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In today’s edition, we look at Taiwan’s push to attract highly-skilled workers, which has attracted ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
cloudy San Francisco
thunderstorms Taipei
sunny Washington, D.C.
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April 5, 2023


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Louise Matsakis
Louise Matsakis

Hi, and welcome to Semafor Tech, a twice-weekly newsletter from Reed Albergotti and me. Taiwan is often portrayed as one of the most dangerous places in the world. At any moment, China could invade, putting the lives of its 23 million residents at risk. But when I visited Taiwan recently, I found that concerns about war weren’t necessarily on the top of everyone’s mind.

Instead, tech workers, startup founders, researchers, and other professionals told me they were excited about putting down roots in Taipei, drawn to the capital city by its world-class research and cultural institutions. Their stories are a reminder that tech is increasingly global. Taiwan is poised to become one of the most important hubs in Asia for the industry — and not just because of homegrown semiconductor giants like TSMC.

Plus, Reed shares some exclusive data on where startups put their money after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, and gives an update about the state of AI discourse in Washington. (Spoiler alert: it’s not good.)

And registration is still open for Semafor’s inaugural World Economy Summit on April 12 in Washington, DC. Join NEC Director Lael Brainard, GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani, Microsoft President Brad Smith, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, and other key figures to discuss what’s next for the global economy. Attend in person at Gallup HQ or join us virtually. Register here before the list closes.

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Move Fast/Break Things

Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

➚ MOVE FAST: GPUs: Google published a scientific paper Tuesday detailing the supercomputers it’s built to train advanced AI models, claiming they’re faster and more efficient than the kind used by Microsoft, which relies on graphics processors from Nvidia. Let the AI chip wars begin.

➘ BREAK THINGS: GPAs: The AI Index, a new report from Stanford, highlights how the private sector has taken over from academia when it comes to developing new AI models. While university research is responsible for many of the original breakthroughs in the field, it released just three of the 35 most significant new machine learning models in 2022.

Semafor Stat

TikTok owner ByteDance’s revenue in 2022, representing a 30% increase from the prior year, according to The Information. Most of that growth came from mainland China, so even if Uncle Sam gives TikTok the boot, its parent company should still do fine. Meta raked in around $116.6 billion over the same time period.

Louise Matsakis

Taiwan’s tech muscle strengthens even as Chinese threat grows


TAIPEI — In March 2020, Nicolas Roussy Newton, co-founder of the quantum security startup BTQ, found himself stuck in Taiwan during a work trip from Vancouver. The island had shuttered its borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and he ended up spending several months in the capital city.

Three years later, Newton now lives in Taipei full-time, and he recently opened a BTQ office branch in the central Zhongzheng district near several government ministries. “It’s just a remarkable research ecosystem, it’s a great place to be based in Asia,” Newton said. “We’re fully committed to Taipei long term.”

Since 2018, around 6,500 people, including Newton, have been able to settle in Taiwan by applying for the Taiwan Employment Gold Card, a flexible work and residence permit designed for highly-skilled professionals. It has helped make Taiwan into a regional tech hub known not just for hardware firms like TSMC and Foxconn, but also areas like artificial intelligence development.

At a hot pot restaurant near Taipei’s trendy Da’an neighborhood, an AI researcher at a major U.S. tech company told me he had also been granted a gold card and was spending a few months working from Taipei this year while learning Chinese. The researcher, who asked to remain anonymous because his managers weren’t aware he was in another country, said it took about two months for the visa to be approved and he was able to pick it up once he landed in Taipei.

We were joined for dinner by another software engineer who had recently been laid off from a tech company in San Francisco, who was using part of his severance to pay for Mandarin classes at Taiwan National University. His gold card application was still pending.

Taiwan’s international reputation is defined by its perilous relationship with China, which claims ownership of the territory and has ramped up military drills in its surrounding waters. Tensions are escalating in part due to worsening relations between the U.S. and Beijing. China warned last week it would “fight back” after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced he was meeting Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California today.

But the threat of a possible Chinese invasion hasn’t stopped startup founders, tech workers, and researchers from moving to Taipei, attracted by the capital’s world-class universities, relatively low cost of living, and vibrant cultural and food scenes.

“I came right before the Nancy Pelosi visit, and it was just absolutely wild to see the difference between what was being reported in Western media and what I was experiencing on the ground,” said research analyst Ai-Men Lau, referring to when the previous House speaker met with Tsai in Taiwan last year. Lau relocated to Taipei from Canada to work for the non-profit Doublethink Lab, where she studies online Chinese state disinformation.

Unsplash/Vernon Raineil Cenzon


A confluence of factors have helped elevate Taiwan’s status on the world stage over the last few years. The territory was widely lauded for its early and effective response to the pandemic, led in part by Minister of Digital Affairs Audrey Tang, who promoted initiatives like an app that tracked the availability of masks in nearby pharmacies. Tang helped paint Taiwan as having a sophisticated tech-powered government.

The island has also received more in-depth coverage from publications like The Washington Post and The New York Times, which relocated several correspondents to Taiwan after they were expelled from China in 2020. It was “this Taiwanese soft power boom,” said Shazeda Ahmed, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University studying tech policy in China and other parts of the world.

Ahmed applied for a gold card in 2021 after hearing about the program through friends, and now splits her time between Taipei and the U.S. She said she has been impressed by the level of diversity in the city, especially compared to other Asian capitals like Seoul and Tokyo.

