, not only designed but produced in the Mainland; it even uses custom cores that inherit simultaneous multithreading from their server line (I recommend this excellent video review, also this benchmarking). Their provenance is not advertised, in fact it's not admitted at all, but now all reasonable people are in agreement that it's SMIC-Shanghai made, using their N+2 (7nm) process, with actual minimum metal pitch around 42 nm, energy efficiency at low frequencies close to Samsung's 4nm and far worse at high (overall capability in the Snapdragon 888 range, so 2020), transistor density on par with first-gen TSMC N7, maybe N7P (I'm not sure though, might well be 10% higher)… so on the border of what has been achieved with DUV (deep ultraviolet) and early EUV runs (EUV technology having been denied to China. As a side note, Huawei is also accused of building its own secret fabs).

It's also worse on net than Kirin 9000, their all-time peak achievement taped out across the strait in 2020, but it's… competitive. They apparently use self-aligned quad patterning, a DUV variant that's as finicky as it sounds, an absurd attempt to cheat optics and etch features many times smaller than the etching photons' wavelength (certain madmen went as high as 6x patterning; that said, even basic single-patterning EUV is insane and finicky, «physics experiment, not a production process»; companies on the level of Nikon exited the market in exasperation rather than pursue it; and it'll get worse). This trick was pioneered by Intel (which has failed at adopting EUV, afaik it's a fascinating corporate mismanagement story with as much strategic error as simple asshole behavior of individual executives) and is still responsible for their latest chips, though will be made obsolete in the next generations (the current node used to be called Intel's 10 nm Enhanced SuperFin, and was recently rebranded to Intel 7; note, however, that Kirin 9000S is a low-power part and requirements there are a bit more lax than in desktop/server processors). Long story short: it's 1.5-2 generations, 3-4 years behind the frontier of available devices, 5-6 years behind frontier production runs, 7-8 years after the first machines to make such chips at scale came onto market; but things weren't that much worse back then. We are, after all, in the domain of diminishing returns.

Here are the highlights from the first serious investigation, here are some leaks from it, here's the nice Asianometry overview (esp 3:50+), and the exhilarating, if breathlessly hawkish perspective of Dylan Patel, complete with detailed restrictions-tightening advice. Summarizing:

  1. This is possible because sanctions against China have tons of loopholes, and because ASML and other suppliers are not interested in sacrificing their business to American ambition. *
  2. Yes, it qualifies for 7nm in terms of critical dimensions. Yes, it's not Potemkin tulou, they likely have passable yields, both catastrophic and parametric (maybe upwards of 50% for this SoC, because low variance in stress-testing means they didn't feel the need to approve barely-functional chips, meaning there weren't too many defects) and so it's economically sustainable (might be better in that sense than e.g. Samsung's "5nm" or "4nm", because Samsung rots alive due to systemic management fraud) [I admit I doubt this point, and Dylan is known to be a hawk with motivated reasoning]. Based on known capex, they will soon be able to produce 30K wafers per month, which means 10s of millions of such chips soon (corroborated by shipment targets; concretely it's like 300 Kirins *29700 wafers so 8.9M/month, but the cycle is>1 month). And yes, they will scale it up further, and indeed they will keep polishing this tech tree and plausibly get to commercially viable "5nm" next - «the total process cost would only be ≈20% higher versus a 5nm that utilizes EUV» (probably 50%+ though).
  3. But more importantly: «Even with 50% yields, 30,000 WPM could support over 10 million Nvidia H100 GPU ASIC dies a year […] Remember GPT-4 was trained on ≈24,000 A100’s and Open AI will still have less than 1 million advanced GPUs even by the end of next year». Of course, Huawei already had been producing competitive DL accelerators back when they had access to EUV 7nm; even now I stumble upon ML papers that mention using those.
  4. As if all that were not enough, China simply keeps splurging billions on pretty good ML-optimized hardware, like Nvidia A/H800s, which abide with the current (toothless, as Patel argues) restrictions.
  5. But once again: on a bright (for Westerners) side, this means it's not so much Chinese ingenuity and industriousness (for example, they still haven't delivered a single ≤28nm lithography machine, though it's not clear if the one they're working on won't be rapidly upgraded for 20, 14, 10 and ultimately 7nm processes – after all, SMIC is currently procuring tools for «28nm», complying with sanctions, yet here we are), as it's the unpicked low-hanging fruit of trade restrictions. In fact, some Chinese doomers argue it's a specific allowance by the US Department of Commerce and overall a nothingburger, ie doesn't suggest willingness to produce more consequential things than gadgets for patriotic consumers. The usual suspects (Zeihan and his flock) take another view and smugly claim that China has once again shot itself in the foot while showing off, paper tiger, wolf warriors, only steals and copies etc.; and, the stated objective of the USG being «as large of a lead as possible», new crippling sanctions are inevitable (maybe from Patel's list). There exists a body of scholarship on semiconductor supply chain chokepoints which confirms these folks are not delusional – something as «simple» as high-end photoresist is currently beyond Chinese grasp, so the US can make use of a hefty stick.

All that being said, China does advance in on-shoring the supply chain: EDA, 28nm scanners, wafers etc.

* Note: Patel plays fast and loose with how many lithography machines exactly, and of what capacity, are delivered/serviced/ordered/shipping/planned/allowed, and it's the murkiest part in the whole narrative; for example he describes ASML's race-traitorous plans stretching to 2025-2030, but the Dutch and also the Japanese seem to already have began limiting sales of tools he lists as unwisely left unbanned, and so the August surge or imports may have been the last, and certainly most 2024+ sales are off the table I think.

