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Is the Semiconductor Cycle Turning?

Lim Hui Jie wrote . . . . . . . . .

In the 1965 sci-fi novel Dune, civilisations across the entire universe fight for control over the spice melange trade. A line from the 1984 movie adaptation summarises its importance: “He who controls the spice, controls the universe.”

As explained in the novel, the spice, harvested painstakingly by filtering sand from the vast desert, enabled deep space travel so that trade could flourish and planets prosper.

To a certain extent, today’s semiconductors — essentially made from sand as well — are the spice melange in this millennium.

After all, semiconductor chips sit in the heart of countless devices ranging from the simple TV remote to a supercomputer that can process quadrillions of floating-point operations or flops per second. Without these chips, there would be no electronic devices beyond the simplest ones. There would be no smartphones, radios, TVs, computers, video games as well as advanced medical diagnostic equipment.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, these bits of silicon came under the spotlight when a spike in demand, coupled with closures of factories, ports and airports around the world, led to a global shortage of semiconductor chips.

The immediate impact was felt far and wide. Cars sat unfinished on factory floors while prices of laptops, smartphones and tablets soared. More than a year after its launch, Sony Group Corp’s newest flagship game console, the Playstation 5, is still not widely available while Samsung Electronics delayed the launch of its Galaxy Note smartphone until this year. Meanwhile, Japanese carmaker Toyota Motor Corp was forced to cut production by 40% last September. Other carmakers such as Honda Motor, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company were similarly impacted.

Viewed from another perspective, in these two years, semiconductors were arguably the most sought-after commodity apart from masks, medical PPE and Covid-19 vaccines.

To alleviate the crunch and tame soaring prices, various semiconductor manufacturers promised capacity expansions with market-leading foundries like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC) and Samsung Electronics, which makes chips based on the designs of customers, ramping up investment.

Similarly, Intel Corp, which designs and makes its own chips, is planning to pour substantial capital to raise both its manufacturing capabilities and capacity. In a Sept 8, 2021, report by Reuters, Intel announced it could invest as much as EUR80 billion ($123.85 billion) in Europe over the next decade and open up its semiconductor plant in Ireland for automakers.

Elsewhere, Intel announced In October 2021 it is spending US$20 billion ($27.11 billion) on a new plant in the US state of Arizona. Most recently on Dec 13, 2021, Intel announced it is spending US$7 billion to build a new plant in Penang, where it already has a significant presence for years.

“Industry players are responding to the chip shortage by building capacity, driving yields and supply as rapidly as possible,” Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told a press conference in Malaysia on Dec 16, 2021. “Overall, the semiconductor industry this year will grow more than it has in the last two to three decades,” he adds.

Meanwhile, TSMC also reported in July 2021 that it plans to build new factories in the US and Japan after previously announcing it will spend US$100 billion over the next three years to expand chip-fabrication capabilities. TSMC also added it will expand production capacity in China and does not rule out the possibility of a “second phase” expansion of its US$12 billion factory in Arizona.

Supply and demand

However, the billion-dollar question (literally speaking) is this: With a surge of new supply projected to come sometime between this year and next year, will the market suffer from overcapacity? Could this then send semiconductor prices crashing, reversing the fortunes of semiconductor companies?

While this “boom and bust” phenomenon had happened regularly in the past, analysts do not think there will be a correction this year because the shortage is a bigger and more immediate worry although there will be some lifting of upward pricing pressure eventually.

In spite of any indications to the contrary, the industry is now at its all-time high. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), global chip sales hit a record in 2021 at US$555.9 billion, up 26.2% over 2020. However, the US-based industry body expects a moderation this year, with an estimate of 8.8%. “It’s still really trending very strongly towards increased demand. We’re just not going to get this kind of slingshot effect that we had in the pandemic,” says SIA CEO John Neuffer of the much slower growth seen.

DBS Group Research analyst Ling Lee Keng tells The Edge Singapore that while the semiconductor sector has grown about 25% in 2021, she expects “high single-digit” y-o-y growth in 2022, in line with SIA’s estimates.

Ling expects the industry to hit a cycle peak sometime in 2023. “Then in 2023 or 2024, we could see a surge in new capacity, leading to a drop in the prices of chips,” she says, adding that the drop is only in the “single digits” and that the uptrend will remain intact, albeit at a slower growth rate. She expects the industry to grow at a CAGR of 9% from 2020 to 2025 which is expected to slow to 3% from 2023 to 2025.

PhillipCapital’s senior analyst Terence Chua agrees. “The current shortage is unlikely to be resolved by the end of 2022 and will actually follow through to 2023,” says Chua at a recent presentation.

Despite additional supply coming from the foundries, Chua expects these to be soaked up by strong demand from customers like Nvidia, which specialises in graphics processing capabilities that have found new use cases in crypto mining, and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), which is competing more strongly than before with market leader Intel. He calls the oversupply concerns “overblown” and continues to be bullish on the demand for advanced nodes.

Unlike glovemakers setting up shop from scratch during the pandemic and hitting production targets within months, semiconductors are much more complicated to build and certify. Thus, it takes significantly more time to bring in supply from new plants, he adds. Says Chua, “Although Intel says we’re going to set up a new plant in Europe, in China and Arizona, it is not going to come onstream [quickly enough].”

“When you want to build an advanced chips plant like the way TSMC does, it takes at least one and a half years to do so. Sometimes, Intel even takes longer,” he adds. This could also be delayed by geopolitical problems around the world which could exacerbate the supply shortage although Chua admits it is difficult to gauge the exact impact of these developments.

