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Politics of Technology: Chip War (III)
Unintentionally, the Chip War lays out two very important issues. The first is the issue of the oligarchic structure of American politics. The second is the accepted, tremendously insufficient mindset behind all our technology development.
Miller lays out how the National Security State created and pushes a policy of weaponizing the integrated circuit. The Security State is the most entrenched and powerful American oligarchic bureaucracy. It's institutions are twice or more removed from any direct electoral or any other accountability, despite a seventy-five year track record that at very best is worrisome and a complete abomination at worse. It's essential to understand this chip war is pushed from deep within the bowels of the Security State.
Just as enlightening, this policy has cracked the ruling oligarchy to an extent not previously seen. On the other side are many of America's and the world's leviathan corporations, particularly, though no means exclusively, those of the Tech Industry. This oligarch opposition comprises the established immensely powerful corporate globalization system. They are even further removed than the Security State from direct electoral or any other control, but they are not lined up with the Security State's policy on China. Their self-interest, literally trillions of dollars of investment and established revenues, indeed, the very foundation of the last half-century of corporate globalization is China, insures opposition.
This split is far and away the most interesting politics to appear in Washington DC in decades, it's outcome remains uncertain. As the National Security State increases their pressure, the corporations fight back. Last month, the US Chamber of Commerce backed by dozens of Tech-Industry lobbying firms sent a letter to Congress in opposition to increasing chip prohibitions. Three weeks ago, Reuters reports, “US lawmakers ease proposed curbs on Chinese chips amid corporate pushback.”
Here America's oligarchy appears naked in all its power concerning an issue the American citizenry is both largely unaware and have zero influence determining the outcome. It is a developing fight between two oligarchic factions. It deserves the greatest attention as an actual power struggle opposed to the various reality TV spectacles passed-off as American politics. Unfortunately, in the end, the only winners in a struggle amongst oligarchs are oligarchs, a historical lesson always in need of relearning.
Miller's book is actually invaluable in documenting one the great many problems of the corporate globalization process, where chip production, amongst many goods, was concentrated not just in a few countries, but a few companies. Miller would have done his country and humanity lot better by critiquing all aspects of this concentration. The weakness in such “supply chains” was recently revealed not just in chip production but across the entire system.
The corporate globalized world is the greatest centralization of global economic power in history. The world needs a much more robust, equitable, and sustainable economic infrastructure. It needs restructuring from the ground-up, including a much more distributed manufacturing infrastructure. Really there’s no need for China to be exporting much of anything and plenty of need for everywhere else to build various manufacturing infrastructures for what they need. Now, what exactly need is, ay there’s the rub, but it’s certainly not just ok but healthy to have plenty of global manufacturing redundancy. Our ruling economic orthodoxy values distributed order and redundancy as extra cost, waste.
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The second issue is the need for a greater understanding of the politics of technology. This book is the politics of technology. However, an important feature the author lays out but never challenges is the whole mindset of the information technology industry – the industrial imperative that more is always better.
In the 1960s, Intel founder Gordon Moore stated what became known as Moore's Law, basically meaning about every two-years chip power would double, while the cost of production would decrease. This has more or less held true for six-decades, leading to an exhausting race to grow the power of integrated circuits. Considered an unmitigated good, it has been the instrumental ethos of the entire industry.
The only real check on any chip development is whether or not it makes money, a lot of money. This is the information technology industry's, as all industry before, underlying imperative. One of the original engineers at Fairchild Semiconductor, Robert Noyce stated his reason for leaving to start Intel was, “I want to get rich.” And make no mistake, besides all the other prattle, that has been the Valley's overwhelming motivation.
Don't get me wrong. I'm neither anti-technology or against people making money, even within strict limits, getting rich. However in the 21st century, it's clear to all, or should be, that money as the prime or more accurately the indisputable value system for technological development is grossly and dangerously deficient. It's even more detrimental when the money system itself is completely corrupt and dysfunctional.
Miller reports, “According to the American Automotive Policy Council, an industry group, the world’s biggest auto companies can use over a thousand chips in each car.” Is this necessary? Or maybe a more important technology question, in an era where America must transcend the automobile as the primary means of transportation, how can information technologies help us restructure our transportation and distribution infrastructure? Here’s a clue, it would mean a company like Amazon wouldn’t exist. We have no politics to even ask these questions.
Instead, technological development is led almost exclusively by technology itself. For example, chip development and declining costs have led to the mass ubiquity of “smart” phones. It needs to be asked outside of certain specific needs is human society qualitatively better? Certainly it's different, but there's plenty of arguments to be made it can be done tremendously better. This require a politics of technology, not a simple default to money as the prime determinant, by so doing, we in fact ever more detrimentally limit technology's value.
From it's inception, civilization has been defined by the accumulation of information, knowledge gained, and resulting technological implementation. Chips are information technologies formed by knowledge gained from the science of quantum physics. To be effectively utilized these technologies require a revolutionary change in human understanding. Starting with a most essential change in that very old human notion of violence and militarism. Two years before the invention of the transistor, quantum physics unleashed the atomic bomb, making it quite clear the world needed to change. The sad conclusion of Chip War, despite all hype about the last decades innovation and genius, we've changed not at all.