All of this is a retreading of a discussion from over a year ago, when a less mature version of SMIC N7 process was used - also surreptitiously – for a Bitcoin mining ASIC, a simple, obscenely high-margin part 19.3mm² in size, which presumably would have been profitable to make even at pathetic yields, like 10%; the process back then was near-idential to TSMC N7 circa 2018-2019. 9000S is 107 mm² and lower-margin. Nvidia GH100, the new workhorse of cutting edge ML, made with 4nm TSMC node, is 814 mm²; as GPU chips are a strategic resource, it'd be sensible to subsidize their production (as it happens, H100 with its 98 MTr/mm² must be equally or a bit less dense than 9000S; A100, a perfectly adequate 7nm downgrade option, is at 65 MTr/mm² so we can be sure they'll be capable of making those, eg resurrecting Biren BR100 GPUs or things like Ascend 910). Citing Patel again, «Just like Apple is the guinea pig for TSMC process nodes and helps them ramp and achieve high yield, Huawei will likewise help SMIC in the same way […] In two years, SMIC will likely be able to produce large monolithic dies for AI and networking applications.» (In an aside, Patel laments the relative lack of gusto in strangling Chinese radio/sensor capabilities, which are more formidable and immediately scary than all that compute. However, this makes sense if we look at the ongoing chip trade war through the historical lens, with the reasonable objective being Chinese obsolescence a la what happened to the Soviet Union and its microelectronics, and arguably even Japan in the 80s, which is why ASML/Samsung/TSMC are on the map at all; Choyna military threat per se, except to Taiwan, being a distant second thought, if not a total pretext. This r/LessCredibleDefense discussion may be of interest).

So. I have also pooh-poohed the Chinese result back then, assuming that tiny crypto ASICs are as good as they will get within the bounds assigned to them, «swan song of Chinese industry», and won't achieve meaningful yields. Just as gwern de facto did in October 2022, predicting the slow death of Chinese industry in view of «Export Controls on Advanced Computing and Semiconductor Manufacturing Items to the PRC» (even mentioning the yellow bear meme). Just as I did again 4 months ago, saying to @RandomRanger «China will maybe have 7nm in 2030 or something». I maintain that it's plausible they won't have a fully indigenized supply chain for any 7nm process until 2030 (and/or will likewise fail with securing chains for necessary components other than processors: HBM, interposers etc), they may well fall below the capacity they have right now (reminder that not only do scanners break down and need consumables, but they can be remotely disabled), especially if restrictions keep ramping up and they'll keep making stupid errors, e.g. actually starting and failing an attempt at annexing Taiwan, or going for Cultural Revolution Round II: Zero Covid Boogaloo, or provoking an insurgency by force-feeding all primary school students gutter oil breakfasts… with absolute power, the possibilities are endless! My dissmissal was informed not by prejudice but years upon years of promises by Chinese industry and academia representatives to get to 7nm in 2 more weeks, and consistent failure and high-profile fraud (and in fact I found persuasive this dude's argument that by some non-absurd measures the gap has widened since the Mao's era; and there was all the graphene/quantum computing "leapfrogging" nonsense, and so on). Their actors haven't become appreciably better now.

But I won't pooh-pooh any more, because their chips have become better. I also have said: «AGI can be completed with already available hardware, and the US-led bloc has like 95% of it, and total control over means of production». This is still technically true but apparently not in a decisive way. History is still likely to repeat – that is, like the Qing China during the Industrial Revolution, like the Soviet Union in the transistor era, the nation playing catch-up will once again run into trade restrictions, fail at the domestic fundamental innovation and miss out on the new technological stage; but it is not set in stone. Hell, they may even get to EUV through that asinine 160m synchrotron-based electron beam thing – I mean, they are trying, though it still looks like ever more academic grift… but…

I have underestimated China and overestimated the West. Mea culpa. Alphanumericsprawl and others were making good points.

Where does this leave us?

It leaves us in the uncomfortable situation where China as a rival superpower will plausibly have to be defeated for real, rather then just sanctioned away or allowed to bog itself down in imperialist adventurism and incompetence. They'll have enough suitable chips, they have passable software, enough talent for 1-3 frontier companies, reams of data and their characteristically awkward ruthlessness applied to refining it (and as we've learned recently, high-quality data can compensate for a great disparity in compute). They are already running a few serious almost-OpenAI-level projects – Baidu's ERNIE, Alibaba's Tongyi Qianwen (maybe I've mentioned it already, but their Qwen-7B/VL are really good; seems like all groups in the race were obligated to release a small model for testing purposes), maybe also Tsinghua's ChatGLM, SenseTime etc.'s InternLM and smaller ones. They – well, those groups, not the red boomer Xi – are well aware of their weaknesses and optimize around them (and borrowing from the open academic culture helps, as can be often seen in the training methods section – thanks to MIT&Meta, Microsoft, Princeton et al). They are preparing for the era of machine labor, which for now is sold as means to take care of the aging population and so on (I particularly like the Fourier Intelligence's trajectory, a near-perfect inversion of Iron Man's plot – start with the medical exoskeleton, proceed to make a full humanoid; but there are other humanoids developed in parallel, eg Unitree H1, and they seem competitive with their American equivalents like Tesla Optimus, X1 Neo and so on); in general, they are not being maximally stupid with their chances.

And this, in turn, means that the culture of the next years will be – as I've predicted in Viewpoint Focus 3 years ago – likely dominated by the standoff, leading up to much more bitter economic decoupling and kinetic war; promoting bipartisan jingoism and leaving less space for «culture war» as understood here; on the upside, it'll diminish the salience of progressive campaigns that demoralize the more traditionally minded population.

It'll also presumably mean less focus on «regulation of AI risks» than some would hope for, denying this topic the uncontested succession to the Current Thing №1.

That's about all from me, thoughts?

Jump in the discussion.

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Baidu placed AI chip order from Huawei in shift away from Nvidia

Baidu ordered 1,600 of Huawei Technologies' 910B Ascend AI chips - which the Chinese firm developed as an alternative to Nvidia's A100 chip - for 200 servers, the source said, adding that by October, Huawei had delivered more 60% of the order, or about 1,000 chips, to Baidu.

The second person said that the order's total value was approximately 450 million yuan ($61.83 million) and that Huawei was to deliver all of the chips by the end of this year. Both people declined to be named because the details of the deal were confidential.

Allegedly these chips are on par with A100s. Well, that's a start.

This is very well written

Well, I'm happy to be acknowledged! I read Patel on the day it came out, I suspect we follow the same substacks.

