US sets up chip study group exploring China, Moore’s law

Article By : Rick Merritt

The group will look at ways to strengthen the U.S. industry in the face of competition from China and the growing cost of pursuing Moore’s law.

U.S. President Barack Obama has convened a group of semiconductor veterans to study the top issues affecting the chip industry in the country.

The working group, established under the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), is expected to submit a report to the next administration recommending significantly higher federal spending on semiconductor research. The members are tasked to look at ways to strengthen the U.S. industry in the face of competition from China and the growing cost and complexity of pursuing Moore’s law.

“Some countries that are important in this domain are subsidising their domestic semiconductor industry or requiring implicit transfer of technology and intellectual property in exchange for market access,” the White House said in a thinly veiled reference to China in a statement online announcing the new work group.

Indeed, China has prepared a $20 billion investment fund in semiconductors. It also helped organise a $100 billion private fund to spur increasingly active investments in chip M&A deals.

“The industry may also be approaching technological and economic inflection points,” around the slowing pace of Moore’s law, the new U.S. group added.

Indeed, Intel is already stretching out its time between process nodes beyond the traditional 18-24 months. Engineers are working harder to find new ways to deliver performance increases and power and price declines given traditional scaling techniques are breaking down as processes approach physical limits.

The statement suggested it will recommend “additional public and private investments in R&D” as part of a “set of recommendations on initial actions the Federal government, industry and academia could pursue to maintain U.S. leadership in this crucial domain.” It gave no specifics of how long it will take to arrive at those recommendations.

"The exponentially growing cost of designing and fabricating higher-performance chips in the conventional mould is already stifling innovation, making it more difficult for startups and new ideas from university research to create new markets—a key source of competitive advantage for America's entrepreneurial economy," the group said.

In a sign of the importance the administration gives the issues, it appointed a top White House technology advisor and PCAST chair John Holdren to co-chair the work group along with former Intel chief executive Paul Otellini.

Other members of the group include Northtrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush, Stanford President Emeritus John Hennessy, Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs, former GlobalFoundries CEO Ajit Manocha, Microsoft's former senior advisor Craig Mundie, former Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter, and NEC director and UC Berkeley professor Laura Tyson.

Next: Chip study group reviews US semicon competitiveness

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