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US government slaps Nvidia and AMD with new Russian and Chinese export ban

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Chip manufacturer Nvidia has revealed through an SEC filing that the US government has ordered it to stop exporting certain GPUs used in AI to China and Russia.

According to the filing, the effected GPUs are the A100 and H100 as well as “any future Nvidia integrated circuit achieving both peak performance and chip-to-chip I/O performance equal to or greater than thresholds that are roughly equivalent to the A100, as well as any system that includes those circuits.”

Nvidia hypes the A100 and H100 as being of particular use to advanced AI applications. The new license requirement, which equates to an export ban, is apparently designed to “address the risk that the covered products may be used in, or diverted to, a ‘military end use’ or ‘military end user’ in China and Russia.” Nvidia says that around $400 million in potential sales to China may be impacted by the ban, but also points out that it does not sell products to Russia anyway.

Meanwhile an AMD spokesman told Reuters it had received similar orders that will stop its MI250 artificial intelligence chips from being exported to China, but it thinks that its MI100 chips will not be affected and does not believe any of it will have a ‘material impact on its business.’

Protocol quotes a spokesperson for the US Commerce Department as saying: “While we are not in a position to outline specific policy changes at this time, we are taking a comprehensive approach to implement additional actions necessary related to technologies, end-uses, and end-users to protect US national security and foreign policy interests. This includes preventing China’s acquisition and use of US technology in the context of its military-civil fusion program to fuel its military modernization efforts, conduct human rights abuses, and enable other malign activities.”

The context of all this is primarily a deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing in recent times, which is in no small part down to Chinese sabre rattling over Taiwan, which churns out a huge chunk of the global supply of the most advanced mobile chips. Then there is the chip supply shortage, which was there before the pandemic but got worse after the subsequent lockdowns across the world.

Legislation known as the CHIPS act will see the US pump $52 billion into boosting chip production domestically, partly in response to the supply chain chaos which has seen multiple industries disrupted over the last few years due to a lack of availability. Some of the chip production effected won’t be the most advanced in the world, but since so many products now contain some sort of IoT functionality, demand from practically everywhere continues to rise. But when it comes to very advanced chipsets like Nvidia’s A100 and H100, there is another factor at play.

Many see AI and quantum computing as the next geo-strategic arms race, in which whichever country falls behind in developing as yet unconceived new technologies based on them in the future will be at a disadvantage to those that do. It’s hard to know exactly how deeply or widely such things are being discussed in the halls of governments around the world, but it’s probably safe to say that such considerations are relevant to this latest export ban imposed by the US government.

 

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