I was sitting in a conference room the other day, meeting with a company that wanted to supply a component for a new chip we’re working on. These days most chips are assembled from big pieces from other firms. It’s the only way to handle the hundreds of millions of transistors that go onto a $10 chip.
I was looking around the room. Here was our internal expert on this kind of hardware, a Chinese-American. Here was our expert on this software, from Eastern Europe. The senior person from the presenting company was a tall, thin Dutch guy, and his US application engineer was a brusque Israeli. East Coast sales were handled by a genial Boston Irishman. I was the only WASP there, and I’m a first generation American myself.
When I started my career it wasn’t like this. A significant number of people I worked with then had been born nearby. Those were days when ten people could build a competitive chip, and would design every transistor on it. It still takes about ten people to do a chip, but they won’t ever touch a transistor, or even do much logic design. They can’t possibly, if they want to finish in their lifetimes.
So we use larger and larger blocks, that have to come from a wider and wider range of sources. There’s a wider range of skills involved too, from physics at the process level to system experience with software tools. The talent to do this has to come from a wider and wider pool as well. Thus the range of backgrounds in even this one meeting. Even the country with the largest and oldest electronics industry in the world , the US, can’t develop chips by itself.
If you’re in tech, you’re familiar with this. Globalism is taken completely for granted, and is an obvious necessity. Not so for a lot of people. They seem to think that Harley Davidsons can be made entirely in America. The Brexiters thought that their small island could manage a modern industrial economy, and they’re finding that they can’t even manage the negotiations with the EU. Worse still are the people who think that an all-white country can work, that letting in only certain people like, say, Slovenian models (to pick a random example) is enough to sustain a country.
They’re bigots, and they’re obsolete. It hasn’t worked that way for decades. Look at the poor Russians — their one technical success, rocketry, has been running on old tech for so long that it’s both failing (E.g. the recent Soyuz abort and upper stage launch failures) and getting surpassed (E.g. Vector, SpaceX and Blue Origin). They aren’t part of the worldwide slosh of ideas and talent, and they’re getting left behind. If it can happen to a country as full of determined and brilliant people as theirs, it can happen to anyone.