I think the fundamental issue with Western technology sanctions (and everything else) is a lack of seriousness. The whole time, Chinese companies have been renting compute from top-tier, banned chips overseas. Apparently its been too hard to stop shell companies doing this. Only recently did the US slap chip restrictions on Middle Eastern countries, knowing they'll sell them on to China. There's a flourishing black market in chips, plus all of the Chinese APTs who can steal IP. Much of the Western hawkishness on Chinese sanctions is not without cause, what we've been doing is ineffective. From a pure balance of power calculation, in the past we should've been trying to bring conflict forward, since our relative strength was declining. But now?

China's always had a lot of brainpower and hard work, observe the physiognomy of Western scientific/maths Olympiad teams. Observe the names of people publishing AI papers. Lian, Guo, Li, Tan, Song... I don't know if Alexander Kruel's highlighted arxiv papers have a bias towards Chinese authors but it seems undeniable that China has a lot of talent. Whatever number of Chinese diaspora we have in the West doing research, it stands to reason there are more in China. We were never going to retain a large technological edge against such a rich and populous country. China is bigger than Western civilization, they have a larger labour force than all of us combined!

However, I go a step further than the hawks and think it's too late to try and suppress China intensely. We should not make a bluff from a weak hand. The same level of unseriousness we see in chip sanctions, we also see in the Arizona semiconductor plant, should it ever open. There have been all kinds of problems with skilled labour shortages, Taiwanese engineers being frustrated by how slack the American workers are, regulatory issues, random thugs breaking into their cars...

And Arizona still needs Taiwanese advanced packaging:

Unseriousness is a pervasive and all-encompassing fog in the West. The US Navy is shrinking, just at the time when strength is needed most and it's not even at war! Why is it that chip production left the US in the first place? Why are Taiwanese engineers having to come over to get things back on track? Why is US politics led by geriatrics - Putin and Xi are 'only' 70 year olds to Biden's 80. Why is government debt so high, why can't anyone in the West seem to build warships or anything quickly? Why is the US military so demoralized and disorganized, why can't they fill their ranks? Why is there a huge race spoils program undermining meritocracy across the economy and in the US or UK military (I know of examples in the air force of both countries)? Political/racial division in the US is huge and often a bad sign for one's chances on the battlefield. As for diplomacy - wtf has been happening? Why were there Russian and Chinese troops invited to Mexico's independence day??? Can the US not even keep Mexico under control?

China now has a credible nuclear triad, they have a very large, modern and concentrated navy poised to dominate the approaches to Taiwan, South Korea and maybe Japan. They have the world's biggest economy in PPP terms and in manufacturing, whatever figures you use. It would surprise me greatly if Chinese war industry chokes under the strain of a medium/high intensity war like NATO has in Ukraine - they probably can spool up production of millions and millions of shells very quickly, fill the skies with drones and missiles. China is in a position of strength, while we are in a position of weakness. There are some things that we can't buy even with huge amounts of paper money - quick construction, discipline, efficient organizations, large pools of highly-skilled labour whether that's in semiconductor fab construction, warships or shipyards.

If we fight now or in the near future I believe there is a high chance of defeat and that brings the whole house of cards down. If we lose a war and they get AGI... we're so fucked. Thus, we need to avoid fighting until our domestic problems are solved, which will take many years if it's doable at all. Bully the weak and appease the strong, not the other way around! Fix the deficits, crime, drugs, fill out our militaries, find young leaders, recreate national unity, end race-grifting, streamline regulations, fill up the arsenals, secure spheres of influence and then fight.

As for AGI, its a bit like a game of musical chairs. We don't know when the game ends and should be prepared for near-term or the long-term scenarios (10-15 years). Just don't get knocked out of the competition by losing a war.

Honestly it’s the “good times make weak men” effects. For the better part of 50 years we haven’t had serious need to fix those things.

We haven’t had a war against a major power since Vietnam in the 1970s. So for th3 most part our military hasn’t been put through their paces in a serious manner since then. We don’t need to attract the best people to the military, we don’t need to figure out how to put an aircraft carrier in the water in a short time frame because we haven’t really used our navy in war since the Second World War. Most of the engagements we’ve had are against third world powers that really don’t have the power to go toe to toe with us, and instead mostly opt to fold quickly and create insurgent activity that can go around the military.

As far as the workforce and education, it’s really two examples of the same problem (and I’d argue a lot of the more extreme behavior among the woke are part of the same phenomenon) is that we’ve been able to become a play culture, essentially. We were so economically dominant that we could afford a culture that didn’t work hard or study hard. We could afford to indulge in work life balance, in letting our freak flags fly and in slacker culture at work and home precisely because we were the biggest economy on the globe with the biggest military and nobody could really compete with our might. We had a big lead and so if Billy didn’t want to do homework, who cares, he’ll probably still ge5 a decent job and be just fine. There were factory jobs.

I’m pessimistic on the West developing AGI simply because our natives no longer have the sort of study and work culture that would develop people capable of developing cutting edge technologies.

If we fight now or in the near future I believe there is a high chance of defeat and that brings the whole house of cards down.

No. The USA has way more nukes and better ability to deliver them. The PRC's not catching up that fast.

The USA has way more nukes

A full nuclear exchange would certainly bring down the house of cards! It's possible that Russia joins in and anyway, China has more than you'd think (mostly because Minutemen are de-MIRVed):

I was assuming a conventional defeat in Asia, resulting in China securing control over Taiwan and much of the Pacific. The damage to the West would be catastrophic, we wouldn't be world leaders anymore. South Korea would probably find some accommodation with China since they're surrounded and food insecure (maybe Japan too). China would have many more friends, our 'friends' in the Middle East would jump ship, nobody would want to buy our debt anymore, the Washington based finance/banking system would be replaced...

Defeat in war would be a crippling blow to our economy and would probably prevent AGI development IMO. People will be more worried about debt, oil supplies, hyperinflation and defaults, blaming eachother for the disaster, fighting radicalism, sponsoring radicalism...

