Ben Thompson, stratechery, The Intel Opportunity, here. Swaportunity – the option to switch out of a high margin business for a low margin manufacturing job.
The Commodification of Chip Design
Most chip designers are fabless; they create the design, then hand it off to a foundry. AMD, Nvidia, Qualcomm, MediaTek, Apple – none of them own their own factories. This certainly makes sense: manufacturing semiconductors is perhaps the most capital-intensive industry in the world, and AMD, Qualcomm, et al have been happy to focus on higher margin design work.
Much of that design work, however, has an increasingly commoditized feel to it. After all, nearly all mobile chips are centered on the ARM architecture. For the cost of a license fee, companies, such as Apple, can create their own modifications, and hire a foundry to manufacture the resultant chip. The designs are unique in small ways, but design in mobile will never be dominated by one player the way Intel dominated PCs.
The Rise of Manufacturing
It is manufacturing capability, on the other hand, that is increasingly rare, and thus, increasingly valuable. In fact, today there are only four major foundries: Samsung, GlobalFoundries, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, and Intel. Only four companies have the capacity to build the chips that are in every mobile device today, and in everything tomorrow.
Massive demand, limited suppliers, huge barriers to entry. It’s a good time to be a manufacturing company. It is, potentially, a good time to be Intel. After all, of those four companies, the most advanced, by a significant margin, is Intel. The only problem is that Intel sees themselves as a design company, come hell or high water.
Natalie Wolchover, Simons Foundation, Perpetual Motion Test Could Amend Theory of Time, here. This time crystal breaking the translational symmetry of time has a better chance of making it big in the next year than E Cigarettes.
The Berkeley-led team will attempt to build a time crystal by injecting 100 calcium ions into a small chamber surrounded by electrodes. The electric field generated by the electrodes will corral the ions in a “trap” 100 microns wide, or roughly the width of a human hair. The scientists must precisely calibrate the electrodes to smooth out the field. Because like charges repel, the ions will space themselves evenly around the outer edge of the trap, forming a crystalline ring.
At first, the ions will vibrate in an excited state, but diode lasers like those found in DVD players will be used to gradually scatter away their extra kinetic energy. According to the group’s calculations, the ion ring should settle into its ground state when the ions are laser-cooled to around one-billionth of a degree above absolute zero. Access to this temperature regime had long been obstructed by background heat emanating from trap electrodes, but in September, a breakthrough technique for cleaning surface contaminants off electrodes enabled a 100-fold reduction in ion trap background heat. “That’s exactly the factor we need to bring this experiment into reach,” Häffner said.
Next, the researchers will switch on a static magnetic field in the trap, which their theory says should induce the ions to start rotating (and continue doing so indefinitely). If all goes as planned, the ions will cycle around to their starting point at fixed intervals, forming a regularly repeating lattice in time that breaks temporal symmetry.
To see the ring’s rotation, the scientists will zap one of the ions with a laser, effectively tagging it by putting it into a different electronic state than the other 99 ions. It will stay bright (and reveal its new location) when the others are darkened by a second laser.
If the bright ion is circling the ring at a steady rate, then the scientists will have demonstrated, for the first time, that the translational symmetry of time can be broken. “It will really challenge our understanding,” Li said. “But first we need to prove that it does indeed exist.”
Serge Lang, CUNY Einstein Chair Mathematics Seminar Video, 1986, here. I don’t think I even saw a picture of Lang before this. That is quite a collection of talk videos.