Other analysts like Phelix Lee of Morningstar are more cautious. He tells The Edge Singapore that the semiconductor industry is “quite close to the peak” this year and expects the shortage to ease in the second half after carmakers resolve their shortage. Come 2023, prices should start moderating and while 2024 could see an oversupply situation happening as more new capacity becomes operational that year and bring about the “tipping point” from a shortage to an oversupply.

“Recent foundry announcements to expand will only add pressure to the next oversupply, as previous cycles dictate,” says Lee, noting that strong year-on-year increases in capital expenditure are often followed by significant slowdowns in market growth. These slowdowns are due to capacity momentarily expanding faster than demand, which leads to aggressive price cuts by foundries to sustain utilisation.

Source : The Edge Singapore

The Lifecycle of a Semiconductor Chip

Gabrielle Athanasia and Gregory Arcuri wrote . . . . . . . . .

With the global economy reeling from a shortage in semiconductor chips, policy makers have turned their attention to strengthening the resilience of the supply chain, recognizing the centrality of this technology to economic growth and national security. This supply chain incorporates the extremely complex and costly processes of harvesting raw materials, designing, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping that are now carried out across the world to produce the variety of semiconductors that go on to live in our toasters, smartphones, computers, buildings, and cars.

To better understand the vulnerabilities in the semiconductor supply chain, we take a closer look at each step in a chip’s life cycle.

What Are Semiconductors and What Materials Are Required for Their Manufacture?

A semiconductor is a physical substance designed to manage and control the flow of current in electronic devices and equipment. The name “semiconductor” comes from the fact that a semiconductor chip is made from material that is neither entirely conductive of electricity nor fully insulating. They are typically created by adding impurities to, or “doping”, elements such as silicon, germanium, or other pure elements to alter their conductivity. A “wafer” of silicon or another semiconductor material is then edited to create complex circuits, which are capable of completing computing tasks. Examples of conventional devices and components built by using semiconductors include computer memory, integrated circuits, diodes, and transistors.

Semiconductors are typically made from one of two elements whose molecular structure when crystalized is secure enough to facilitate and regulate an electrical current: germanium and silicon. Germanium, the element on which the first transistor was developed, is a relatively rare and, therefore, expensive semiconductor. Currently, the U.S. maintains greater than 50% reliance on imported germanium from Belgium and China. U.S. germanium reserves are estimated to be near 2,500 tons, significantly behind China, which leads annual production at 85,000 tons. Silicon, however, is the second-most abundant element on Earth, accounting for roughly 28% of the Earth’s crust. While pure silicon, an ideal semiconductor, does not occur naturally on Earth, it can be synthesized by superheating silicon dioxide with carbon materials.

How are Semiconductors Designed?

While the science that undergirds the logic of a semiconductor’s basic functions is relatively simple, the mass-manufacturing of such small and delicate electrical components requires a complex design process. According to Synopsys, a chip design and verification firm, the process can be broken down into five steps.

The first of these is the architectural design of the chip, wherein the parameters of the chip are determined including its size, desired function, level of power consumption, and preferred cost.

Next is the logic and circuit design. After the parameters are outlined, engineers begin translating the required functions into circuit logic. Today, this process is done on automated logic simulators to verify that everything is in order before production.

Third is the physical design phase. Here, the circuit logic is mapped onto a silicon wafer. Essentially, this is a plan of where each transistor, diode, or other component will sit on the chip.

Finally, the verification and sign-off phases are used to verify whether the designed chip is manufacturable and whether it can withstand the physical stresses of its assigned function. Specifically, added resistance from wiring, signal crosstalk, and variability are all factors to be considered.

How are Semiconductors Manufactured, Packaged, and Shipped?

The process used to print circuits onto silicon-crystal wafers is called “photolithography.” The silicon wafer is coated with a layer of light-resistant material called the “photoresist.” Then, using photolithography, the photoresist is weakened or hardened in certain pre-determined regions by exposing it to UV radiation (light). During a step called “etching” the weakened sections of photoresist are removed. The exposed silicon crystal is then “doped” with impurities to alter its conductivity and create microelectronic components like transistors and diodes. Thousands of these circuits can be printed onto a single wafer side by side, and the wafer will go through a series of other complex steps before it is completed. Finally, each “die” of semiconductor is sliced from the wafer using precision sawing or laser technology.

Silicon chips are extremely fragile microelectronics that can be irrevocably damaged by excessive vibration, temperature fluctuations, or even static electricity. This has spurred the inception of an entire new industry adjacent to semiconductor manufacturing: chip packaging. Packages are meant to protect the semiconductor and facilitate its connection to a larger circuit or board. While packaging innovations and production used to be an entirely separate process, chip manufacturers themselves have begun developing expertise and integrating it into the manufacturing process. The fragility of the semiconductors also affects their shipping process, which must be done by specialized logistics firms.

An Interdependent and International Supply Chain

Because semiconductors are extremely complex products to design and manufacture, a highly specialized global supply chain has developed over the past few decades. The supply chain has four main components: sourcing of raw materials, design, manufacture, and packaging. Complicating matters, different countries specialize in each component.

