Category Archives: Technology

Xiaomi Opens Store in Birmingham, UK

Xiaomi Logo - an orange squircle with stylised white MI lettersIt might be the season to be jolly but it also seems to be the season for new stores. Following on from Nothing’s new bricks’n’mortar shop in London last weekend, Xiaomi are opening a new place in Birmingham, England.

Xiaomi’s latest pad is at 23 New Street, only a few minutes walk from the train station and Birmingham’s famous Bull Ring shopping centre. Opening today, 18th December, there will be all kinds of special offers as you’d expect for a grand opening from company well-know for its keenly priced products. This is their second UK store alongside the London shop at Westfield, White City.

In addition to usual smartphones, tablets, earbuds and smart watches, Xiaomi produce a wide range of other gadgets and gear; everything from luggage and scooters to air purifiers and air fryers. The Xiaomi portfolio is amazingly wide – it’s a gadget-lover’s heaven.

I was impressed with the Xiaomi Mi 12 smartphone when I reviewed it back in the summer – a good device at good price. Hopefully I’ll get a look at the 13-series when they’re available in Europe.

So if you are still struggling to find a gift for someone who’s hard to buy for, it might be worth a trip into Birmingham.

China Brings WTO Case Against U.S. Chip Export Curbs

China initiated a dispute against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Washington’s sweeping semiconductor export curbs that look to cut the world’s second-largest economy off from high-tech components, CNBC reported.

According to CNBC, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce confirmed the trade dispute in a statement on Monday and accused the U.S. of abusing export control measures and obstructing normal international trade in chops and other products. It said the WTO dispute is a way to address China’s concerns through legal means.

In October, the U.S. imposed new export restrictions on advanced semiconductors and chip-manufacturing equipment in an effort to prevent American technology from advancing China’s military power. The rules would require U.S. chip makers to obtain a license from the Commerce Department to export certain chips used in artificial-intelligence, calculations and supercomputing – crucial technologies for modern weapons systems, senior administration officials said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing will use the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism to challenge U.S. export controls on products such as chips to China to defend its rights and interests, its Ministry of Commerce said in a statement posted to its website. The ministry said it was responding to a media question in making the announcement.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the rules being challenged require U.S. chip makers to obtain a license from the Commerce Department to export certain chips used in advanced artificial-intelligence calculations and super-computing. Biden administration officials have said the rules are needed to prevent China from building up its military and developing new, state-of-the-art weaponry.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that a spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative confirmed that the U.S. has received a request for consultations from the People’s Republic of China related to certain U.S. actions affecting semiconductors. “As we have already communicated to the PRC, these targeted actions relate to national security, and the WTO is not the appropriate forum to discuss issues related to national security,” he said.

Reuters reported that the regulations made by the U.S. aimed at kneecapping China’s semiconductor industry, prompting a complaint from a top China trade group.

“China takes legal actions within the WTO framework as a necessary way to address our concerns and to defend our legitimate interests,” said a statement by China’s commerce ministry, its diplomatic mission in Geneva relayed.

According to Reuters, the so-called request for consultations is the first step in a long procedure at the global trade body. The United States has blocked appointments to the WTO’s top ruling body on trade disputes, meaning some rows never get settled.

It sounds like the complaint made by China is going to languish at the WTO, especially since the request appears to have a long procedure attached to it before a decision is made. As such, China shouldn’t assume that they are going to get “next-day-service” from the World Trade Organization.

Stability.AI Released Stable Diffusion 2.0

articulated figure looking at a tablet by Brent Jordan on UnsplashStability.AI announced its open-source release of Stable Diffusion Version 2. According to Stability.AI, the original Stable Diffusion V1 led by CompVis changed the nature of open source AI models and spawned hundreds of other models and innovations worldwide. It had one of the fastest climbs to 10K Github stars of any software, rocketing through 33K stars in less than two months.

