Inside a TSMC fab #makerbusiness

Wired ran a great story about TSMC. It’s a long one, and full of lots of flowery metaphors, but perhapas that is called for when discussing the world’s largest semiconductor fabricator.

By revenue, TSMC is the largest semiconductor company in the world. In 2020 it quietly joined the world’s 10 most valuable companies. It’s now bigger than Meta and Exxon. The company also has the world’s biggest logic chip manufacturing capacity and produces, by one analysis, a staggering 92 percent of the world’s most avant-garde chips—the ones inside the nuclear weapons, planes, submarines, and hypersonic missiles on which the international balance of hard power is predicated.

The piece covers everything from geopolitics, to fab technology, to the CHIPS act.

But this is important: Artificial intelligence and AR still can’t do it all. Though Liu is enthusiastic about the imminence of fabs run entirely by software, there is no “lights-out” fab yet, no fab that functions without human eyes and their dependence on light in the visible range. For now, 20,000 technicians, the rank and file at TSMC who make up one-third of the workforce, monitor every step of the atomic construction cycle. Systems engineers and materials researchers, on a bruising round-the-clock schedule, are roused from bed to fix infinitesimal glitches in chips. Some percentage of chips still don’t make it, and, though AI does most of the rescue, it’s still up to humans to foresee and solve the hardest problems in the quest to expand the yield. Liu tells me that spotting nano-defects on a chip is like spotting a half-dollar on the moon from your backyard.

It’s all very remarkable stuff. Kind of hard to comprehend.

And so we have invested our labor, treasure, and trust into silicon, and wrested from it new ways of experiencing, and thinking about, nearly everything. While humans have been busy over these six decades with our political anguish, and our wars, we have also created a universe inside our universe, one with its own infinite intelligence, composed of cryptic atomic switches, enlightened with ultraviolet and built on sand.

Read the whole piece here.


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