In terms of raw materials, China is the world’s leading supplier of silicon, accounting for an estimated 64% of total silicon materials in 2019 according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

With regards to the design phase, the United States is still the world’s leader. Seven of the top ten integrated circuit design companies by annual revenue are headquartered in the United States. Often, these firms operate via a “fabless” business model, whereby they design the chips, then license the intellectual property (IP) to firms around the world to produce them. The name “Silicon Valley” is therefore a holdover from the days that the U.S. dominated this global industry.

Yet, for a few decades now, Taiwan has been the undisputed global leader in terms of market share for semiconductor manufacture. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) alone accounts for roughly 54% of all global foundry revenue. South Korea’s Samsung trails TSMC at 17%, while Global Foundries, the largest U.S.-based manufacturing firm, controls 7% of the market. Adjacent to manufacturing, the Dutch firm Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography (ASML) is currently the only company in the world that builds lithographic machines powerful enough for the most sophisticated chips. Each machine is comprised of over 100,000 individual parts and costs roughly $150 million. The firm ASML is expected to hit $28-$35 billion in annual revenue by 2025. This makes the Netherlands a key node in the global semiconductor supply chain.

According to the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, the semiconductor assembly and packaging market is extremely diverse, with firms from the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, and the Netherlands specializing in inspecting wafers, “dicing” them into individual chips, packaging them, and integrating them into larger electronic components.

These realities mean that each node on the semiconductor supply chain is interdependent on one another. States rely on international trade to move materials, equipment, and products around the world to facilitate the manufacture of this key ingredient in the global high-tech economy.

Full self-sufficiency, therefore, is a difficult and expensive goal to achieve. According to a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, if regional supply chains (U.S., East Asia, China, Europe, and others) wanted to reach total self-sufficiency, it would require $1 trillion in incremental up-front investment to meet current levels of semiconductor consumption. It would also result in a 35% to 65% overall increase in semiconductor prices and higher costs of electronic devices for end users. The study also concluded that even to meet projected semiconductor demand in today’s globally connected market, the industry will need to invest at least $3 trillion over the next ten years in R&D and capital expenditure alone.

Recent Strains and Efforts to Alleviate Them

While disruptions in the semiconductor supply chain caused by COVID-19 brought awareness of the global chip shortage into the public domain, the issue predates the pandemic. Given their ubiquity in the devices that power the modern digital economy, demand for chips has been skyrocketing for decades, and will continue to increase along with demand for technologies like mobile phones and electric vehicles according to a recent report by Accenture. As the industry struggles to keep pace, ‘black swan’ events like earthquakes, floods, and fires (such as the blaze at the Renesas chip manufacturing plant in Japan) have had disastrous cascading effects. Pandemic-related lockdowns and border closures only exposed and aggravated the supply chain’s inherent fragility caused by its international nature and intensifying global demand.

In response to these developments, policy makers around the world have unveiled plans to bolster their domestic manufacture of semiconductors to mitigate the worst effects of supply chain breakdowns. In Europe, the European Commission has drafted legislation to mobilize over €43 billion in public and private funds to double its share of the global semiconductor manufacturing market by 2030. Meanwhile, in the United States, lawmakers continue to debate the CHIPS for America Act and the FABS Act, which provide lump-sum and tax-based incentives for chip manufacturers to “onshore” their operations. These efforts, while they have yet to take effect, will be the first steps in strengthening regional and national resiliency against future crises plaguing the supply chain of this critical technology.

Source : Center for Strategic and International Studies

Chart: The Countries With the Best Digital Quality of Life

Source : Statista

Read also at Surf Shark

2021 Digital Quality of Life Index . . . . .

Incognito Mode Isn’t As Incognito As You Might Think

Thorin Klosowski wrote . . . . . . . . .

You’ve seen the prompt: If you’re using a shared or public computer, use incognito mode. It gives you a sense of security knowing that whatever sites you visit or passwords you type won’t be saved to the device—like skulking around in an invisibility cloak. But of course, nothing you do online is invisible. Private browsing (aka incognito mode) is a great way to prevent your web browser from saving what you do. But to call it privacy-focused is a stretch, and while your browser or device doesn’t log your movements in its history and cookies, that doesn’t mean the sites you visit don’t clock your behavior. Despite its name, you’re not really incognito, and you may want to dial back your confidence in what these modes really do.

What is incognito mode?

Every browser seems to use a different name for this type of browsing. Chrome calls it Incognito, while Firefox and Safari call it Private Browsing, and Microsoft Edge calls it InPrivate. But they all essentially do the same thing: They forget everything you do when you use them. This means your browsing history isn’t saved, and nothing you do gets logged for autofill purposes.

It also means cookies aren’t saved. Cookies are an essential part of web browsing that, among other things, enable you to stay logged into a site. They also enable sites to store your shopping cart history or the times you’ve visited the site before, which helps the site choose whether or not to bother you with newsletter sign-up prompts or those cookie opt-out requests. Cookies have also long been an important part of the third-party advertising world.

What is incognito mode for?

Private browsing is great for low-stakes searches that you don’t want showing up in your browsing or search history. It’s useful if you’re borrowing someone else’s computer and don’t want your search saved, shopping for gifts on a shared computer, researching medical issues, or searching for something stupid you just don’t want someone else using your computer to stumble upon.

But there’s a false sense of how private these modes are, which can be problematic in cases where it’s crucial you remain truly private.

What is it not good for?

