China and physics may soon shatter our dreams of endless computing power | John Naughton

Silicon chip transistors are so small they are approaching their physical limits. And the firm that makes many of them may be somewhat hampered if Xi Jinping decides to invade Taiwan

In the 1950s I spent a significant chunk of my pocket money buying a transistor. It was a small metal cylinder (about 5mm in diameter and 7mm deep) with three wires protruding from its base. I needed it for a little radio I was building, and buying it was a big deal for a lad living in rural Ireland. My baffled parents couldn’t understand why this gizmo their son was holding between finger and thumb could be interesting; and, to be honest, you couldn’t blame them.

Now spool forward six decades. The A13 processor that powers the iPhone that I used to find a photograph of that first transistor has 8.5 billion of them etched on to a sliver of silicon no bigger than a fingernail – a “chip”. The next generation of these chips will have transistors almost as small as the diameter of a human chromosome.

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