Stable Diffusion 2.0 delivers a number of big improvements and features versus the original V1 release. Features and Improvements include:

New Text-to-Image Diffusion Models

The Stable Diffusion 2.0 release includes robust text-to-image models trained using a brand new encoder (OpenCLIP), developed by LAION with support from Stability AI, which greatly improves the quality of the generated images compared to earlier V1 releases. The text-to-image models in this release can generate images with default resolutions of both 512×512 pixels and 768×768 pixels.

These models are trained on an aesthetic subset of LAION-5B dataset created by the DeepFloyd team at StabilityAI, which is then filtered to remove adult content using LAION’s NSFW filter.

Super-resolution Upscaler Diffusion Models

Stable Diffusion 2.0 also includes an Upscaler Diffusion model that enhances the resolution of images by a factor of 4. Combined with their text-to-image models, Stable Diffusion 2.0 can now generate images with resolutions of 2048×2048 – or even higher.

Other new features and improvements include: Depth-to-Image Diffusion Model and an Updated Inpainting Diffusion Model.

The Verge reported that users of the AI image generator Stable Diffusion are angry about an update to the software that “nerfs” its ability to generate NSFW output and pictures in the style of specific artists.

StabilityAI, the company that funds and disseminates the software, announced its update. It re-engineers key components of the model and improves certain features like upscaling (the ability to increase the resolution of images) and in-painting (context-aware editing). But, the changes also make it harder for Stable Diffusion to generate certain types of images that have attracted both controversy and criticism. These include nude and pornographic output, photorealistic pictures of celebrities, and images that mimic the artwork of specific artists.

According to The Verge, unlike rival models like OpenAI’s DALL-E, Stable Diffusion is open source. This allows the community to quickly improve on the tool and for developers to integrate it into their products free of charge. But it also means Stable Diffusion has fewer constraints in how its used, and as a consequence, has attracted criticism. Some artists are upset that an AI was trained on their artwork without their consent and can now reproduce their styles.

The Verge also reported that nude and pornographic images have been removed from Stable Diffusion’s training data. AI image generators are already being used to generate NSFW output, including both photorealistic and anime-style pictures. However, these models can also be used to generate NSFW imagery resembling specific individuals (known as non-consensual pornography) and images of child abuse.

CNET reported that AI-art technology creates images based on text prompts. It then feeds those prompts into a program that’s designed to recognize patterns in immense quantities of real-world data. The result is upending the art and tech worlds, where AI-generated imagery and videos have raised questions about what constitutes art and who should own a copyright to it.

Overall, I think AI-generated art is bad for artists. It means that people will immediately go to one of the many AI-art models, type in what they are looking for, and use the generated image that they prefer from what the AI shows them. People will take the lazy way out and grab something from an AI when they could be getting better work from real-world, human, artists, who deserve payment for their work.

China’s Chip Industry Set For “Deep Pain” From U.S. Export Controls

Two years after the US hit Huawei with harsh sanctions, the Chinese technology group’s revenue has dropped, it has lost its leadership position in network equipment and smartphones and its founder has told staff that the company’s survival is at stake, Financial Times reported. Now, China’s entire chip industry is bracing for similar pain as Washington applies the tool tested on Huawei much more broadly.

Recently, the Biden Administration imposed new export restrictions on advanced semiconductors and chip-manufacturing equipment in an effort to prevent American technology from advancing China’s military power. Those restrictions require licenses for exports of many advanced technologies to Chinese entities deemed to be working against the U.S. national security interests.

Financial Times also reported that Washington is barring US citizens or entities from working with Chinese chip producers except with specific approval. The package also strictly limits exports to China of chip manufacturing tools and technology that Chinese companies could use to develop their own equipment.

The controls on semiconductor equipment are also a potent weapon against mainstream manufacturers and leading-edge chip producers, Financial Times reported. According to analysts at the Bank of America, the equipment restrictions will affect logic chips designed in the past four to five years and Dram chips designed after 2017.

