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Senate Passes Bill Investing Billions in Next-Generation Tech to Counter China, Spur Innovation

The U.S. government is poised to pour close to $250 billion dollars of new investment into its tech sector as part of efforts to maintain its global lead in fields such as telecommunications, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductor manufacturing, and to address what many see as an erosion in competitiveness particularly in the face of Chinese competition.

On May 18, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) rolled out the bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, previously called The Endless Frontiers Act. On June 9, the act passed its final hurdle in the Senate and was brought into law with bipartisan support. 

The nearly 1500-page act addresses increasing competition from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and aims to boost government support for science and technology as well as to bolster the innovation environment in the U.S. 

The act addresses the notion that technology innovation within the U.S. is limited to a handful of hubs, like Silicon Valley, and seeks to develop other areas in the U.S. in order to grow a more distributed high-tech job market. Upstate New York is a key target for development. 

The initiative has been called a “once in generation investment” and attempts to address numerous technology gaps identified under both the Trump and Biden administrations. 

Speaking about the Act, Schumer stated, “In the midst of one of the most consequential battles in our nation’s history, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act lays the foundation for the next century of American economic leadership and preserves our competitive edge for generations to come.”

Some have compared the initiative to China’s “Made in China 2025” program which funneled massive amounts of government spending into key technological fields and sought to eliminate China’s reliance on foreign entities for technological innovation and development. 

Republican legislators have criticized the Act for removing language that supported Hong Kong, where Beijing has largely crushed the freedoms it promised, and Taiwan — the democratically ruled island officially known as the Republic of China — which is claimed by the communist PRC as part of its integral territory. 

Semiconductors a main focus

Addressing the global semiconductor shortage is just one of the many priorities of the act. 

The globe has been experiencing a significant shortage in semiconductors attributed to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers, from consumer electronics to automobiles, have been struggling to procure enough semiconductors to meet demand for their products leading in some cases to the shuttering of key production facilities. 

Included in the act is at least $52 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to implement semiconductor-related manufacturing initiatives and R&D programs. 

Over $10 billion has been allocated to establish the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC). $2 billion has been allotted specifically for legacy chip production in an attempt to advance the economic and national security interests of the United States.

$500 million has been earmarked, upfront, for a CHIPS for America International Technology Security and Innovation Fund. 

The fund aims to coordinate with foreign government partners to support international information and communications technology security and semiconductor supply chain activities.

With the economic recovery well on its way in the United States, securing an adequate supply of semiconductors will be mission critical to support the spike in economic activity and to lay the foundation for current and future technological aspirations. 

Next generation tech

With the passing of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 fledgling technology initiatives in the United States have received a much needed boost.

Under the Trump administration, then Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar, announced a Department of Energy (DOE) initiative; America’s Blueprint for the Quantum Internet.  

This next generation network is no longer science fiction. In February of 2020 the Chicago Quantum Exchange, anchored by the University of Chicago, in conjunction with Fermilab, “launched a 52-mile testbed for Quantum communications amongst several other universities, which will allow scientists and engineers to address the challenges of operating a Quantum network under real-world conditions.” 

This action is reminiscent of how the traditional internet was established. Originally the internet was confined to university use until it eventually spread and changed the global landscape. 

The act specifically asks for “a plan for the advancement of quantum networking and communications technology in the United States,” an initiative that is well on its way to fruition. 

The artificial intelligence (A.I.) sector stands to gain in a big way as well. Artificial intelligence is already having a significant impact on the world, from improving data analysis to manufacturing and even assisting in breakthroughs in astrophysics and space exploration. It’s poised to be one of the most disruptive technologies ever developed. 

The act specifically targets “artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, and related advances.” and strives to, “ recruit and train artificial intelligence professionals to lead and support the application of artificial intelligence to the missions of Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments.”

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