Browsing the internet leaves trails of data everywhere, and companies have built ways to track what you do regardless of cookies and browser history. Google was sued in 2020 for tracking people through its various services, even when people used an incognito tab. Files you download and bookmarks you create are typically saved on your computer during private sessions, and they are not wiped once you end your session. Your IP address, which reveals your general location and can be tied back to your device, may still be tracked on whatever site you visit. Device fingerprints, which collect seemingly innocuous details such as the type of computer you have, what browser you use, or the screen resolution on your computer, can be packaged together and used to track you. Your internet service provider can also see the sites you visit, and if you’re using the internet at work or school, those network administrators may have that same level of access.

And don’t forget: If you log in to any service (such as Facebook or Google) in a private browsing window, that session is no longer private, as the companies are able to match your habits to your registered account, giving them the same access to what you do online for the course of that browsing session. Any data you store on a third-party service during this session—files, photos, contact information, appointments, and more—can also potentially be accessed by the company hosting the data if you’re logged into an account.

The best way to think about private browsing modes is like this: Private or incognito browsing avoids leaving a history of what you do on your own devices. They’re useful, but mostly limited to removing the threat of someone with physical access to your computer seeing what you’ve been up to. Everything you do during that supposedly private browsing session may still be tracked by companies on the internet.

You can combat some of this tracking with browser extensions, but some browsers disable those extensions in private browsing modes. A trustworthy virtual private network can also provide a potential layer of privacy, though an untrustworthy one may still leak or monitor that data. It’s worth considering a browser that focuses more on privacy by default, like Firefox, Safari, or Brave, instead of Chrome or Microsoft Edge. And for searches, use a search engine like DuckDuckGo, Brave Search, or Startpage instead of Google or Bing. But know that even when you do everything as privately as possible, it’s unlikely that you’re truly anonymous. If you’re searching for information that is critical to keep private, use Tor Browser, which helps cloak your location, doesn’t save your history, and removes most tracking.

One privacy tip: Change your default search engine

Aside from being one of the most privacy-invasive products Google makes, Google Search also kind of sucks these days. Results are buried deep down on a page, various boxes of irrelevant or incorrect information fight for your attention, and every link seems to lead back to another Google product. It’s time to switch to something different.

Instead of Google, I prefer a more privacy-focused option like DuckDuckGo or Startpage, both of which give you results up top without confusing ads or Google-specific products. To make these easier to use, you should change the default search option so your browser uses your preferred search engine when you type a search into the URL bar:

  • Chrome: Click the three-dot icon > Settings and select the Search Engine tab.
  • Firefox: Click the three-line icon > Settings and select the Search tab.
  • Safari: Click Safari > Preference and click the Search tab.
  • Microsoft Edge: Click the three-dot icon > Settings > Privacy, search, and services > Address bar and search.

Source : Wirecutter

The Unsinkable Potential of Autonomous Boats

Rebecca Heilweil wrote . . . . . . . . .

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship finally arrived on the coast of Nova Scotia last month, marking the end of its long trek across the Atlantic. While the modern Mayflower is far from the first vessel to make that voyage, this small robotic boat is the largest to ever do so navigated by artificial intelligence with no humans aboard. A few technical hiccups notwithstanding, its trip is the latest evidence that the future of the high seas could be autonomous.

Slowly, self-steering ships are becoming a reality. In Norway, an autonomous battery-powered container vessel is shuttling fertilizer between a factory and a local port, and pending a successful trial, it could be fully certified within the next two years. A commercial tanker called the Prism Courage recently traveled from Texas, through the Panama Canal, to South Korea, guided by software from Avikus, a subsidiary of HD Hyundai, a shipbuilding operation that was spun off of the car group. There are even some boats meant to transport humans that can now operate on their own: A self-driving water taxi created by the artificial intelligence startup Buffalo Automation was ready to ferry people across the Tennessee River in downtown Knoxville, at least as of April.

Not all robo-boats are created equal. Some current AI sailing software is assistive, and requires at least some form of monitoring from a person onboard, while more advanced technology can operate a ship entirely independently, without any need for humans. Regardless, this new generation of autonomous vessels stands to make people a more marginal part of life at sea. Because many self-steering boats are still relatively new, there’s not yet enough evidence to prove that the technology that powers these ships is as capable as human navigators. Still, these vehicles could not only make it easier to traverse the world’s waterways, but also do so with a smaller carbon footprint than crewed boats.

“A computer can be optimizing for fuel savings and integrating a lot of different inputs around how fast they need to be moving through the water to reach their destination on time, what the weather conditions are like, how the vessel is operating, [and] how the engines are operating,” Trevor Vieweg, the chief technology officer at Sea Machines Robotics, a startup that designs self-driving boat tech, told Recode. “By using those same technologies, we can reduce carbon emissions — and fuel burn overall.”

To navigate independently, an autonomous boat typically needs a wide variety of sensors, including cameras and radar, as well as data from other sources, like GPS. These sensors are positioned around the vessel, and help a ship plan its route and sense nearby obstacles, like, for example, a floating log or a chunk of an iceberg. As with self-driving cars, autonomous ships can be classified into several levels based on how well their tech can perform without human help. The International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency that regulates shipping, has proposed a spectrum of autonomy starting with Level 1 ships, which would be operated by humans but might allow AI to make some unsupervised decisions, and ramping up in sophistication to Level 4 ships that could sail completely independently, with no human involvement or decision-making required.