Bloomberg reported that since advanced semiconductors power information-age societies, the U.S. is seeking to hinder Chinese economic dynamism and military alike. Washington’s new policy is a warning to Beijing about the long reach of U.S. power in a globalized economy. It also reflects a sobering recognition that the US can’t win its competition with China simply by running faster; it must also slow Beijing down.

According to Bloomberg, this isn’t the first time Washington has used its influence on semiconductor supply chains as a geo-economic weapon. Beginning under President Trump, Washington sought to kneecap the Chinese tech behemoth Huawei Technologies Co. by denying it the cutting-edge chips it needed to dominate the world’s 5G telecommunications networks.

But that was a very targeted denial campaign meant to cripple a specific company that represented an extraordinary national security threat. The new approach is broader: It is technological containment, pure and simple.

Overall, it sounds like China is going to have a difficult time obtaining the chips it needs for manufacturing, which is the intended purpose of the U.S. exports restrictions. The Biden administration appears to be taking things much farther than the Trump administration did. I think Bloomberg got it right when stating that the U.S. can’t win against China by running faster – it needs to slow Beijing down.

U.S. Restricts Semiconductor Exports

The U.S. imposed new export restrictions on advanced semiconductors and chip-manufacturing equipment Friday in an effort to prevent American technology from advancing China’s military power, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The rules will require U.S. chip makers to obtain an license from the Commerce Department to export certain chips used in advanced artificial-intelligence calculations and supercomputing – crucial technologies for modern weapons systems, senior administration officials said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. already requires licenses for exports of many advanced technologies to Chinese entities deemed to be working against U.S. national-security interests. Friday’s move expands that to include exports of crucial cutting-edge chips and equipment that can’t be obtained elsewhere. The rule will allow the U.S. to block foreign-made chips that are manufactured with U.S. technology, the officials said.

The restrictions are some of the broadest the U.S. has ever enacted against China’s chip industry, veering from previous actions that often targeted individual companies and a narrower subset of technology.

The New York Times reported that the Biden Administration on Friday announced sweeping new limits on the sale of semiconductor technology to China, a step aimed at crippling Beijing’s access to critical technologies that are needed from everything from supercomputing to guiding weapons.

According to The New York Times, the moves are the clearest sign yet that a dangerous standoff between the world’s two major superpowers is increasingly playing out in the technological sphere, with the United States trying to establish a stranglehold on advanced computing and semiconductor technology that is essential to China’s military and economic ambitions.

The New York Times also reported that companies will no longer be allowed to supply advanced computing chips, chip-making equipment and other products to China unless they receive a special license. Most of those licenses will be denied, though certain shipments to facilities operated by U.S. companies or allied countries will be evaluated case by case, a senior administration official said in a briefing Thursday.

The Verge reported that the decision follows months of increased investment by the U.S. in domestic and semiconductor manufacturing. In August, President Joe Biden signed the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act, providing $52 billion in subsidies to boost companies choosing to build chip manufacturing plants in the U.S.

Overall, this seems like a good plan for the United States. It appears that the CHIPS bill is intended to encourage American companies to make chips here at home, while also making it harder for China to obtain chips made in the United States.

EVGA Stops Making Video Cards

EVGA, a titan in the PC component space, is getting out of the graphics card game, The Verge reported. The company posted in its community forum, saying it won’t be making next-generation Nvidia graphics cards but will continue to sell and support “the existing current generation products.” The Verge also reported that Gamers Nexus stated that EVGA doesn’t currently have plans to make AMD or Intel graphics cards.

More specifically, EVGA wrote the following:

“Hi all,

You may have heard some news regarding the next generation of products from EVGA. Please see below for a message on future products and services:

EVGA will not carry the next generation graphics cards.

EVGA will continue to support the existing current generation products

EVGA will continue to provide the current generation products.

EVGA is committed to our customers and will continue to offer sales and support on the current lineup. Also, EVGA would like to say thank you to our great community for the many years of support and enthusiasm for EVGA graphics cards.”

