Japan is to spend as much as ￥45 billion (US$300 million) to back a research group developing advanced chip technology, part of a national push to catch up in semiconductor manufacturing.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said it approved outsourcing research on cutting-edge fabrication tech to the Leading-edge Semiconductor Technology Center (LSTC). The year-old organization was set up to assemble Japan’s researchers in areas such as nanotechnology, materials and artificial intelligence (AI) and support chip manufacturing at state-backed Rapidus Corp.
“We outsource research and development that the government deems is necessary, but is too risky for the private sector to carry out,” Hidemichi Shimizu, director of METI’s strategy office for the software and information services industry, said at a news briefing yesterday.
The contract is for up to five years and would span chip technology for 2 nanometers and beyond, as well as AI-enabling chip design, he said.
Rapidus is spending billions of dollars in subsidies on a bid to produce advanced 2-nanometer chips in Chitose in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and compete with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) and Samsung Electronics Co.
Tokyo-based LSTC, headed by Rapidus chairman Tetsuro Higashi, the former chairman of chip equipment maker Tokyo Electron Ltd, is working on designs to enable AI applications on gadgets such as smartphones as well as connected electric vehicles. The center comprises researchers at the University of Tokyo, Tohoku University and others, according to its Web site.
LSTC will also serve as the center of joint development with overseas partners on next-generation semiconductor technology and help generate demand for Rapidus while bolstering Japan’s sustainable competitiveness, Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Ken Saito said.
In related news, OpenAI chief executive officer Sam Altman is seeking to raise trillions of dollars to reshape the global semiconductor industry, and has held talks with potential investors including the United Arab Emirates government, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
Altman is reportedly looking to resolve some of the biggest challenges faced by the rapidly-expanding AI sector — including a shortage of the expensive computer chips needed for large-language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
The global chip industry is currently dominated by just a few firms, including TSMC and US-based Nvidia Corp.
While many countries have unveiled plans to support domestic chip production, the financial support they have offered pales in comparison with the vast sums of money Altman has reportedly been discussing with investors.
The Journal estimated that the total cost of realizing Altman’s project could be as much as US$7 trillion. This is roughly US$1 trillion more than the market value of the world’s two largest public companies — Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp — combined.
An OpenAI spokesperson told the Journal the company has held “productive discussions about increasing global infrastructure and supply chains for chips, energy and data centers.”
They added that they would “continue to keep the US government informed given the importance to national priorities.”
Altman has held meetings with senior government officials from UAE, as well as Softbank Group Corp chief executive Masayoshi Son and representatives from TSMC, according to the Journal.
Altman has floated the idea of building dozens of chip-fabrication plants in the next few years with money from Middle East investors, and then paying TSMC to build and operate them, the Journal said.
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