The dream of computer chips made in the United States

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns . Many American politicians and technologists bel...


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

Many American politicians and technologists believe America would be better off if the government gave more financial support for computer chips, which are like the brains or memory of everything from fighter jets to refrigerators. Proposals for tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding are making their way, a little unstable, through Congress.

One of the main stated goals is to manufacture more computer chips in the United States. This is unusual in two respects: the United States is philosophically unwilling to help their favorite industries, and we often think that American innovation is disconnected from where things are physically made.

Most smartphones and computers are made outside of the United States, but much of the intellectual power and value of these technologies is found in that country. China has a lot of factories, and we have Apple and Microsoft. It’s a big trade for the United States

Today I want to ask some basic questions: What are we trying to achieve by making more chips on American soil? And are policymakers and the tech industry pursuing the most effective steps to achieve these goals?

There are reasonable arguments that chips are not iPhones and that it would be good for Americans if more chips were made in the United States, even if it took many years. (It would.) But in my conversations with tech and policy scholars, it’s also clear that supporters of government support for the computer chip industry have scattered ambitions.

Some experts say more US-made computer chips can protect the US from China military Where Technology ambitions. Others want it help clear jams from manufacturing logs for cars, or to help keep the United States on the cutting edge of scientific research. the military wants America-made chips to secure fighter planes and laser weapons.

This is a lot of hope for government policy, and all may not be realistic.

“There is a lack of precision in thinking,” said Robert D. Atkinson, the president of the Information and Innovation Technologies Foundation, a research group that supports US government funding for critical technologies, including computer chips. (The group is funded by telecommunications and technology companies, including US computer chip giant Intel.)

Atkinson told me he supported proposals going through Congress for government support for technology research and development, and for taxpayer subsidies to American chip factories. But he also said there was a risk that US policy would consider all domestic technology manufacturing to be of equal importance. “Maybe it would be nice if we did more solar panels, but I don’t think it’s strategic, ”he said.

Atkinson and the people I’ve spoken to in the computer chip industry say that there are significant ways that computer chips aren’t like iPhones, and that it would be helpful to make more of them on the market. American soil. On 12% of all tokens are made in the USA

In their view, manufacturing expertise is tied to technological innovation, and it is important for America to maintain sharp skills in manufacturing computer chips.

“We are one of the three nations on Earth that can do this” Al thompson, the head of US government affairs for Intel told me. “We don’t want to lose that ability. (South Korea and Taiwan are the other two countries with advanced chip manufacturing expertise.)

It’s hard to discern how important it is to make more chips in American factories. I understand that putting taxpayer dollars on chip factories that take years to start producing products will not solve the pandemic-related chip shortages that have made buying difficult. Ford F-150 and video game consoles.

Asian factories will also continue to dominate chip manufacturing, regardless of what the US government does. If production in the United States increases to, say, 20%, future pandemics or a crisis in Taiwan could still leave the US economy vulnerable to chip shortages.

What happens with computer chips is part of a larger question in both American politics and our American mindset: What should the United States do about a future in which technology becomes less? American? This is the future. We need policymakers to ask themselves where it counts, where it doesn’t and what the government should be focusing its attention on to keep the country strong.


Here is a story of the adventures of Cosmo, a raven in Oregon who enjoys hanging out with people and talking to them (and cursing). (Thanks to my colleague Adam Pasick for sharing.)


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