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Home » AI’s Single Point of Failure: Rob Toews (Transcript)

AI’s Single Point of Failure: Rob Toews (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Rob Toews’ talk titled “AI’s Single Point of Failure” at TED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The following statement is utterly ludicrous. It is also true. The world’s most important advanced technology is nearly all produced in a single facility. What’s more, that facility is located in one of the most geopolitically fraught areas on Earth, an area in which many analysts believe that war is inevitable within the decade.

The Central Role of TSMC

The future of artificial intelligence hangs in the balance. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, or TSMC, makes all of the world’s most-advanced AI chips. This includes Nvidia’s GPUs, Google’s TPUs, AMD’s GPUs, the AI chips for Microsoft, Amazon, Tesla, Cerebras, SambaNova, and every other credible competitor. Modern artificial intelligence simply would not be possible without these highly specialized chips.

Little wonder, then, that Time magazine recently described TSMC as, “The world’s most important company that you’ve probably never heard of.” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang put it more colorfully, saying, “Basically, there is air … and TSMC.” TSMC’s chip fabrication facilities, or fabs, the buildings where chips are physically built, is located on the western coast of Taiwan, a mere 110 miles from mainland China.

Geopolitical Tensions and AI

In this map, Taiwan is shown in orange and China is shown in green. Today, China and Taiwan are nearer to the brink of war than they have been in decades. Many policymakers in Washington predict that China will invade Taiwan within the next five years.

A China-Taiwan conflict would be devastating for many reasons. Aside from the heavy human toll, one underappreciated consequence is that it would paralyze the global AI ecosystem. Put simply, the entire field of artificial intelligence faces an astonishingly precarious single point of failure in Taiwan. Amid all of the fervor around AI today, this fact is not widely enough appreciated. If you are working on or are interested in AI, you need to be paying attention.

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