One of the most important things drawing people to Taiwan is its tolerance for free expression. In 2014, Brian Hioe helped start New Bloom, an online magazine covering youth politics in Taiwan that grew out of his involvement in the Sunflower Movement, which advocated against closer economic ties between Taiwan and China.

“There was an activist and artistic scene which was very particular to the city and didn’t exist elsewhere,” said Hioe, who was raised in New York.


Taiwan’s gold program is part of a larger government plan to recruit 400,000 white-collar workers to the island over the next decade as its population ages and birth rate declines. Many countries around the world are struggling with similar demographic challenges, but I was impressed by Taiwan’s decision to use immigration to help solve them.

The people I spoke to in Taipei had their gold cards approved in as little as two months, and were required to pay a few hundred dollars at the most to have them processed. In contrast, getting an H-1B visa in the U.S. is an arduous, anxiety-ridden process that typically costs employers thousands of dollars.


Not everyone is happy with Taiwan’s gold card program. A survey conducted by the Taiwanese government last fall found that around 16% of recipients wound up leaving the island, sometimes because of low local salaries, CommonWealth Magazine reported.

The majority of immigrants who come to Taiwan are migrant workers from Southeast Asia, who often face discrimination and have few legal protections. “I worked from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day,” a domestic caretaker from the Philippines told the Hong Kong Free Press. “Even during the night they expected me to wake up every hour to check on the grandma.”


  • The Taiwanese government is paying up to half a million people 5,000 New Taiwan dollars ($164) to visit the island this year as part of a government initiative to boost tourism, the South China Morning Post reported.
  • The New York Times updated its travel guide to Taipei for the first time in a decade last month with recommendations from Clarissa Wei, author of the highly anticipated new cookbook Made in Taiwan.
  • Hioe’s magazine New Bloom has extensively covered the problems and injustices faced by migrant workers in Taiwan.

There are three remarkable things about this data from AngelList, a platform that facilitates investments in early-stage tech startups and hosts more than 20,000 funds. Because of its perch, it has a bird’s eye view of the money flowing in and out of a large swath of young companies, and shared the anonymized figures with Semafor exclusively.

The first thing you notice is that wire transfers into Silicon Valley Bank have plummeted. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that they haven’t stopped. As we reported a few weeks ago, Silicon Valley Bank may yet rise from the dead.

The second big takeaway is how little the too-big-to-fail banks benefited from the SVB collapse. The biggest recipient of transfers was JPMorgan, but it was a modest one, though it did see a surge of deposits from elsewhere in the wake of SVB’s collapse. Considering Jamie Dimon’s firm has been putting on a full-court press to woo startups away from SVB for a couple of years now, it’s not much of a bump. And Wells Fargo, whose headquarters are right in the middle of tech central, was largely flat.

The third, and perhaps most meaningful takeaway, is that online banking platforms Mercury and Brex saw the biggest jump. Maybe the excitement should be tempered because startups are more likely to patronize other tech companies. But then consider that every company is essentially a tech company these days. It makes you wonder whether we’re finally seeing that finance industry disruption that Silicon Valley has promised for so many years.

— Reed


Bob Lee

Bob Lee, the former CTO of Square and the creator of CashApp, was stabbed to death in San Francisco on Tuesday. The tragic loss sent ripples through Silicon Valley as friends of Lee, who was the chief product officer at MobileCoin, mourned his loss on Twitter.

“Bob was a dynamo, a force of nature,” MobileCoin CEO Josh Goldbar said in a statement. “Bob was the genuine article. He was made for the world that is being born right now, he was a child of dreams, and whatever he imagined, no matter how crazy, he made real.”

The stabbing, which according to news reports took place near Google’s San Francisco offices and the headquarters of The Gap, will draw even more attention to lack of safety in a city still recovering from a pandemic exodus.


Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

The discussion about AI safety in D.C. appears to have gone slightly off the rails. U.S. President Joe Biden was asked whether the technology is dangerous, a question even PhDs in artificial intelligence have trouble answering at this point. “It remains to be seen,” Biden said Tuesday.

On Friday, Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about predictions that “literally everybody on earth will die” from a killer AI. Instead of a productive discussion about AI safety, the style of Doocy’s question resulted in laughs and an answer that didn’t even address it.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is threatening to sue AI companies if their products are used for fraud and deception. Companies should ask themselves, the FTC wrote: “Should you be making or selling it?” Does that also go for telecom companies, enablers of ubiquitous robocall scams?

For some solid but less sensational D.C. analysis, check out this report from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology. And we’ll be keeping an eye on the new Wadhwani Center for AI and Advanced Technologies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some harm will be caused by AI. In fact, that’s been going on for years. New technology always has downsides. It also always has upsides. It’s impossible to predict exactly what those will look like. We might get popes in puffy jackets, Trump being tackled, or more dangerous misinformation. But we might also get cures for cancer.

— Reed


Large language models, the technology behind AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney, often behave in strange and unpredictable ways. In a new survey paper, Sam Bowman, a New York University professor and visiting AI researcher at the startup Anthropic, outlined eight different things that make them so weird. The list, which draws from previous research on LLMs, is a great starting point for anyone trying to follow how this technology is rapidly developing.


Sam Bowman
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— Reed and Louise