I didn't really address these in my prior post, so:

  1. Yes, they have a substantial arsenal, but it's still a lot less than the deployed nukes of the USA once you count all the legs of the triad (the USA has started basing nuclear bombers out of Darwin - they've carefully said that they won't be carrying nukes on peacetime patrol, but that's as good as an admission that the nukes will be there - so even the non-carrier bombers are meaningfully in play, and of course in a Taiwan war scenario a large fraction of the SSBNs would be in attack position so as to destroy as much as possible on the ground). I think the most likely scenario if/when things go nuclear is that the PRC is forced to surrender (or suffers state failure due to nuclear bombardment), although things could indeed be different if Putin throws his hat into the ring.

  2. I agree with you about the consequences of letting Taipei fall, which is why I'm not saying "wash our hands of Taiwan" despite my assessment of the situation.

I was assuming a conventional defeat in Asia, resulting in China securing control over Taiwan and much of the Pacific.

I think a conventional defeat is unlikely, not so much because of the word "defeat" as the word "conventional". The PLARF would have to be brought up to hair-trigger alert in any Taiwan war scenario because there would be US nuclear-capable bombers and plausibly SSBNs operating within striking range of the Chinese heartland and even the missile siloes. That creates the risk of a false alarm leading to nuclear launch. On the US side things are almost as bad; they'd be working from on-the-ground assets rather than satellites to detect a nuclear launch due to the PLARF shooting down US spy satellites (they've been planning massive ASAT use in event of war for a long, long time, and they care a lot less about the inevitable consequence of Kessler syndrome), and while the US deterrent is secure the possibility of cutting things down from "100 cities nuked" to "10 cities nuked" via counter-force strike is quite tempting, so again there's the possibility of a false alarm leading to nuclear attack.

Overall I'd say maybe 1-2% per day of conventional war that things go nuclear (I checked this by someone closer to the business and he said it was the right order of magnitude). But that adds up fast - certainly if it turns into a months-long business that's going to happen sooner or later.

There's definitely hope that Xi realises how terrible an idea this is and calls it off. Barring that, and barring the USA just giving up, I think we're looking at nine-figure or ten-figure casualties.

There's definitely hope that Xi realises how terrible an idea this is and calls it off

Chinese nuclear doctrine is rather carefree, they have this general assumption that everyone knows that it's retarded to risk nuclear war so nobody will strike first. Consider how weak China's nuclear arsenal was back in the Cold War - zero second-strike capability whatsoever and a tiny number of warheads. Yet they were still very provocative, fighting a border war with the Soviet Union over a random river island!

Now that had a lot to do with Mao's erratic decision-making. But they genuinely thought and probably still think (in terms of strategic culture) 'as long as we announce no-first use nobody will attack us with nukes because if they do, they're creating a risk out of nothing, so all we need is fairly credible second-strike, which we have today'. Furthermore, why would they expect the US to trade LA for Taipei, given that the US doesn't even acknowledge Taiwan as an independent country? Historically, the US is way more squeamish about casualties than China. Regardless of what would actually happen (especially given concerns about Chinese dual-use nuclear-conventional C4I infrastructure being targeted by US long-range strike), I think Chinese leadership is quite confident that they'll avoid nuclear use.

Thanks for the info. Updated upward slightly on the chance that they'll actually go for it. Unfortunate.

I was assuming a conventional defeat in Asia

The one thing to be said for the American military is that it is experienced. The US was in Afghanistan for a long time; There are bases that saw generations of soldiers. And now with the Ukraine, the systems continue to be battle tested. Manufacturing has been humming along for a long time...

And to quote a scholar, 'Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth'.

When was the last time China actually used it's military in a meaningful way?

The one thing to be said for the American military is that it is experienced

They lost those wars. The last time the US won a war was in 1991 and things have changed a lot since then. Especially in terms of naval warfare, nobody has fought battles at sea since the Falklands, nobody has any clue what's going on. At any rate, the Chinese don't let their light aircraft carriers burn down in port, nor have their warships crashed into civilian freighters by accident. This is probably a good sign for China, a bad sign for the US.

The Ukrainians and Russians have real experience at conventional warfare, the US and NATO not so much. There are threads from Ukrainian infantry where they report going to NATO training centres after time on the front and they're like 'OK, your small-unit tactics are good but where are the drones? Where are they??? Why are you telling us to clump up so much, they have artillery! Your mine-clearing advice was literally nothing?'

The West has gotten slack, fighting and losing to people who could barely fight back. I don't think we can call ourselves prepared for serious warfare, or at least more prepared than China.

Manufacturing has been humming along for a long time...

The US military-industrial complex is struggling to feed the needs of this medium-high intensity war. Reserves of Javelins, Stingers, artillery shells, long-range missiles have been depleted and will take many years to rebuild. If there's one clear advantage that China has, it's manufacturing throughput.

the last time China actually used it's military in a meaningful way?

Sino-Vietnamese war, which demonstrated immensely better political-military coordination. They got in quickly, achieved their limited, achievable goals and left. No quagmire, no mucking about, no trauma. Before that was Korea, where they bailed out North Korea and stalemated the US plus half of the UN.

They lost those wars

By what metric? How could they win? And is that sort of win condition even possible, in today's climate?

The Ukrainians and Russians have real experience at conventional warfare, the US and NATO not so much.

The US is NATO and the US has been at war (multiple wars) for pretty much the last 20+ years.

Do you really think WWII style warfare matters? It's like saying Briton is still a powerhouse because they have the most longbows.

The West has gotten slack, fighting and losing to people who could barely fight back. I don't think we can call ourselves prepared for serious warfare, or at least more prepared than China.

I think you're misusing 'we' there, lol.

Sino-Vietnamese war, which demonstrated immensely better political-military coordination

Lol, that is literally backyard. I said meaningful way... And besides, how much of that media is honest?

If you just took the propaganda from the Vietnam war at face value, the US did amazingly well!

Before that was Korea, where they bailed out North Korea and stalemated the US plus half of the UN.

You realize the stalemate was because no one wanted WWIII, right? And the USSR was a meaningful (and overestimated) power.

