Electronic Design

The Doctor Takes On The World

Dr. Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli isn't afraid to look beyond his office or his classroom. He's concerned about the entire world. In fact, he testified before Congress about U.S. competitiveness way back in 1983. Some of his comments then are particularly relevant today.

?Congress was concerned about the Japanese competition and the loss of manufacturing jobs, especially in IC manufacturing,? he says. ?There was a strong debate about the relevance of maintaining manufacturing in the U.S. when the future seemed to be a service-based economy.?

?In addition, the industrial sector was classified into sunset industries and sunrise ones, where the sunset industries, mostly manufacturing endeavors such as textile and steel, were deemed to be nonstrategic and, hence, of less importance for the U.S. economy,? he explains.

?My take, then, as a member of the Berkeley Roundtable for the International Economy (BRIE), was that this classification, based on output, was not correct as we could manufacture and design mundane things such as jeans using the most advanced technology.? he says. ?I strongly encouraged Congress to look at ways of injecting new technologies into mature sectors as a way of fostering competitiveness in the U.S. industry.?

?In addition, I strongly advised the government to support the capabilities of designing and manufacturing ICs in the U.S. Sematech was formed in that period, and many companies renovated completely their approach to manufacturing, thus securing the future leadership in this field. This led to an unprecedented period of growth and wealth for the U.S.?

Times have changed, however. ?The situation now is worrisome,? he says. ?In the 1980s, the high dollar value and high technology efficiency of Japan were driving the loss of competitiveness. Today it is low labor cost, but more importantly, the presence of a very large market in the Far East that drives jobs and investments away from the U.S. I am not clear about what to do to strengthen the overall position of the U.S. industry in this new environment.?

What Not To Do

?Limiting people access to education and limiting industry access to talented engineering pools worldwide is a bad policy,? says Sangiovanni-Vincentelli. ?This is going to reflect very negatively on our economy in the long run. We must resist the temptation of new forms of ?protectionism.' They are the roots of instability and of political problems.

?My sense is that we will have to lower somewhat the standard of living of the advanced economies and that the new areas (China and India, but also Eastern Europe) of economic growth will substantially raise their standard of living.

?If indeed China takes appropriate initiatives in liberalization and openness in their education and economic systems, it is likely that this country will play a significant role in the world similar to what the U.S. has played since 1930.

?China will be the major driver in creating new industries, and its internal market will create enough momentum to carry it to one of the dominant economic and political positions. There is always the risk that the political and economic climate over there will take a turn for the worst, in which case I am really worried about the future. Anything we can do to help in favoring democratization and openness in China in the end will be a major gain for the entire world,? he concludes.

The New Economy

The biggest change on the horizon, according to Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, is the global economic and political situation. ?I believe there is going to be a substantial redistribution of wealth and a major shift in the way we develop new products with high technology content,? he says. ?I am not sure we know what to do in this rapidly changing situation. This uncertainty can generate a significant amount of anxiety in the new generations. I see this in the entire Western world, including Europe.?

He does see some positives in the present quest of U.S. industry and academia to help underdeveloped countries. ?I also believe some initiatives beginning to help third-world countries (Africa for example) that have little hope to grow on their own will end up creating new opportunities even for business.

?For example, I am very much in favor of the work of Bill Gates and his foundation in defeating malaria. There are plenty of opportunities also for important academic work to find nontraditional ways of exporting knowledge and helping these countries, as witnessed by the work going on at Berkeley under the leadership of Dean Richard Newton and Dr. Eric Brewer.?
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