World War 3? #emba27

Augustus Brown Written by Gusby · 2 min read >

In 1914, a Serbian nationalist shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This escalated into a large scale war, as different countries joined a side in the conflict. The First World War went on for four years and took many lives.

Some countries formed the League of Nations to prevent such the reoccurrence of another world war. Yet in 1935, Italy attacked and conquered Ethiopia, forcing Emperor Haile Selassie into exile. The League of Nations did nothing to stop them. In 1937, Japan invaded China as well. Again the League of Nations did nothing. By 1938, Germany was ready to join the fray. They attacked Austria first, then Czechoslovakia. It eventually turned into a full scale war in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. The world was again at war until 1945.

The United Nations has kept a fragile peace since 1945. But this has not stopped people from predicting the commencement of a third world war.

On 24th February, 2022, Russia invade Ukraine and many are saying this will lead to World War 3. However, I disagree. A semiconductor feud will trigger World War 3. Here is why.

Going Digital

John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley invented the transistor at the Bell Laboratories in 1947. This is a devise that allowed you to change ON or OFF state by applying voltage, that is, a logical circuit. A combination of transistors forms an integrated circuit (IC), which can perform complex calculations or automate processes.

An Integrated Circuit (IC) on a circuit board

When it was discovered that semiconductors could produce miniature transistors, everything changed . A single IC could contain millions of transistors. The result was more complex use cases.

Today, most equipment use semiconductor devices. Mobile phones, laptops, smart watches, calculators, motor vehicles, and even smart toasters contain semiconductors. We require more semiconductors to fill our insatiable demand for technology.

Unintended Consequences

Presently, we live in a post industrial age. The manufacturing process must be efficient. Semiconductor chips automate and streamline factories to increase output and efficiency. In some instances, factories operate without human intervention. You need semiconductors to make semiconductors. It is a vicious loop that can only be broken if we discover a different way of making logical circuits.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, more people started to require more devices at home to cope with the lockdown. Demand increased sharply for personal computing devices such as laptop and smart phones. When the lockdowns ended demand remained, manufacturers found it more difficult to procure semiconductor parts for their equipment. The shortage severely affected the auto industry. This was widely reported in the news.

Presently, the world has mostly returned to normal but the semiconductor shortage is still with us. Lead times have increased for most products. Only the richest companies such as Apple are able to skip ahead of the demand queue.

Limited Supply

There are a few companies that can make high-end semiconductor chips. They include Intel, Global Foundries, Samsung and TSMC. All of them make use of patents or technology from the US.

Due to this fact, the United States government was able to successfully curtail the growth of Huawei as  a telecommunications giant. They made it illegal to offer US technology to Huawei effectively cutting off the supply of chips to Huawei. The Chinese company with all the might of the Republic of China behind them, have not found a way around it.

These events have caused governments around the world to realize the importance of local semiconductor manufacturing. The Europeans, Americans and Chinese are considering building plants.

If China should attack Taiwan due to their long standing feud, it will affect the whole world. This is because TSMC is located in Taiwan. TSMC is the largest 3rd party IC supplier in the world. Their customers include Apple and AMD. This situation will worsen the present semiconductor shortage. The most likely consequence of this invasion will be an all out war for the heart and soul of semiconductor supply.

Hopefully, this situation will remain hypothetical and not materialize.

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