Advocates say these ships are less susceptible to human error — ship and boat accidents are somewhat common — and could allow boat operators to assign workers to other tasks where they can be more productive. Artificial intelligence could also navigate ships more efficiently, and make better calculations about routes and speeds. The hope is that by saving time and, perhaps most importantly, fuel, ocean vessels can cut down on their energy consumption, which remains a significant contributor to climate change. In the absence of full autonomy, some experts have even suggested that software could enable humans to steer boats remotely, which would come with several benefits. For instance, remotely piloted ships would reduce the risk of spreading illness through international cargo transport, which has been a concern throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Right now, ships with autonomous capabilities represent a tiny fraction of the many vessels in operation today. But in the future, self-steering ships could make all sorts of water-based activities more convenient. For example, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, which was supported in part by IBM, was designed to study the ocean’s health, record audio of marine life, and take samples of microplastic. The boat doesn’t include a deck, bathrooms, or bunks, and much of the space inside is occupied by its technology, like its onboard computers, batteries, and motors.

“Not having humans on board frees up/eliminates the space occupied by them and supplies necessary to sustain human presence, as well as the power that the ship requires to carry the weight entailed,” said Ayse Atauz Phaneuf, the president of ProMare, the marine research organization that worked on the project. “Unmanned vehicles such as the Mayflower Autonomous Project will be able to spend considerably longer time at sea, accessing significant yet distant parts of the ocean.”

Phaneuf told Recode that the vehicle, and others like it, could eventually make ocean research expeditions much less expensive to launch. In addition to making it easier to study the ocean, autonomous ships could also make it more convenient to transport freight. In Japan, a partnership between a non-profit and freight transportation companies successfully showed earlier this year that autonomous container ships could travel between ports throughout the country. The demonstration was meant to prove that these vehicles could eventually help cut down on the shipping industry’s need for workers, especially as Japan confronts an aging population. There are also organizations like One Sea, which has brought together shipping and AI companies to promote autonomous ocean transportation, and to advance the technology involved.

There are those environmental benefits, too. HD Hyundai’s navigation tech works by using artificial intelligence to determine a ship’s routes and speeds, and the software also factors in the height of nearby waves and the behavior of neighboring vessels. The company says by using this AI, the Prism Courage — the commercial tanker that traveled through the Panama Canal — boosted its fuel efficiency by about 7 percent, and cut down on its greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent. While that might not sound like a lot, those savings could add up quickly.

Autonomous ships do face headwinds. One industry expert we spoke to said that smaller boats, like survey vessels and ferries, are more likely to incorporate autonomous technology than the large, container ships that make up the bulk of the world’s freight transportation. Some critics, including Maersk’s CEO, have argued that the savings that might come from autonomous software may not be enough to incentivize large shipping companies to invest in the tech, especially since many ocean carriers don’t use particularly large crews in the first place (a typical cargo ship might have just 20 workers aboard). Another concern is that autonomous software could make these ships more vulnerable to cyberattacks, though non-autonomous shipping operations have already been hacked.

And finally, there’s also the extremely complicated matter of international maritime law, which may not be prepared for the arrival of artificial intelligence.

“How should we deal with the liability issue where an autonomous system, although properly designed and maintained, acts unpredictably?” Melis Ozdel, the director of the University College London Centre for Commercial Law, told Recode. Of course, there are many ways autonomous vessels could upend life at sea, whether it’s the possibility of a robo-boat crashing into a cruise full of tourists, or the uncertain fate of pirates who might capture a ship, only to discover that it’s actually remote-controlled.

AI ships have already shown they can work, at least sometimes, though the technology that powers these vessels is still being developed and may require years to fully take off. Still, all signs indicate that these next-generation boats do have advantages. Eventually, sailing might look a little less like weeks out at sea and a little more like monitoring a ship from the comfort of an office, conveniently located on land.

Source : Vox

赴天宫相会 向星河“问天”

记者: 余建斌 . . . . . . . . .

























Source : 新华网

5 Apple iCar Patents That Reveal What the Electric Car Might Be

5 Apple iCar Patents That Reveal What the Electric Car Might Be

Alex Ramos wrote . . . . . . . . .

Speculation regarding the Apple Car continues to heat up, and much of the chatter surrounding the Apple Car is largely based on rumors.

Nonetheless, it is possible to paint a concrete picture of what Apple has in mind for its Apple Car by analyzing this project’s existing patents and patent applications. So, here’s a look at five Apple Car patents and what they reveal about the Apple Car.

1. Guidance System With Gesturing Using iPhone

Apple’s patent application, titled Guidance Of Autonomous Vehicles In Destination Vicinities Using Intent Signals, details how Apple’s autonomous vehicle will successfully navigate difficult routes where some user input might be necessary. The patent application demonstrates how a user might use a mobile device, presumably an iPhone, to guide the autonomous vehicle through a difficult route once it is near the destination.

Apple wants its vehicle to be autonomous, so the driver input must be devoid of any steering wheel or brake pedal modulations. The method Apple has in mind for its Apple car allows the driver to fine-tune the automobile’s direction and ultimate destination by controlling it via gestures and voice commands.

The patent also details how the user can control the vehicle’s displacement through a route using a virtual joystick on the operating mobile device’s screen. This technology would be especially useful when telling the Apple Car where you’d like it to park itself, either next to X or Y in a potentially ambiguous scenario.

This patent application sheds some light on how Apple plans to address some of the pitfalls that might emerge when commuting in a fully autonomous vehicle and demonstrates that user input will be present, at least for the first iteration of its Apple Car.