By what metric? How could they win?

US political goals were not met, thus it's a loss. Whatever they wanted, I really don't think an Iranian-dominated Iraq and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was on the wishlist. The US being so disorganized and incompetent that they didn't even know what they wanted in Afghanistan doesn't mean it's impossible for them to lose, we know clearly there were outcomes they didn't want (what actually happened).

You can't just say 'we won all the battles and got a great K/D but some weird political stuff happened and we left the other guy controlling the territory' - wars are about politics.

The US is NATO and the US has been at war (multiple wars) for pretty much the last 20+ years.

Against foes with little artillery, no airpower, no long-range strike, no armour, no air defence, no space assets, minimal naval power, little EW and C4I, a tiny budget... Not conventional wars, not against strong opponents and not even victories. North Vietnam had tanks, artillery, air defence and could fight a conventional campaign.

The military experience you get from these wars is not too helpful in real wars. In fact it teaches bad lessons. Infantry get too cocky and reliant on fire support, they get sloppy with comms discipline, they don't expect to deal with artillery... See the many US servicemen who went to Ukraine and went 'Jesus the Russians fire so many shells, this is totally different to massacring light infantry in flip-flops'.

Do you really think WWII style warfare matters?

It matters in Ukraine. Dig the trench. Shell the town. Fling long-range missiles at factories, electricity generation.

I think you're misusing 'we' there, lol.

I am a citizen of a Western country, therefore I can say 'we'.

If you just took the propaganda from the Vietnam war at face value, the US did amazingly well!

Well then where is Saigon? China's goals were to teach the Vietnamese a lesson for messing with Cambodia and allying with the Soviets, which they did. They'd communicated to the US and USSR that it was a limited war beforehand.

You realize the stalemate was because no one wanted WWIII, right?

The stalemate was because the PLA, with horrendously bad logistics and little firepower, pushed the US/UN forces out of North Korea and into South Korea before overextending. What they did in the cold, in the mountains was an incredible feat, achieving surprise against an enemy that ruled the skies and was much better equipped. Neither the US nor China particularly wanted to escalate the war - hence the US was unwilling to bomb into Manchuria and China didn't go in on Taiwan. But China achieved their goal - get the US out of North Korea, off their border. The US also achieved their goal of keeping South Korea alive so the US, SK and China can be considered winners, while North Korea was the biggest loser.

You can't just say 'we won all the battles and got a great K/D but some weird political stuff happened and we left the other guy controlling the territory' - wars are about politics.

If your metric is fighting ability and military experience, then you sure can. Isn't that what you were originally questioning?

Firstly, the actual combat experience is limited and often unhelpful in many aspects for high-intensity warfare as I point up above.

Secondly, they show a lack of political-military coordination which is the single most important factor in warfare. The politicians and the soldiers need to be aligned, on the same side, working for victory above all else. The generals should not be scheming to deceive the politicians about conditions on the front, the politicians shouldn't be coming up with random exit dates or constraining use of force impractically, or meddling excessively in strategy for political purposes. Procurement and budgets should be focused on cost-efficiency, not politically motivated. It should be a close partnership working together, motivating soldiers to fight out a credible well-planned campaign for their country.

I'm not exaggerating when I say this is the most important factor, just look at how the US military struggles with morale and recruiting! Soldiers are demoralized by political dysfunction, by incoherent, losing wars in the Middle East. The USS Fitzgerald crashed because they were overworked and undermanned, asked to do too many (political) presence missions in Asia. Political emphasis on progressivism also has some bad effects, there was a whole report on how racial favoritism is undermining meritocracy, how some sailors felt like there was more emphasis on box-ticking and DIE than weapons handling.

Winning all the battles against China and having a great K/D but still losing the war would still be a loss.

What flavor of kool-aid is that?

This is not an argument or rebuttal, it's just a sneer. Don't post like this.

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Defeat in war would be a crippling blow to our economy and would probably prevent AGI development IMO.

I would dispute this. AGI, as it already exists in prototypical form in GPT-4 and friends, is a net value add to the economy. The knowhow won't go away, not now, and while I expect the majority of datacenters to get fried in WW3, I'd still expect them to be rebuilt within say, a decade or two, and then governments to focus on AGI as a strategic trump card to forestall a second nuking. AGI x-risk doesn't sound quite as bad when 10-20% of your population perished in nuclear fire and the culprits are around for round 2.

Even a damaged, teetering economy benefits from chatbots, and the mid-tier ones fit on a single consumer gpu. The cat isn't going back in the bag short of complete civilizational collapse on the scale of people struggling to power their electronics at all.

Say US share market takes a 50% valuation cut because the USD is now a second-rate currency... who is going to be doing venture capital for AI startups? Which big company is going to say 'lets be really ambitious in capital expenditure and R&D when our revenue has just collapsed and everyone's panicking?' It would be like a crypto winter but for the real economy. And if it goes nuclear, then I think the US and China are out of the game entirely. There would be massive brain drain away from an irradiated, EMPed, disintegrated state.

Even if you can run a chatbot on your PC, you certainly can't train it there. And if China controls Taiwan and South Korea's shipping lanes, they can siphon off the chips we need, along with much of the apparently-indispensable Taiwanese engineering talent needed to make chip fabs. China as No.1 GP could put a lot of pressure on ASML and the like to give them highest priority.

On the other hand I guess that DARPA and the like would go full speed ahead on superweapon research (why wouldn't they already be at full speed ahead though?) It does depend a lot on timelines. I reckon massively transformative AGI can be 15 years away, maximum. But it could be longer, giving more time to catch up after a loss.

What's your read on Chinese leadership even desiring a kinetic war? As husband to a very patriotic Chinese wife, I don't see it. The party line hasn't at all budged from "Taiwan is a part of a China" but also hasn't gained any addendum of "and will be reunified by any means necessary." They always make a lot of noise when America is playing at modifying or abandoning the One China policy, but of course they will, they won't let those perceived insults go completely unanswered. There's also close to zero animosity towards Taiwan or Taiwanese people, less so than there are for certain mainlanders, like how others perceive Shanghainese as haughty.

