Trouble Brewing For RISC-V As Issue Of Technology Transfer Is Questioned

Within the messy world of international politics, a major consideration by governments concerns which types of kn0w-how and technology can be transferred and sold to other nations, with each type facing restrictions depending on how friendly the political relations are with the target country at that point in time. Amidst all of this, there are signs that a so far relatively minor player in the world of CPU instruction set architectures – RISC-V – may become a victim of this, as a bipartisan group of US politicians is petitioning the White House to restrict transfer of know-how (so-called Intellectual Property, or IP) to RISC-V, as this may benefit adversaries like China.

As a US citizen who is involved in the RISC-V ecosystem, [Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang] feels rather strongly about this, and has written an open letter to the US President, pleading to not restrict the way that US citizens can deal with the Switzerland-based RISC-V organization. This comes as the California-based RISC-V startup SiFive has announced that it’ll lay off 20% of its workforce. Depending on how a restriction on RISC-V is implemented, this could mean that US citizens would be forbidden from contributing to this ISA and surrounding ecosystem.

China has made it clear that RISC-V is a big part of its strategy to loosen its dependence on the West along with its investments in its MIPS-based Loongson processors, all of which strengthens the case for restricting US participation in RISC-V, even if it forces US companies like SiFive to move countries or cease its operations.

(Thanks to [cbjamo] for the tip)

42 thoughts on “Trouble Brewing For RISC-V As Issue Of Technology Transfer Is Questioned

        1. Exactly. Hey world, if you don’t like the US as world hegemon, you’ll really hate the CCP as one. They won’t show their true nature until they are fully in charge. So keep stupidly supplying them with the tools to get there.

          The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower – 2016

          by Michael Pillsbury, a fluent Mandarin speaker who has served in senior national security positions in the U.S. government since the days of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, was closely involved with Nixon’s opening to China and now deeply regrets that.

          BTW, the contents of the book prove it was never a “secret.” It was always there to see if one actually looked for it.

          Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept – 2019

          by Robert Spalding, retired USAF Brigadier General, former U.S. Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché to China and Senior Director for Strategic Planning, National Security Council

          They weren’t “sleeping”; the mountains of cash to be made blocked their vision.

          1. 95% of world’s population prefers multi-polar world, not hegemony by any country. This should be easy to understand. Therefore, anything that levels the playing field and introduces multiple competitors is welcome by everyone, except the ruling class in one country … yes, those same people that off-shored US manufacturing.

      1. I disagree, insofar as this is more of a trees for the forest issue. The underlying issue is much deeper than just simple offshoring, goes to a combination of factors including national hegemony, fiat currency (reserve currency), corruption (which naturally increases in socialistic environments, in small proportion to the differences of the benefits of a distribution of labor), and then regulatory capture and failures of representation and continual weakening of the rule of law. Most of these failures were predicted accurately, back in the 1950s, by economist Von Mises as structural failures. Unfortunately, its more of a runaway train these days speeding towards a proverbial cliff, an outcome very reminiscent of how Brave New World ended.

  1. I guess a lot of folks would have seen this coming, with intel and amd’s high end processors being historically backdoored it wasn’t going to be likely that riscv would get away without being meddled with.
    Hopefully there would be an exemption for microcontrollers so that everyone can keep their automobiles and computer peripherals going with the chip shortage being the way it is.

        1. Linux is software, co-processors are hardware. Its already been proven that hardware is far more difficult to detect backdooring than software.

          There may be artifacts in Linux, but all the dependent features for this are already present at the hardware level in every single piece of silicon going back to at least 2012 (Trustzone, PSP, ME).

          The only method to prevent it is to hang the co-processor, and whose to say there isn’t a remote way of resetting just the processor (for diagnostic purposes only of course).

  2. From a RISC-V ISA knowledge transfer, the U.S. has no control as the technology is already International and China has full use of that already.

    More pointedly, the IP’ish tech developed and licensed as value-add by companies such as SiFive are more in focus for any Federal oversight: rightly so since other U.S. tech companies are under similar scrutiny and have been for years. Example:

    I personally find it humorous that a “free” country would think they can restrict “knowledge transfer” when what they are actually attempting to restrict “manufacturing know-how” and in the case of RISC-V this translates to the circuitry and peripheral methodologies to allow the processor ISA to be incorporated into a SoC design and be energy efficient and overall robust and manufactured at a low cost.

  3. The federal government’s treatment of US technology is equivalent of passing wind in an elevator. It briefly makes things unpleasant and people get out early even at great cost. (who hasn’t walked the last few flights of stairs as a consequence of that?)

    1. July 6 2023 (Reuters) –
      “China has released its first homegrown open-source desktop operating system, named OpenKylin, state media said, as the country steps up efforts to cut reliance on U.S. technology.
      Released on Wednesday, and based on the existing open-source Linux operating system, China’s version was built by a community of about 4,000 developers, and is used in its space programme and industries such as finance and energy, they added.”

