CHIPMAKERS’ CRAFT can seem magical. They use light to stamp complex patterns on a dinner-plate-sized disc of crystal silicon, forming arrays of electric circuits. Once cut out of the disc, each array is called a chip. The chip’s job is to shuttle electrons in a mathematical shimmer prescribed by computer code. They do the maths which runs the digital world, from Twitter and TikTok to electronics in tanks. Without them, whole industries cannot function properly, as carmakers forced to pause production because of microprocessor shortages are discovering.

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The most important firm in this critical business is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). It controls 84% of the market for chips with the smallest, most efficient circuits on which the products and services of the world’s biggest…

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