A Working Group under the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has begun work to sustain U.S. leadership in the global semiconductor industry.
Semiconductors are essential to many aspects of modern life, from cellphones and automobiles to medical diagnostics to reconnaissance satellites and weapon systems. The semiconductor industry directly employs 250,000 workers, is the third largest source of U.S. manufactured exports, and has the highest level of investment in research and development (R&D) as a percentage of sales of any major industry. In addition, the semiconductor industry creates foundational technologies that enable innovation in virtually every sector of the U.S. economy. A loss of leadership in semiconductor innovation and manufacturing could have significant adverse impacts on the U.S. economy and even on national security.
The industry may also be approaching technological and economic inflection points. Based on the currently commercialized approach to semiconductor technology, the industry may soon be unable to continue the pace of advance described by “Moore’s Law”—doubling the processing power of chips every 18–24 months—a pace that has brought with it rapid advances in the capabilities of systems that use semiconductors, opened up new applications, and thus fueled economic growth while increasing quality of life and strengthening national security. Indeed, the exponentially growing cost of designing and fabricating higher-performance chips in the conventional mold 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.
Additional public and private investments in R&D are almost certain to be required if the past remarkable pace of improvements in price and performance of semiconductors and the benefits deriving therefrom are to continue—R&D that looks to create new technologies that can leapfrog beyond the limits of today’s technology and explore entirely new computer architectures and their integration into systems well beyond the traditional computing sphere, including automotive and other mobile applications.