      Of course, in 2011, Microsoft’s Ballmer stated: “Microsoft estimates that 90% of China uses some form of pirated software on their computer, with over half of the countries residents still using Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6…”

      One can only speculate that Win10/Win11 has reduced the pirating, but numerous results returned by an Internet search indicate that “cracked” Windows is still an issue for Microsoft.

        1. @DerAxeman said: “M$ doesn’t want to restrict win 10/11 use. The users are the merchandise now.”

          Not quite, not yet. But eventually the other boot will drop… Micro$oft will start charging users a fee of some sort to use “their” operating system. Windows will finally evolve into Micfosoft’s “Software as a Service” (SaaS) – a money cow to milk over-and-over, ad-infinitum. You know it’s coming. Now that they collect valuable data on us all the time, and slip us advertisements via every nook-and-cranny they can create, what’s left for the Greed-Head MBAs at Micro$oft? Simple: Mandatory subsciption fees.

          1. Good luck to them, if that’s what they’re going for, but I’m not convinced. Nobody else in the consumer market is charging a recurring fee for an operating system, and there are very few things you can’t do in any other OS. The fact that MS has gone to a “pay if you feel like it” model for Windows 10 indicates they value your information more than the little they could get away with charging for it.

      1. Ahh, yes, there’s the inability of the press to get tech details right.

        ‘First’ is a bit of a misnomer here: gives the history of Kylin, which originated as FreeBSD in 2001. To that end, more modern releases of Kylin (which switched to Linux as of v3) tend to be ‘loosely based’ on their predecessors.

        Red Flag Linux, another Chinese Linux distribution, is based on RH, and saw it’s first release all the way back in 1999, with the latest being in 2020:

        I don’t know what market penetration if Linux looks like in China, but I do know there are other Chinese distros, including Deepin Linux, which is based on Debian.

        Reuters, as usual, seems to have missed the news by over two decades.

    2. A lot of toolchains for chips from China are Windows-only, though I’ve been seeing a few more nowadays for Linux (instructions always for Ubuntu).

      This won’t restrict Risc-V in China, it will prevent transfer of Risc-V processor designs and design knowledge. China isn’t too far behind in Risc-V, the Alibaba C910 is pretty competent. Basically, SI-Five and similar design firms couldn’t license core/SoC designs to China or consult. It’s a meaningful restriction, but definitely won’t stop China’s domestic design efforts.

      Any restrictions on Linux would be extremely legally tenuous and impossible to enforce.

  4. “so-called Intellectual Property” why “so-called”, when people buy and sell it? It has a definition. Is it better called something else?

    As for China it is very likely that any of their big efforts will land as poorly as previous big tech efforts. Like state of the art semiconductor fabs. Corruption will guarantee failure. (Anybody worked on a Linux with a source controlled in China?)

    1. “so-called” because it is commonly called that. but also the other meaning of “so-called” is apropos because the assumption that you can own a concept as property is controversial among some who frequent this site.

    2. Its so-called because copyright and IP law are fundamentally inconsistent and follow a definition that any communication could technically fall under. All law under a proper functioning rule of law is derived from the authority of congress which is derived directly from the constitution. It fails when congress exceeds their authority, but the balance (the supreme court) is supposed to do their job in correcting that. Unfortunately they haven’t done that; as became apparent when Kavanaugh lied to congress about Roe v. Wade and what he would do, and he hasn’t subsequently been removed from office for what appears to a layperson to be clearly, perjury. You see violations occuring wholesale almost every day with no recourse.

      Communication, freedom of speech and assembly, these all have been usurped to a lesser or greater degree by the laws that have been passed. You now have censorship mills claiming breach of copyright for the purpose of removing protected speech under the DMCA; the cost to go after people violating the law for abusing this is assymetric, and so this is happening non-judicially with no legal recourse (coercion/coercively).

      IP has extended its definition to include know-how which many businesses consider as general experience. Defense is a kangaroo court, with violation of these areas prohibitively expensive. This comes in the form of non-compete, non-disclosure, etc.

      Congress also has changed their election process over many years such that those who get re-elected have greater power (on seniority, committees), representation is concentrated in fewer people (used to have an upward bound of 80k per representative), you have tweedism based on a money vote (corporations are the benefactors not the people), and its largely been done by the majority (boomer generation) at the expense of everything else.

      When your representatives spend more than half their time seeking contributions from corporations instead of representing; that act subsumes their primary purpose which is representing their constituency.

      So, rationally there’s a lot of issues with no clear way to fix them because the system was changed without respect to the upcoming generational change or the social contract. Its partially why the vast majority of congress are still composed of baby boomers despite the generational handoff which should have occurred in ~ 2010-2012 to GenY/X.