The trade restrictions likely increase the probability of war, for. at least two reasons. First, they encourages autarky, which lowers the costs of engaging in a war with states that used to provide you with the things you can now provide for yourself. Second, they makes military occupation one possible path to acquiring the denied goods, or else denying them to the one that denied them to you.

The party line hasn't at all budged from "Taiwan is a part of a China" but also hasn't gained any addendum of "and will be reunified by any means necessary."

That's been in there for some time, actually, and Xi Jinping reiterated it at the most recent party meeting to "re-elect" him. Note that article 8 is arguably triggered by the total collapse of unificationist sentiment in Taiwan following the abrogation of the Hong Kong deal in 2020.

The Paul Symon interview suggests to me that they're actively preparing for an attack; he implied that "a linear path" leads to "great-power conflict" and the most obvious explanation for that would be that the Five Eyes have detected such preparations. They could still abort, though.

My read is that not ruling out military options differs little from US policy on maintaining the option of a nuclear first strike. As a matter of strategy you don't want to broadcast exactly how much you'll allow or what your response will be. To do otherwise means adversaries toeing right up to your red line, or even worse, mildly crossing it and either forcing a response or proving you toothless.

In the past, I was making a rather confident prediction that «of course an [ex-]Communist empire with clear revanchist sentiment, under the absolute rule of a dubiously intelligent boomer, won't invade its breakaway province it's always accusing of being pawn to the hostile degenerate West, blathering about being historically their clay and "one people", conducting increasingly realistic "military exercises" in the vicinity of, and generally trying to suppress sovereign policymaking in; kinetic conflict would be straightforwardly suicidal, duh, surely they see that as well as I do and are just saber-rattling and bluffing». Now I'm looking with interest at Huawei's foldable tablet-phone, because I used to read books from a tablet that I've had to leave at home, two continents away, when said boomer did initiate the invasion.

Pardon my obliqueness.

I might be overcorrecting, sure. But I do not think the Chinese leadership is entirely rational or aware of all relevant pieces of data, this shit doesn't inspire confidence in their commitment to peaceful means of "reunification", neither does this shit, neither does this shit; and their rhetoric does incline towards "any means necessary":

All options on the table
Peaceful reunification has always been the preferred option for the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government in resolving the Taiwan question. China will make utmost efforts in utmost sincerity to strive for this prospect.
Yet the growing dangers of secession left China with no choice but to maintain credible deterrence against separatist adventurism and external interference.
The Anti-Secession Law promulgated in 2005 stipulates:“In the event that the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan's secession from China, or that major incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur, or that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In no way does this law target the people on Taiwan. Use of force would only be the last resort taken under compelling circumstances.
In recent decades, whenever the separatist forces and their American backers tried to push the envelope by provoking confrontation, China would react with firm actions to show its resolve and capabilities of upholding sovereignty and territorial integrity.
No matter whether it was Lee Teng-hui making a “private” visit to the US in June 1995 or US House Speaker insisting on visiting Taiwan in August 2022, the mainland would conduct large scale military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and adjacent waters. The only difference is China’s growing capabilities to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

I could go on. The parallels are striking in any case.

As husband to a very patriotic Chinese wife, I don't see it.

As a friend to a far-right-sympathising [redacted] officer, I saw genuine relief at the apparent cancellation of invasion plans on February 21st, 2022. People in almost any group tend to be less bloodthirsty than systems optimized for abstracting away human lives and those who imagine themselves their masters.

I suppose we shall see. After all, China is not Russia. For one thing, a major Russian chip design company went bankrupt under sanctions because it was hopelessly dependent on Taiwan. Unlike Huawei, as it turns out. Whether this makes them more or less likely to open hostilities is as of yet unknown.

I should remember to be humbled by my opinion in February 2022 that the Biden administration was blustering for some political advantage rather than responding to a real threat. Though I still maintain a small chance that this was itself statecraft aimed at kicking off hostilities: to very publicly tell Putin not to invade, when Putin had yet to broadcast a desire to invade, you change the scenario such that not invading is submission to the Americans. Moving forces to the border could have plausibly been bluster. I don't know if we've seen insider accounts that show invasion was the plan all along for weeks or months prior.

My great hope is that the incentives for Chinese leadership are such that they know playing a long peaceful game is in their best interest, and kicking the can on military conflict will be to their advantage for decades to come. My worry is that the United States knows this too, and will try its best to have a military conflict while it perceives the odds are in its favor. I wouldn't rule out a false flag operation.

I should remember to be humbled by my opinion in February 2022 that the Biden administration was blustering for some political advantage rather than responding to a real threat.

I remember watching unprecedented Russian military buildup near Ukraine before February 2022, remember OSINT sphere panicking and Russian nationalist sphere (then adjacent to Anatoly Karlin) gloating, and I should remember to be humbled by my opinion that Mosul and Kabul would be repeated, that some eastern European shithole country stands no chance against world's second superpower.

My only excuse is that I do not watch this depressing part of the world too closely and do not fancy myself to be analyst or military scientist, even amateur one.

Very whitepilling.


A plurality of distributed AI actors spearheaded by separate groups with competing value systems, as opposed to a globohomo singleton from the west dominating anything and everything forever. That, and, holding that they’re mutually exclusive, I prefer CCP backdoors in my silicon to NSA ones.

The OP’s analysis, big if true, might not be fully internalized by the usual suspects, if it is then I’ll be entertained by the kvetching from the MIRI-adjacent folk, if it isn’t then I’ll be reassured they might make the wrong moves until it will be too late for them.

It'll also presumably mean less focus on «regulation of AI risks» than some would hope for, denying this topic the uncontested succession to the Current Thing №1.

Do remember that this is mostly an increase to AI risk only in the situation where nuclear WWIII is avoided; if we do have a nuclear exchange, that slows down AI timelines quite a lot due to physical destruction, continent-spanning EMPs, and economic collapse - and it's not exactly like we're going to still be worried about nuclear war right after having one.

