Test beds, a workforce critical to US technology leadership

The U.S. leadership in critical technologies can be strengthened through investments in technology testbeds, workforce training and research and development, according to technology experts.

President Joe Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 into law earlier this year in an effort to increase U.S. investment in emerging technologies and compete with countries like China, which are funneling billions into semiconductor chip manufacturing, AI applications and quantum computing capabilities.

Although the CHIPS Act provides $52 billion to spur chip building in the country, most of the $280 billion competing package will go to agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology for research and developing emerging technologies, including quantum computing and AI. Billions will also go toward promoting education and developing a workforce for such technologies.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing Thursday to hear technology experts discuss how to use CHIPS and Science Act funding to strengthen U.S. leadership in these critical technologies.

“To remain globally competitive and secure our future, investments like CHIPS and the SCIENCE Act are critical to maintaining our national security, mitigating preemption by hostile nations whose primary goal is to reposition the U.S. as a technology nation from the second level,” said William Breckenridge III, director of the high-performance computing department at Mississippi State University and a witness at the hearing.

Ensuring US leadership in critical technologies

Committee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) pointed out during the hearing that international competition in emerging computing technologies is growing. Meanwhile, she said, the U.S. faces a quantum computing talent shortage, with fewer than 5 percent of U.S. PhD holders in relevant fields focusing on quantum science.

“The stakes are high,” she said. “Funding for [the CHIPS and Science Act] it should not stop with the budget appropriations for chip production. America needs access to better chips. But it also needs research and manpower to use these chips.”

Nancy Albritton, dean of the University of Washington’s College of Engineering, said she was encouraged by the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, noting that “continued federal investment in these programs is essential” for the U.S. to maintain its leadership. Albritton was also one of a handful of witnesses who spoke during the hearing.

To remain globally competitive and secure our future, investments like CHIPS and the Science Act are critical to maintaining our national security.

William Breckenridge IIIDirector, High Performance Computing, Mississippi State University

She said quantum science has enabled “groundbreaking” technologies such as GPS, MRI and lasers for healthcare applications.

“The realization of quantum information science will fundamentally change the way we live and work,” she said.

To support continued advances in quantum science, Allbritton has supported appropriations for agencies such as the NSF, which provides grants and funding to academic institutions for science education. She also supported increased federal investment in workforce development and education, affordable quantum test beds, fundamental quantum information research, and technology policy.

Jack Clark, co-founder of safety and artificial intelligence research company Anthropic and another witness at the hearing, also supported investment in US AI testbeds. Clark said the AI ​​testbeds will help train “a new, diverse workforce in the art of evaluating and implementing AI systems.”

“Testing and evaluating AI systems is fundamental to realizing their commercial applications and identifying any safety issues,” Clark said during the hearing. “So we need to ensure that the National Institute of Standards and Technology is able to set up AI testbeds across America so that local communities can take AI systems out of the lab and vigorously test and deploy them.”

He said investments in experimental infrastructure to develop and test AI systems by academic and government users will also help advance the US’s leadership in the technology as countries such as China rapidly close the gap in that leadership position.

“AI is a competitive technology and China already rivals the US in R&D,” Clark said. “In 2021, China published more AI research papers than the United States and filed more patents than any other country.”

Mackenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was the chief reporter for Wilmington StarNews and crime and education reporter at Regular Wabash Dealer.

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