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Four Decades Of Excellence

Stack has reached a major milestone in our history as we enter into our 40th year in business. Established in 1983 in a rented 80 square foot office in the back of an antique store, Stack has grown into a global power as an independent distributor under the leadership of Steve Patsis and a group of talented professionals intent on providing key supply chain support to the world’s leading OEM, CM and Tier 1 customers. As the first US based independent distributor legally established in China, Stack was a groundbreaking force in vetting this important market and establishing key protocols insuring products sourced from this region were of the highest quality. Stack was also one of the first independent distributors to establish physical global sites and to recognize the need for strict quality controls by gaining certification to ISO in the 1980’s. These foundational actions, and others, have put Stack in a strong position over our 40 years and will continue to serve us well in the coming years ahead.

Semiconductors: The Key to the Future of Electric Vehicles

It has often been said that cars these days are computers on wheels. Under the hood, there are hundreds of electronic control units (ECUs), essentially the brains controlling everything from the breaks and headlights to the latest gadgets such as parking cameras and radar. 

None of those comforts and conveniences would be possible without semiconductors – the tiny chips that make modern-day electronics tick. 

“Ninety percent of the innovations in the automobile industry actually come from the electronics and the chips are the soul of the electronics,” said Robert Li, vice president and general manager, PL driver and energy systems, NXP Semiconductors, one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers.

Li said next-generation chips could help solve some of the most pressing issues facing the EV industry, such as range and charge time, by making batteries more efficient. 

“Typically, if you buy a battery pack, a lot of times you can only use 80 to 90 percent of what is actually there because the measurement is not precise,” said Li. 

“The more high-performance, robust, safe and accurate electronics that you put in there, the more you can push that potential.” 

Even incremental gains in distance and charge time will matter in Europe, where EVs are seen as the linchpin to a green future. Plans are already under way to ban the sale of new combustion-engine cars by 2035, essentially eliminating one of the bloc’s biggest sources of CO2 emissions.

The more immediate challenge is a global chip shortage. EVs typically require hundreds, if not thousands, of more semiconductors than average combustion-engine cars and supplies could remain tight well into 2022. While production issues have already cropped up, most experts don’t expect any lasting effects when it comes to EV manufacturing and uptake. 

“Every manufacturer is having to pause production on certain models and they’re shuffling things around, trying to prioritize,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst e-,obility, Guidehouse Insights. “I think we’ll see less disruption to EVs because there is a need to get those vehicles out there, so they’re prioritizing EVs.” 

Abuelsamid said there was also a shift taking place within the auto industry to consolidate the hundreds of ECUs into just a handful of very powerful computers. 

“Down the road, we’re looking at even just one or two larger, more powerful computers. This should help resolve some of the problem,” he explained.

Cutting dependence on Asia

But with the vast majority of semiconductors manufactured in Asia, the chip shortage has served as a wake-up call for Europe. In her State of the European Union address in September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen specifically addressed the issue, saying that while demand for chips has risen, Europe’s share across the entire value chain has “shrunk.” 

“We depend right now on state-of-the-art chips manufactured by Asia. This is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So let’s put all of our focus on it,” she said. 

Semiconductors will be key, not only to Europe’s green transition, but also it’s digital transformation, since they are the key component in everything from smartphones to smart cities.

Brussels is expected to present a new “Chips Act” in the coming weeks to bolster EU semiconductor capacity. But some experts have warned that trying to unravel a decades-old and deep supply chain may not have the desired results. 

“Manufacturing, especially cutting-edge manufacturing, will continue to be mainly provided in Taiwan and South Korea. If you take one of these out of the equation, the value chain kind of crumbles and you lose the ability to either develop or manufacture or package chips,” said Jan-Peter Kleinhans, project director for technology and geopolitics, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung.

The Boring Future of Generative AI

ChatGPT’s chaotic streak can be charming. Google’s new chat-style search shows text-generation technology is headed in a much tamer direction

THIS WEEK, AT its annual I/O developer conference in Mountain View, Google showcased a head-spinning number of projects and products powered by or enhanced by AI. They included a new-and-improved version of its chatbot Bard, tools to help you write emails and documents or manipulate images, devices with AI baked in, and a chatbot-like experimental version of Google search. For a full recap of the event, complete with insightful and witty commentary from my WIRED colleagues, check out our Google I/O liveblog

Google’s big pivot is, of course, largely fueled not by algorithms but by generative AI FOMO. The appearance last November of ChatGPT—the remarkably clever but still rather flawed chatbot from OpenAI—combined with Microsoft adding the technology to its search engine Bing a few months later, triggered something of a panic at Google. ChatGPT proved wildly popular with users, demonstrating new ways to serve up information that threatened Google’s vice grip on the search business and its reputation as the leader in AI

The capabilities of ChatGPT and AI language algorithms like those powering it are so striking that some experts, including Geoffrey Hinton, a pioneering researcher who recently left Google, have felt compelled to warn that we might be building systems that we will someday struggle to control. OpenAI’s chatbot is often astonishingly good at generating coherent text on a given subject, summarizing information from the web, and even answering extremely tricky questions that require expert knowledge.

And yet, unfettered AI language models are also silver-tongued agents of chaos. They will gladly fabricate facts, express unpleasant biases, and say unpleasant or disturbing things with the right prompting. Microsoft was forced to limit the capabilities of Bing chat shortly after launch to avoid such embarrassing misbehavior, in part because its bot divulged its secret codename—Sydney—and accused a New York Times columnist of not loving his spouse.

Google worked hard to tone down the chaotic streak of text-generation technology as it prepared the experimental search feature announced yesterday that responds to search queries with chat-style answers synthesizing information from across the web.

Google’s smarter version of search is impressively narrow-minded, refusing to use the first person or talk about its thoughts or feelings. It completely avoids topics that might be considered risky, refusing to dispense medical advice or offer answers on potentially controversial topics such as US politics.

Google deserves recognition for reining in generative chatbots’ wild side like that. But in my tests, the new search interface felt incredibly tame compared to ChatGPT or Google’s own chatbot Bard.

As the company moves the technology into more of its products, perhaps the generative AI revolution will turn out to be a lot less fun than you might expect from the early shock and awe of ChatGPT, a chatbot that has an edgy charm. Gone are the wild ravings and imaginings of powerful AI bots. In their place are new ways to populate spreadsheets, compose email pleasantries, and find products to buy.

Even if “AI doomers” warning about errant AI prove overblown, it will be interesting to watch how companies like Google and OpenAI balance the development of more powerful generative language models with the need to have them behave.

Google has invested huge sums and major resources in AI over recent years, with CEO Sundar Pichai often pitching the company as “AI first”, and the company is desperate to show it can advance the technology more quickly than OpenAI. One high-level message from Google’s stream of AI announcements was that the company is not going to hold back anymore, as it did the LaMDA chatbot that was announced long before ChatGPT appeared but not made public.

In March, some big names in AI research signed an open letter calling for a six-month pause on creating machine learning systems more powerful than GPT-4, which powers ChatGPT. Pichai was not a signatory and said in his keynote speech yesterday that the company is currently training a new, more powerful language model called Gemini.

A source at Google tells me this new system will incorporate a range of recent advances from different large language models and may eclipse GPT-4. But don’t expect to get to experience the full power or charisma Gemini can offer. If Google applies the same chaos-taming methods seen in its chat-like search experiment, it may just seem like another surprisingly clever autocomplete.