As someone who lives and will live in major population centers with at least a handful of ICBMs pointed at them, this is cold comfort.

Sure, a nuclear war, even at maximal intensity, isn't likely to be existential, but I'm not looking forward to it as a solution to slowing down AGI. Most of us urban Mottizens will die in the process.

Hell, I'd go so far as to say that a nuclear exchange will absolutely ramp up focus on AGI, as soon as supply chains recover, because everyone will want a decisive advantage to stop them getting nuked again (beyond options along the lines of Star Wars, Brilliant Pebbles and so on).

As someone who lives and will live in major population centers with at least a handful of ICBMs pointed at them

...Have you considered that this is not immutable? It's probably easier for you to get out of a city than it is for you to stop a nuclear war, at least. I might be on easy mode since I'm not employed, but radical career changes are possible, and, well, would you literally rather die?

(In case intent doesn't carry over the Internet - I'm not trying to make fun of you or anything here, just trying to reduce potential casualties.)

I chose to live in major cities because I don't think the risk of nuclear war is serious enough for me to sacrifice my QOL by moving to a place so boring/small it won't get nuked.

If it seemed like the missiles will fly anyway, well, I've got family in a barely urbanised area nearby reachable by car, and it's probably not important for anyone to target.

That's a solid plan. Just make sure you don't leave it too late.

I'll keep my eyes peeled, but I'm far more worried about AI, and in that scenario, there's nowhere in the lightcone that's safe. Hoping you don't get nuked or paperclipped either!

I'm far more worried about AI, and in that scenario, there's nowhere in the lightcone that's safe.

Agreed, although for those who think they can help stop AI, surviving GCRs prior to AI is a useful thing (I'm a little peeved that the Rat cult compounds group houses are in the obvious-nuke-target SF).

Hoping you don't get nuked or paperclipped either!

Outside of "chaos reigns, murdered by randoms" I'm not going to die in a nuclear war; nobody's going to nuke Bendigo and I've got bottled water in case the water supply gets poisoned by fallout. Stopping "chaos reigns, murdered by randoms" is harder; I've got rural family, and I'm likely to go there in the event, but the area's seething with crime (we've tried renting the place out a few times; one tenant stole the doors, and another planted a field of cannabis) so it's plausible we'd get murdered by randoms anyway. Cult compounds are the best anti-chaos protection I know, but I don't know any friendly cults (except the Rats, and a. international b. see above).

Well, it comes down to risk tolerance at the end of the day, things have yet to get so bad that my best bet is a cult haha. Either way, good luck, and I hope you make it to the point where nothing so piddling as mere radiation can hurt you anymore!

Most of us urban Mottizens will die in the process.

Looking forward to having this board all to myself soon, I tell you what. 🤠

nuclear exchange will absolutely ramp up focus on AGI, as soon as supply chains recover

Have you heard the idea that there simply aren’t enough fossil fuels left in the earth to kickstart another set of industrial revolutions after annihilation? We either complete the tech tree right now or we’re forever stuck in this gravity well. What do you say?

Toby Ord takes an axe to that argument in The Precipice; I'd recommend reading it, but Scott mentions the point in his review.

I always found that a dubious assertion, since we won't lose all our technological base, or more importantly, our knowledge base, in a mere nuclear war.

Realistic projections suggest a "mere" 1 or 2 billion in terms of casualties, including the aftermath, which isn't that bad all considered. Nuclear winter is also an alarmist myth, though I'm too busy to give a source rn.

Even if a more serious calamity threw us for a loop, well, if we discover biofuels like ethanol from corn, we can limp back, albeit with more difficulty than pulling sweet crude from the ground as we were used to.

as soon as supply chains recover

Depends on how long that takes. Depending on how bad our infrastructure really is, and the nature of the overall conflict beyond just the nukes themselves, I really do think we could be set so far back that recovery might take centuries — or, if some people are right about depletion of "low-hanging fruit" resources and inability to repeat the Industrial Revolution — might become impossible altogether.

I know more about semiconductors than the average layman, and I’m going to admit that most of this sort of washed over me. Tell me if this TLDR is roughly accurate?

  • China has taken a big step in onshoring silicon fabrication
  • This product isn’t state of the art, but it is closer than anything else produced on the mainland
  • It has occurred in the face of tech-sector sanctions intended to keep China dependent on the current geopolitical balance, especially regarding Taiwan
  • You think China can credibly achieve AGI first

What’s not clear to me is how this links to military involvement. Without this development, do you think China would have been unable to prosecute a shooting war against the West? And if so, are you saying that AGI will be the deciding factor?

I’m inclined to think that AGI will not figure in to the fate of Taiwan. If China thinks they can get away with an invasion, it will be through conventional military strength, not an order-of-magnitude advantage gleaned from an AI breakthrough. Such an advantage would take time to implement in the field, and outside of a hard takeoff, I expect China’s rivals will be able to copy or parallel the same breakthroughs.

To answer your questions directly: no, I do not think China needs AGI, or much in the way of AI or integrated circuits for data processing, to initiate a shooting war against the West or Taiwan. Indeed I argue that these technological capabilities are overwhelmingly civilian in application, and analysts like this guy

Recognizing the strategic importance of EUV machines, and under pressure from the United States, in November 2019, the Dutch government prevented ASML from shipping an EUV machine to China. Related news coverage painted ASML as a pawn in the U.S.-China trade war, but the Dutch decision was about so much more. There are many strategically important technologies in the development pipeline that are potentially dangerous or destabilizing. They include artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons systems, hypersonic missiles, cyberweapons, surveillance tools, and the latest generation of nuclear weapons. These technologies, and many others, require state-of-the-art chips to develop and deploy. Keeping these chips away from the Chinese government, or those acting on its behalf, can pre-empt many worst-case human rights and security scenarios in the coming decades. The Chinese government cannot engage in techno-authoritarianism or arms races if it lacks advanced chips.

– are lying through their teeth (as does Peter Zeihan, in a different way, when he tries to conjure Chinese collapse into reality with his shoddy "analytics").