      Like Thomas Paine mentioned, our system has basically been set up so dead men can rule. While they are still alive, they are dying in office of old age. This is clearly a problem since age has a way of subtly robbing the best of us of reason, rationality, and principles through no fault other than biology. Its just how it is.

      General Conditions and the level of coercion found in practice today have not been more prevalent going back to the founding fathers. Some things have already broken, but those things are likely just the tip of the iceberg for what’s coming.

      Its a scary time to be alive or to have children. The world which was engineered for us by the previous generation is a world that is in many respects is unlivable and intolerable, promoting suffering and great evils done by everyday people, without their recognition.

      Worse the surveillance systems and thought reform practices in use today far exceed what the Stasi and other communist nations of the past ever achieved. Given the natural trends that occur in totalism, we almost certainly will have something like the Kovak Box occur, but that path inevitably leads to destruction in the face of out of context problems (Columbus and the Indians), its just a matter of sufficient time. Given societal patterns can’t be changed; we’re probably at a Asimov foundation moment in psychohistory right now and no one realizes it.

    1. Yes, politicians can sometimes accidentally do good things. But please explain what your problem with RISC-V is, and why it shouldn’t be let loose on the Chinese, Iranians, N. Koreans, and Russians.

      The value of RISC-V isn’t that it is any more advanced than any other computer architecture, but that it can be put into amazingly cheap microcontrollers, giving its adopters an advantage over ARM-based chips.

  5. I’m not worried about RISC-V. It’s the gremlins and their murican counterparts that sneak into the hardware that give me the headaches about what I still can buy today.

    Why should I trust all the western backdoors and only discuss problems with IP transfer to the east?

    Plain silly.

  6. People need to understand you don’t achieve peace with weapons, and you don’t achieve peace with barriers (at least, not the kind we want) — emergencies excepted. All barriers can be broken and all weapons have collateral damage too. What you want to achieve peace is conversation, peace accords, negotiate a shared, good future for all. Restrictions are mostly the childish version of ‘You can’t have my toys, they’re all mine!’.

    China, the Middle Eastern cultures, and many other countries have a role to play in our future, and the sooner we start planning for a good shared future the better. We need common grounds of reason, humanity and love.

    1. Congratulations in a world of unicorns this applies very easily.
      There is a problem that some call the hero’s paradox, the hero doesn’t kill the villain, but with each escape the villain kills more people, and this repeats itself infinitely, all it takes is for the hero to kill the villain.
      Culturally, Eastern countries (Middle Orinete, China and Russia) have a culture of conquest and domination, there are no scruples or moral limitations, this issue cannot be treated in this way.
      It is necessary to set limits and yes, my weapon has to be bigger than yours.

      1. “Culturally, Eastern countries (Middle Orinete, China and Russia) have a culture of conquest and domination”

        I call bullshit on that. Except for Japan all the major colonial powers were based in Europe.

        1. Most of the current civilizations are around because someone fought for something. History is written by the winners. But damn if some people have blinders on when it comes to European colonialism. I can’t think of another region’s culture that had such a broad impact on the entire world as 17th to 19th century Europe. (both negative and positive)

          As for China’s culture? They’re fiercely protective of their borders and sovereignty. But who isn’t. If an unallied foreign military vessel started prowling around between Key West and Havana, you’d have an immediate US response. Even though the two points are 50 miles apart and a fair bit of the middle is international waters and freely navigable.

          Sad times we live in when talking about a technology leads to the top of current geopolitical tensions. I’m not willing to pick a side, or at least not the two sides that are typically offered. I prefer peaceful trade to war, which makes me either more civilized or more naïve than the people running the world right now.

          1. Anyone who is educated knows peaceful trade and exchange of goods is the productive way forward, however; it requires cooperation and goodwill in the form of trust of profit, growth, and stability. One of the fundamental problems is hegemony (on both sides), and the coercive habit of devolving to totalism.

            When society fails, the natural law of barbarism or the rule of violence recur. Every rationally educated person knows this. There are many people in academia who are not rational.

            Unfortunately thought reform practices and indoctrination have coddled the youth of today; won’t they be surprised when their efforts fail since they were never taught the fundamental basics of organized society, and left-based totalism’s first step is always eradicating any potential alternative. In the face of crisis if you want to survive you have to cede everything to a uncredible, untrustworthy, unmoderated source; and they may even commonly orchestrate these crisis to push-pull their power base.

  7. Bunnie Huang has his priorities backwards. First, he should ressurect the millions of otherwise perfectly-good Chumby devices he stuck us with. Then, and only then, God will forgive Bunnie for what he did to those innocent Chumbys, so he will not have to Burn-in-Hell Forever. Finally, in the end Bunnie can play around with RISC-V.

  8. Fundamental problem with more ambitious open source projects is that people who spend time and money in R&D aren’t the ones to get paid. Those who can make/use it for the least amount of money are.

    I highly encourage into looking at these things from commercial perspective, rather than isolated single-user pov.

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