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US considering more AI chip tech restrictions for China

The Biden administration is considering further restrictions on China’s access to chip technology used for artificial intelligence, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The measures being discussed would limit China’s ability to use a cutting-edge chip architecture known as gate all-around, or GAA, the report said.

GAA is a type of transistor architecture that helps improve chip performance and reduces power consumption.

The United States has been working to limit Beijing’s access to advanced AI chips, such as those designed by leader Nvidia through tightened trade restrictions amid fears that China may use the technology to bolster its military.

With the scope of the potential rule still being determined, it is not clear when officials will make a final decision, the report said.

“The new controls are part of an effort by allied countries to each impose separately controls they had agreed to several years ago during Wassenaar Arrangement multilateral regime meetings but that were not ultimately approved because Russia blocked the consensus-based regime from publishing the controls,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce official.

Wolf noted that in March, the UK imposed controls over technology for integrated circuits with “Gate all-around Field-Effect Transistor” (GAAFET) structures, which are generally for advanced node integrated circuits. “The U.S. and other allies are thus expected to impose this GAAFET and many other earlier-agreed-upon controls this summer,” Wolf said.

The rule is not yet finalized after industry officials criticized the first version as overly broad, the report said, adding that it is unclear whether the ban would restrict China’s ability to develop its own GAA chips or seek to block U.S. chipmakers and other overseas companies from selling their products to Chinese firms.

Leading semiconductor firms including Nvidia, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices along with chip manufacturers Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and Samsung are aiming to start mass production of chips with the GAA design within the next year, according to the report.

Nvidia and Intel declined to comment. The other companies did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment, while the U.S. Department of Commerce declined to comment.

Stricter restrictions on exports of advanced semiconductors to China have already hampered chipmakers’ position, with companies such as Intel and Qualcomm saying their sales would take a hit after the U.S. revoked some of their export licenses for a customer in China.

The Bloomberg report also said there have been some early-stage discussions about limiting exports of high-bandwidth memory (HBM) chips.
HBM chips, such as those made by South Korea’s SK Hynix and Micron Technology help speed up AI applications and are used by companies like Nvidia. Reuters

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