2. Automatic Charging Station

If Apple’s hiring of a former Ford exec is any indication, things are about to heat up in the electric car segment. But, any serious venture into the electric car market must be accompanied by the appropriate charging infrastructure. Along this line, Apple has been granted a patent described as a “charging station with passive alignment mechanism,” which essentially aims to eliminate the need for driver intervention when charging an electric vehicle.

As per the patent, the vehicle would drive into the charging station and align itself with the charging mechanism without driver intervention. This patent is firmly in line with Apple’s fully autonomous vehicle aspirations.

Once the vehicle is driven near the charging station’s charging area, the alignment mechanism connects itself to the vehicle’s charging port, commencing the recharging process without the need for the driver to be present.

This technology is somewhat comparable to manufacturers that allow the vehicle’s entire battery to be swapped for a fully recharged one because both methods potentially allow the entire process to occur without any driver intervention.

3. Informative Exterior Lighting

Apple filed a patent application relating to an advanced lighting system that displays information to other drivers. This system can use the rear windshield to display information such as a conventional third brake light and even warning text pertinent to the vehicle’s operation status.

The rear window is used as a billboard of sorts to display a warning to other drivers whenever necessary, clearly demonstrating a bias towards the driver-less operation of the Apple Car because this interactive rear window would most definitely hinder the driver’s view when illuminated.

This particular feature seems to be taken straight out of a sci-fi film and could bring forth a revolution in car design. Vehicles are currently in a design rut, even electric ones. The basic design of a vehicle has stayed mostly the same for decades, but Apple seems on track to change the way the industry thinks about automotive design.

4. AR View of the World

AR technology has many cool applications in our daily life, and this system proposed by Apple is no exception. Apple was granted patent #10,922,886 for an augmented reality display, and the use-cases are fascinating. The system gathers data from various sources, potentially cloud-based storage, and creates a virtual overlay of information onto the real-world image of the road ahead.

This information is used to create an AR model that complements the real-world view that the driver is experiencing, helping to display more relevant data about a scene, even parts of it that may be occluded to the driver. The implications of this system as a safety device are fascinating, especially if the driver can benefit from warnings emanating from the AR display regarding the upcoming road conditions which they cannot see with the naked eye.

5. Concealed Interior Touchscreens

Another interesting Apple Car patent described as “concealed user interfaces” describes a system that could become a staple in all future cars. The patent details how touchscreens scattered throughout an interior could remain out of sight while unused, and the instant a hand approaches the system, it would light up, presenting itself to the user.

This technology follows along the lines of what Bentley does with its interior, hiding the navigation system behind a fancy wooden panel. But the Apple Car could potentially take it one step further by scattering these user interfaces throughout the vehicle, potentially in unexpected places like the vehicle’s floor.

Apple’s Self-Driving Car Will Be a High-Tech Auto

The patents covered in this article hint at a self-driving future for the Apple Car. From the informative lighting in the rear window of the Apple Car to the automated charging station, it is clear Apple envisions an autonomous first foray into the automotive industry.

Especially revealing are the patents covering interior elements of the Apple Car, such as the interactive interior that could be filled with countless screens. The fact that Apple is thinking about ways to counter the navigational pitfalls associated with autonomous driving, specifically through passenger input using a mobile device, is also highly indicative of Apple’s autonomous ambitions.

Source : MUD

A Massive Leak of Chinese Government Data on Hundreds of Millions Tests a New Privacy Law

Lili Pike, Benjamin Powers, and Jason Paladino wrote . . . . . . . . .

For sale: personal information on “billions” of Chinese citizens. That’s the offer a person with the alias ChinaDan made on a hacking forum on June 30, proposing a price tag of 10 bitcoins, or roughly $200,000, for the data trove. If the breach is as expansive as claimed, it could be one of the largest in history.

Grid downloaded and reviewed a sample data set the hacker made publicly available and found over 700,000 records containing sensitive personal information from ID numbers to marital status and religion to crime records.

It’s not just the size of the hack that’s noteworthy but also the source. The hacker claimed that the data originated from the Shanghai government’s national police database, a claim that aligns with reports in recent years about the government’s extensive collection of data on its citizens for security purposes.

“In comparative perspective, the Chinese state is increasingly adept at collecting a broad range of information, and government officials would justify that this is done in the name of public security, i.e., residents who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear,” Suzanne Scoggins, an assistant professor at Clark University who studies Chinese policing, told Grid.

This data breach is the latest warning about how such information is being wielded by the government to surveil its population. But it also reveals the government’s surprising failure to protect its own sensitive data collection. The theft didn’t actually require advanced hacking; the Wall Street Journal reported that a portal to access and manage the data was left open, without a password, making it vulnerable to theft.

And the publication of the data could seriously threaten the online and physical security of the Chinese citizens affected. “I checked — this data is real. It includes information on me and my friend,” wrote one Chinese Reddit user in response to the hack. “I really have to throw up.” Some of the data in the breach was also verified by Grid as well as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Perhaps most significant are the police reports in the data set, which detail crimes dating back to the 1990s, which could have profound implications on people’s lives.

This breach comes at an interesting moment — China recently passed a sweeping law that restricts the public and private sectors’ use of personal data. At a time when data privacy concerns are rising worldwide, the law is seen as a step forward compared with the lack of national data privacy regulations in many countries. But it has major weaknesses: allowing the state to sweep up data as it deems necessary under existing statutes and charging the government with policing itself when it comes to data protection. The government’s silence and censorship so far, in the face of this major data breach, point to the limits of accountability and the lack of recourse for citizens when such accountability fails.

