That changed during the coronavirus pandemic when first bathroom rolls and then chips became scarce. Computer chips aren’t so disposable, but they are equally essential as electronic brains for products like smartphones, cars, airplanes and most modern appliances. Chip shortages have stalled new car manufacturing, made rental cars harder to find and complicated business even for the dog washing industry.
I spoke to Don Clark, who has written about computer chips for years, about the importance of chips, why the U.S. government is obsessed with making more of them in America, and how a new chip mania is a revenge for the nerds.
Q: What are computer chips used for?
A: Computer chips are like tiny brains or memory receptacles. This makes them important for pretty much everything in modern life. The obvious places are electronics like computers, smartphones, video game consoles and voice-activated speakers.
But chips are also in products that are used to track milk production of dairy cows and to make sure produce in trucks stays at an appropriate temperature. A modern car can have several thousand chips, including for the ignition, brakes and entertainment system. This year, the production of $50,000 cars is being held up because of a lack of $1 computer chips.
Q: Right, how did chips lead to a freeze in car manufacturing?
A: Last year, when the pandemic first hit, automakers…