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Eric Schmidt’s think tank urges Moonshots to help the US beat China

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

China is leading the development of almost all emerging technologies, and the US is increasingly worried.

 

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The US must pursue strategic technological breakthroughs, such as a working quantum computer by 2028, to stay ahead of rivals like China and ensure its national security. That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP), an organization funded by former Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt. The document also urges the improvement of computational energy efficiency by a factor of 1,000 or more and the development of commercial-grade superconductor electronics.

 

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The US and China are in a race for technological supremacy that’s seen both pour billions of dollars in investment to expand domestic semiconductor manufacturing capabilities and self-sufficiency. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) promising to transform entire industries and accelerate innovation in microelectronics and computers, Schmidt’s think tank attempts to set out a national action plan for the US.

The country has a history of rallying resources and pushing technology forward when pressed by a foreign adversary, from the Manhattan Project in World War II to the lunar landing, which came about after Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch.

The SCSP report warned that the US needs to guard against the dangers of China’s technological rise, which is aided by a vast domestic industry, a deep pool of motivated engineers and an “industrial espionage strategy with global reach.”

 

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Now 68, Schmidt has leveraged his $27 billion fortune to build a powerful influence machine in Washington and has been warning about security risks around China’s development of AI and computing.

The report highlighted China’s plans for a massive buildout of fabrication capabilities for older-technology chips, an issue that’s also been flagged by other US industry executives and think tanks.

“Currently, there are few restrictions to block or screen these chips, which may contain vulnerabilities and backdoors, from being deployed in critical infrastructure sectors,” the report said. Its suggested remedy is for more transparency around components in US systems and where they come from, to be achieved via Congressional or executive action.

 

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One possible action is to require US government and critical-infrastructure suppliers to disclose the country of origin and other information for all hardware components, it said.

“Our action plan focuses on solving for US advantage from a national security perspective,” Schmidt and SCSP Chief Executive Officer Ylli Bajraktari wrote in the report. “This action plan combines bold technology ‘Moonshots’ with organizational changes and policies that would position the United States for durable advantage.”

The moonshot goals are important to ensure the US lead at a time when advanced chips are getting exponentially more expensive and difficult to manufacture as the transistors inside them become tiny enough to be measured by number of atoms.

 

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Among the moonshots listed, the SCSP called for a million-qubit, fault-tolerant quantum computer by 2028. Quantum computers promise to be millions of times faster than the fastest supercomputers of today, capable of breaking current state-of-the-art encryption systems but also promising to produce much more advanced security methods of their own. While many big companies like Alphabet’s Google and IBM have developed functional prototypes, those systems are still too small to undertake work capable of having real-world impact. China is also pursuing breakthroughs in this field, especially as the US escalates trade curbs cutting off access to the cutting edge of traditional computing technology and semiconductors.

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