Soon after the law went into effect, Alexa Lee, a nonresident fellow at the Harvard University Belfer Center’s Cyber Project, told Grid, “Because of China’s unique system, I don’t see how they can meaningfully protect individuals from the government if they really want to get data from their citizens.”

How was such a cyber superpower so vulnerable to data theft?

The Chinese government has extremely sophisticated cybersecurity and cyber warfare abilities, but that doesn’t mean that particular state organs such as the Shanghai police are going to be equally sophisticated. It’s similar to recognizing the distinction between the computer systems of the New York or Houston police departments and the National Security Agency. Michael Yaeger, a shareholder at the law firm of Carlton Fields who focuses on cybersecurity matters, said that in almost all cases, offensive cyber capabilities are stronger than defensive.

“These types of attacks are surprisingly common,” said Allan Liska, an intelligence analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. “Many organizations unintentionally leave insecure or poorly secured databases exposed to the internet. Knowing this, there is a subset of cybercriminal that spends their time scanning for these exposed databases and for credentials that they can use to steal the data contained in those databases.”

And while $200,000 for a claimed billion records works out to $0.0002 per record, Liska said that can still make threat actors some money, even if they don’t get the full price.

What’s in the database

Grid reviewed the sample data set containing reams of personal data. In one file, each individual’s name is listed along with information including their address, national ID number, and even education level, military service, marital status, religion, ethnic background, and links to photos from IDs, hotel check-ins, travel checkpoints and police detainment. At least 180 people in the sample are classified as belonging to the Uyghur minority, which has faced severe human rights violations in the Xinjiang region, and thousands more in the sample data reside there. “Key people” are also identified in the file. The term refers to people that are of particular interest to the Chinese authorities, based on political views, religion, criminal histories and other factors, according to official documents.

A separate file includes data that appears to come from an unusual source: food and delivery orders. An individual’s address, phone number and sometimes even delivery instructions are included. “Between 3:30 and 5 pm, you can call to notify for pick-up, otherwise you can leave it in [the convenience store]. Thanks for your cooperation!” one such message reads. With a historical data set of an individual’s deliveries, police could build an accurate picture of their habits and whereabouts.

Law enforcement collection of food delivery data is documented in a Human Rights Watch report, which detailed how Chinese authorities have deployed “Police Cloud” software that collects and analyzes everything from “medical history, to their supermarket membership, to delivery records” and can alert police officers of changes in behavior. The software is designed to allow the users to target specific groups of people deemed “suspicious.” This new data showing nationwide orders really drives home how far-reaching the data collection efforts are — if in fact the data was hosted on the compromised police server, as the hacker asserted.

“The depth and breadth of information collection will be eye-opening to many Chinese citizens,” said Di Wu, a senior threat intelligence analyst at Recorded Future.

A third file contains the most sensitive information in the sample. The records list calls citizens have made to the police, as well as the ensuing reports. The data, which in some cases contains identifying information about the callers and suspects, includes records of crimes such as theft, domestic violence and rape. In one instance, a woman came to the police office to report being raped repeatedly over two years while working as a nanny. The name of the victim, the name of the man she accused and the address where the alleged rapes are said to have occurred are all included in the database.

Will the Chinese government crack down on its own?

Grid contacted several people impacted by the hack. One person, whose address, name and phone number were included in the sample, said to Grid via the Chinese messaging app WeChat, “That’s weird. Is my data really of use to them?” and asked what could be done.

The first question is, who is to blame?

According to Rogier Creemers, a Chinese cyber expert at Leiden University, in this case, the hacker would be criminally responsible for the breach, but China’s new data law could potentially hold the government accountable too — at least on paper.

The Personal Information Protection Law, which came into force last November, is the country’s first comprehensive effort to curb the misuse and abuse of personal data. The law came in response to rampant fraud and Chinese tech juggernauts vacuuming up consumer data. It also applies to the government’s use of data, but experts told Grid it has some serious flaws when it comes to accountability for officials.

The law requires data collectors to protect the data in their possession. It also states that no entity should collect data that is not specifically tied to its service or product. So, a customer ordering a milk tea may be asked for their flavor preferences but not for unrelated information such as their gender, phone number and date of birth. Another key principle: consent. Data collectors — including government offices — are required to give individuals an opportunity to decide whether their data can be used, and extra protection is mandated for sensitive categories of information including health, religious beliefs and finances.

It seems that these principles may have been violated in the Shanghai hack, but the law “introduces overbroad and vague exceptions to limitation on state authorities, such as the police,” said Michael Caster, Asia digital program manager at Article 19, a human rights organization. For instance, authorities don’t have to notify people about data collection “where laws or administrative regulations provide that confidentiality shall be preserved” or “where notification will impede state organs’ fulfillment of their statutory duties and responsibilities.” So as long as the government deems food order data necessary, it seems that it has the leeway to quietly collect such data.

If the government was found to have violated the law, despite these exemptions, how would it be prosecuted? Yaeger, of Carlton Fields, said the law specifically addresses when a state fails to adhere to the obligations of the law, but the means of recourse are limited.

