Thanks to the rapid pace of advancement in the tech industry, semiconductors are essential across every industry for a wide range of applications. Experts predict a sharp increase in demand for electronic components over the next decade as this trend accelerates. However, to meet the needs of more powerful computing systems, artificial intelligence, and energy efficiency, the industry must evolve.
The Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) has outlined a series of key strategic focuses for U.S. chipmakers to prioritize over the next decade. Dubbed the Decadal Plan for Semiconductors, the guidelines offer a path forward into a brave new age for the American chip sector.
In a statement, the SRC said, “Semiconductors help shape the way we live. The Decadal Plan for Semiconductors describes the possibilities for semiconductors in the coming decade and defines the challenges to overcome to realize that vision.”
Current chip hardware has been pushing the boundaries of its limits for several years. Simply put, size limitations in semiconductor manufacturing with existing methods are a major roadblock to the innovation needed to support next-gen computing. But evolving how chips are made and how they function, especially given their already incredible complexity, isn’t simple.
The U.S. is working to regain influence in the chip industry in an effort headlined by the CHIPS Act. However, the SRC says additional funding, to the tune of $3.4 billion per year, is needed throughout the coming decade to fuel semiconductor research. The SRC also calls for a collaborative approach of public and private partnerships featuring multi-disciplinary teams to meet the diverse needs of the industry.
Interestingly, this number seems small in comparison to the scope of research and development being discussed. Establishing a single new advanced chip fab can easily cost upwards of $10 billion. Allocating just a fraction of that to nationwide research efforts seems to be an optimistic vision of the investment that will be needed.
Meeting the many challenges ahead will require a multi-faceted approach. The Decadal Plan outlines five key areas for chipmakers to prioritize when launching research initiatives and pursuing new product development.
Unsurprisingly, the growing demand for memory and data storage is on the list. Indeed, the SRC claims demand in this sector will “outstrip the global silicon supply” in the next ten years. As a result, creative solutions for storing data more efficiently are needed, particularly as AI increases demand for storage and memory even further.
Meanwhile, the plan highlights needed advancements in analog hardware to help computers better interface with the world. This is quite vague but is increasingly important thanks to the rise of connected devices and the “smart” revolution currently sweeping across the tech industry.
Communications hardware is another area of focus as humanity continues to generate more and more data that needs to be transmitted faster than ever before. The SRC estimates that communication capacity will need to reach 100-1000 zettabytes per year across a variety of networks that maximize the efficiency of data transmission.
Security is also a major concern outlined in the Decadal Plan and frequently specified by U.S. lawmakers during any discussion regarding the chip industry. AI takes center stage in this realm given its immense processing power and capabilities. Experts fear AI algorithms will be able to break through existing security systems faster than they can be maintained given the current pace of development. As such, renewed investment and urgent advancement in cybersecurity are needed to maintain user privacy and safe technology around the globe.
Lastly, the SRC notes the rising energy demand from the semiconductor industry and the importance of developing more efficient systems. This includes improvements in both chip manufacturing and operational power requirements for chips once they’re included in various devices.
Ultimately, addressing the challenges facing the U.S. chip sector in the coming years will require a dedicated effort—and plenty of funding. The SRC’s Decadal Plan offers a strong outline for how chip leaders should focus their efforts to maximize their effectiveness and is an important starting point for the next decade of research.