Kotaku reported that EVGA, one of the most prominent third-party PC graphics card manufacturers, and a favorite brand among PC gamers for quality parts and reliable warranties backed by solid customer service, is terminating its longtime relationship with Nvidia. What’s more, the company reportedly said that it won’t be pursuing partnerships with competing silicon giants like AMD or Intel, either. It seems EVGA is just done with GPUs.

ArsTechnica reported that EVGA’s graphics cards have exclusively used Nvidia GPUs since its founding in 1999, and according to Gamers Nexus, GeForce sales represent 80 percent of EVGAs revenue, making this a momentous and arguably company-endangering change. But EVGA CEO Andrew Han told Gamers Nexus that the decision was about “principle” rather than financials – Han complained about a lack of communication from Nvidia about new products, including information about pricing and availability.

According to ArsTechnica, Nvidia’s pricing strategy was apparently another sore point for EVGA. Nvidia’s first-party Founders Edition cards could often undercut the pricing of cards offered by EVGA and other vendors, forcing them to either lower prices or lose sales as a result.

For more information, you can watch the YouTube video by Gamers Nexus and/or the YouTube video by JayzTwoCents. Those of you who want to pick up some of the remaining EVGA graphics cards might want to do that as soon as possible. It certainly looks like the company is absolutely done making video cards.

U.S. To Crack Down On Chip And Tool Exports To China

The Biden administration plans next month to broaden curbs on U.S. shipments to China of semiconductors used for artificial intelligence and chipmaking tools, several people familiar with the matter said, according to Reuters.

Reuters reported that the Commerce Department intends to publish new regulations based on restrictions communicated in letters earlier this year to three U.S. companies – KLA Corp, Lam Research Corp, and Applied Materials Inc. Reuters says this information came from three people speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The companies publicly acknowledged the letters, which forbade them from exporting chipmaking equipment to Chinese factories that produce advanced semiconductors with sub-14 nanometer processes unless the sellers obtain Commerce Department licenses.

According to Reuters, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department on Friday declined to comment on specific regulations but reiterated that it is “taking a comprehensive approach to implement additional actions… to protect U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” including to keep China from acquiring U.S. technology applicable to military modernization.

The Hill reported that semiconductor chips power most electrical systems and machines, from appliances to computers, vehicles, and modern weapons.

According to The Hill, over the summer, the U.S.passed the Chips and Science Act. The full name of this act is the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. It refers to legislation signed into law by President Biden on August 9, 2022. The act originally was set at $52 billion, the passed legislation invests nearly $250 billion on a combination of semiconductor and other scientific research and development. An additional $20 million appropriation goes to provide enhanced security for members of the U.S. Supreme Court and their families.

Investopedia posted key points of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022:

  • Nearly $250 billion in semiconductor and scientific research and development
  • The Act seeks to implement previously authorized programs under the CHIPS for American Act 2021 and authorize the largest publicly funded R&D program in the country’s history.
  • The legislation seeks to return the United States to dominance in chipmaking and to combat supply chain issues that have arisen from the country’s decline in science and technology.
  • Includes at $20 million appropriation to provide security for members of the U.S. Supreme Court and their families.
  • Once fully implemented, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 will represent the largest publicly funded five-year investment in research and development in the country’s history.

The Hill reported that chipmaking company Nvidia, based in California, said the U.S. began requiring a license to export chips that are better than or equal to its A100 graphics card to Russia, China, and Hong Kong. A similar restriction was reportedly applies to the company Advanced Micro Devices.

According to The Hill, China has demanded the U.S. drop the requirement, which affects data centers, artificial intelligence systems and other equipment that requires highly advanced chips.

Personally, I highly doubt that the U.S. is going to drop the requirement to have a license to export American made chips to China simply because China asked for that. The point appears to be an effort to make the United States more self-sufficient by allowing certain American chip makers to continue producing chips. I think this will enable Americans to more easily access the technology that the chips are made for, and also to reduce shipping delays.