Or rather, I think China needs compute for all of that only in the sense that without compute, China will just fizzle out and fall into irrelevance one way or another so won't be in a position to act up. Accordingly, Western defense plans around the situation that depend on «China is on its last legs as a technological power and will fizzle out» projection are less credible now.

Like @gattsuru, I do not find the calculus around future Chinese ambitions obvious. On one hand, having the domestic semiconductor supply chain makes them more secure and reduces the weight of «weakening countries lash out» logic. Remember that they were hit by sanctions at the height of their bragging about – for example – 5G everywhere, 6G in 2 more weeks, automated 5G-powered ports, remote mining, remote etc… now they can be more or less confident they'll remain able to service and even upgrade all those systems, and this goes for nearly every part of their infrastructure, not specifically Uighur surveillance, Social Credit and kamikaze drones, as some would have us think.

If Xi thought more like myself, he'd have seen this success as argument against military adventurism: with advanced compute at home, they can focus on steady progress and buildup and do not need to level the playing field short-term in this existential struggle, by smashing the TSMC before leading node fabs become active in the US and US-friendly nations (and vice versa, if China were stuck on 28nm+, it'd have made sense to act like this, perhaps winning a few years; I assume capturing TSMC is impossible).

On the other hand, weakening countries may rationally reduce their aims and, vice versa, strengthening countries may expand them (duh), historical precedents support this narrative.

On the gripping hand, we know that Xi does not think like myself, and may operate a more brutal Putin-like logic: China stronk, war easy, dragon rising to meet the bear, reee! Also, it may even be sensible to dispense with TSMC Taiwan, and fulfill the great dream of annexing the island, if this doesn't mean total chip embargo any more (and it's clear that Intel/TSMC Arizona/TSMC Kumamoto/etc will go live in the coming years anyway); in this vein, we might expect continued increase in belligerence as the ≤28nm supply chain is increasingly on-shored. Actually this line of thought seems the most solid to me.

But my argument pertains to the role China might play in the American strategic planning (and regulatory debate) on account of Chinese domestic, sanctions-resistant technological capabilities, and almost irrespective of its outward military posture or intended AGI timeline. Americans plan for the worst and assume their enemies can make the best of what they have.

On the gripping hand, we know that Xi does not think like myself, and may operate a more brutal Putin-like logic: China stronk, war easy, dragon rising to meet the bear, reee! Also, it may even be sensible to dispense with TSMC Taiwan, and fulfill the great dream of annexing the island, if this doesn't mean total chip embargo any more (and it's clear that Intel/TSMC Arizona/TSMC Kumamoto/etc will go live in the coming years anyway); in this vein, we might expect continued increase in belligerence as the ≤28nm supply chain is increasingly on-shored. Actually this line of thought seems the most solid to me.

I suppose I question whether AGI (or semiconductor factories in general) factors as much as this into the logic of CCP decisionmaking on Taiwan as people involved in blogging on tech and semiconductors and AI seem to think. If an invasion comes, I think it is likely to be for political science rather than computer science reasons. Denying the US chips for two or three years by poisoning the well and destroying TSMC in an invasion exposes China to so many additional external costs for what may not even be a substantial real-world advantage; and we don’t know what Xi’s opinions on AGI are anyway.

As you say, this debate is largely irrelevant because the compute for AGI certainly already exists, in both the US and in China. Patel seems obsessed with hardware and consults as a ‘strategy guy’ (to be honest, I question what he offers that internal analysts and big consultants don’t, because he doesn’t have any special insight or knowledge, writes badly (with many typos) and doesn’t seem particularly well connected in a way that, say, some of the better strategic intelligence firms probably are). But Patel is a hardware guy, he has to believe that spending trillions producing a hundred million more A100s is going to make all the difference because if you can jerry-rig AGI on $100m of rented compute and a couple of engineering breakthroughs (something he pooh-poohs when mocking HuggingFace or Databricks, not that they’re going to do it, but still) then the whole GPU arms race is, if not obsolete, then certainly less pressing to the really big questions.

In any case, the main thing the “more tflops = more AGI” logic forgets is that as soon as anyone has “AGI” (a relatively amorphous concept, obviously, and for military applications or whatever, non-AGI AI might still be preferable in various ways) everyone’s going to have it, even if it means more UAE via Caymans shell companies renting cloud access. There’s no world in which the US trains AGI and China just sits there with a very long telescope being sad for 5+ years while punching the wall.

And as ever, if (self-improving) AGI is soon, nothing matters. If it’s a long way away (unlikely), then China’s largest problem is birthrates, not hardware.

Until recently, Chinese mainland silicon was limited to much less precise fabrication approaches (eg, 50+nm) or limited to certain non-CPU/GPU products (Innotron's 19nm plant made RAM, period) or both (19nm isn't 7nm). Or they tried, and didn't work. Node size doesn't mean anything specific, but it's more predictive of power consumption and waste heat generation per op than it is of actual gate size, so it's very hard to get a certain amount of compute power in a given package without matching or exceeding a certain node threshold.

Because so much of modern industry and especially China's economic and surveillance engines were built around highly-efficient tech, this was presented a dilemma for any military (and some diplomatic) activities. If China did something other countries didn't like enough, they could cut off exports, and a lot of Chinese manufacturing and industry would be stuck tightening belts hard. In particular, this meant that a Chinese effort to take Taiwan faced a problem: the prize was getting TMSC's sub-5nm manufacturing capabilities, but even if China took the facilities intact -- a very hard thing to do -- they depend on a cross-world supply chain to keep running. If TMSC going down for a period means everybody-but-China is without new <7nm chips, that's a lot less concerning.

((Though the calculus still isn't obvious. There's a Wages of Destruction argument that even if your country's leadership was as ideologically blinkered as literally-Hitler, the country still goes to war on logistics, and China is not that ideologically blinkered and its logistics point to nearby oceans and the middle east and gfl on that last one. But I don't buy the Wages of Destruction argument completely.))

I don't think AI (or even chips in general) are the sole determining factor, but the manpower requirements for military adventurism or maintaining an occupation are dramatically lower with drone swarms and omnipresent facial recognition.