“One thing to know is that this does not seem to provide, for example, the right to sue the government,” said Yaeger, while the law does allow for public interest lawsuits against corporations. “Putting aside the question of whether the Chinese government would choose to hold itself responsible for this, on its own terms it doesn’t allow for something like private litigation.” Instead, agencies violating the law are liable to punishment from within the government; the person in charge of the practice in question can be punished. In this case, that could mean the Ministry of Public Security punishing the individuals in the Shanghai police department who failed to protect the data. After some previous smaller-scale data leaks, the local departments responsible have been reprimanded by authorities, according to the New York Times.

But the government hasn’t issued an official response to the breach yet; instead, it has chosen to widely censor discussion of it on Chinese news and social media.

Putting China’s data issues in perspective

It’s worth recognizing that China is far from alone in collecting vast amounts of personal data and failing to protect it. Yaeger, for example, was an assistant U.S. attorney when the Office of Personnel Management was hacked in 2015, affecting the personal data of public servants. The hack is largely attributed to the People’s Liberation Army of China and impacted about 21.5 million people. The United States experienced the most data breaches of any country last year, according to cybersecurity firm Surfshark.

Yaeger, in response to a question about the Chinese government collecting only “necessary and proper” data, described how that the definition of “necessary” can be malleable.

“In some situations, information is going to be protected health information, and the same information collected in other contexts might not be,” said Yaeger. “So just taking a more ordinary understanding of the English translated word ‘necessary’ — necessary in one context may not be necessary in another. Your distinction between a private entity and a state entity could bear on that question, too.”

On one hand, China’s new law actually means it has stronger rules defining the scope of data collection and how data should be protected nationally. The United States, for example, has no privacy law akin to China’s or the European General Data Protection Regulation. The country has instead seen a patchwork of state laws passed under the influence of lobbyists.

On the other hand, in the U.S., citizens can still sue the government for data infringements.

Caster said that “China already has the most sophisticated techno-authoritarian data-driven policing system in the world, and attempts at regulating personal data protection will always be flawed if they permit blanket exceptions for state actors within such a grossly privacy invading system.”

“That said, the only sufficient remedial measure in response to a leak of this size would be to systematically scale back the personal data collection and retention powers of the state,” he said. “It should serve as a powerful reminder that no actor, whether private or public institutions, should be allowed to collect and retain such large troves of personal information. We need more privacy protections to prevent the collection and retention of personal data, not just cybersecurity solutions to make leaks less common.”

Source : GRID

It’s the Best and Worst of Times for Semiconductor Supply Chains

Nicolás Rivero wrote . . . . . . . . .

Chips are in short supply. Chips are over-supplied. Chip manufacturing has expanded too fast and surpassed demand, but also can’t scale up fast enough to meet demand. The chip business is booming. Chip stocks are falling.

It’s a confusing time to figure out what’s going on in the semiconductor industry.

To understand the contradictions in semiconductor supply chains right now, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many types of chips, built in very different ways. Older generations of chips used to control basic mechanical functions in cars and dishwashers are built using equipment that has been around since the 2000s, while the cutting-edge chips that render graphics and run AI models in the latest smartphones and computers require ultra-precise machinery.

The state of the semiconductor sector is so muddled because the production of some types of chips has already ramped up enough to meet demand, while manufacturing for other types of chips is still catching up. Overall, though, these conflicting storylines are a sign that the chip shortage is finally starting to ease.

Semiconductor supply is rising, and demand is easing

The overall production of semiconductors is rising around the world. TSMC, the world’s biggest chipmaker, increased its planned investment in new plants and equipment from $30 billion in 2021 to $44 billion in 2022. China has invested about $50 billion since 2014 to support domestic chip production, while US lawmakers are (maybe) on the verge of doling out $52 billion in subsidies and incentives for new semiconductor plants in the US.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance reports that Korean chipmakers are sitting on a rapidly growing stockpile of unsold chips. The country, which is the world’s biggest producer of memory chips for electronics like laptops and smartphones, hasn’t seen its semiconductor inventory rise this fast since 2018.

Plenty of chips for smartphones and laptops, but not for cars

Chipmaker Micron Technologies warned investors on June 30 about a looming glut of high-tech memory chips used in smartphones and laptops. Consumer demand for those devices unexpectedly dropped thanks to rising inflation, sagging consumer spending in China, and fears of an impending recession, according to CEO Sanjay Mehrotra. “Given the change in market conditions, we are taking immediate action to reduce our supply growth trajectory,” he said.

Micron Technologies predicted that its smartphone division would ship about 130 million fewer chips than expected this year and its PC division would cut sales by about 30 million chips—a 10% drop in both categories. The downturn will last at least half a year, chief business officer Sumit Sadana predicted, unless a recession hits and brings demand down further.

Meanwhile, automakers are complaining they still can’t find enough low-tech chips to keep their assembly lines running at full capacity. GM, Toyota, and Honda each told investors their sales had slumped in the most recent quarter because of the ongoing chip shortage. Collectively, automakers will build an estimated 3 million fewer cars this year for lack of semiconductors.

Semiconductor stocks are feeling recession fears

Investors are watching semiconductor supply rise while contemplating the possibility that inflation or a recession will cause a drop in consumer demand for everything that uses chips, including electronics, appliances, and even cars. As a result, chip stocks have been plummeting, even though semiconductor sales are still historically high and chipmakers are recording record revenues. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index, which tracks big chip manufacturers, has fallen nearly 40% this year, after doubling in value during the pandemic.

Source : QUARTZ

Chart: Market Share of Internet Browser

Source : Chartr