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Test beds, workforce critical to U.S. technology leadership

The CHIPS and Science Act allows the U.S. to invest in critical technologies such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

The U.S.'s leading position in critical technologies can be bolstered through investments in technology test beds, workforce education and R&D, according to technology experts.

President Joe Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 into law earlier this year in a bid 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.

While the CHIPS Act does provide $52 billion to boost chip building domestically, the bulk of the $280 billion competition package will go to agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology to research and develop emerging technologies, including quantum computing and AI. Billions will also go to boosting education and developing a workforce for such technologies.

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

"To remain globally competitive and protect our future, investments such as the CHIPS and Science Act are critical to maintain our national security, to mitigate being outpaced by adversary nations whose primary goal is to relegate the U.S. to a second-tier technology nation," said William Breckenridge III, director of high performance computing at Mississippi State University and a witness at the hearing.

Ensuring U.S. leadership in critical technologies

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

"The stakes are high," she said. "Funding for [the CHIPS and Science Act] must not stop with the appropriations for chip manufacturing. America needs access to better chips. But it also needs the research and workforce to put those chips to use."

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

To remain globally competitive and protect our future, investments such as the CHIPS and Science Act are critical to maintain 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 advancements in quantum science, Allbritton supported appropriations to agencies such as NSF, which provides grants and funding to academic institutions for science education. She also supported increased federal investment in workforce development and education, accessible quantum test beds, fundamental quantum information research, and technology policy.

Jack Clark, co-founder of AI safety and research company Anthropic and another witness at the hearing, also supported investment in test beds across the U.S. for AI. Clark said AI test beds will help train a "new, diverse workforce in the art of assessing and deploying AI systems."

"Testing and evaluating AI systems is fundamental to realizing their commercial applications and identifying any safety issues," Clark said at the hearing. "Therefore, we must ensure that the National Institute of Standards and Technology is able to stand up AI test beds across America so local communities can take AI systems out of the lab and vigorously test and deploy them."

He said that investment in experimental infrastructure for the development and testing of AI systems by academic and government users will also help advance the U.S.'s leadership in the technology as countries like China quickly close the gap on that leadership position.

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

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

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