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Press Notice dated 12 December 2002
THE UK MUST EXPLOIT ITS STRENGTHS IN SILICON CHIP DESIGN OR LOSE OUT IN GLOBAL COMPUTING MARKET
Urgent action by Government and business is needed to prevent substantial scientific and commercial opportunities in the international computing market being squandered. This call is made in Chips for Everything: Britain's opportunities in a key global market, a report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, published today.
Lord Wade of Chorlton, chairman of the inquiry, said:
"Electronic computing is almost everywhere – most visibly in PCs, but even more extensively in a wide variety of machines and equipment such as cars, DVD players and washing machines. Computing will become even more pervasive and important as the technology evolves and matures.
"Although the UK no longer has any significant ownership of computer chip manufacturing, we have under-recognised strengths in the vital field of chip design – over three-quarters of all mobile phones use British design in their chips. Action is needed now if Britain is to maintain and develop its stake in the global computing industry."
The report begins with an Executive Summary which also lists the Committee's 18 recommendations for action. Key points are as below.
Computer chips would be useless without sophisticated design of their tens of millions of transistors to deliver the actual computing needed in widely varying applications. The UK's significant strengths in chip design are insufficiently recognised and lack an appropriate focus for development. This is the report's main finding and its principal recommendations are for the establishment of a single national centre for chip design, underpinned by a wider national programme.
Advances in chip design have been facilitated by the doubling of transistors per chip every two years for the last 50 years – a trend known as "Moore's Law". The report notes the global industry's view that miniaturisation limits of the present CMOS chip technology will be reached in the next 10 to 15 years and recommends the UK's chip technology R&D should concentrate on potential successors.
THE BUSINESS CLIMATE
Computing provides a complicated business model. The chip technology or design "products" can be both arcane and abstract. Moreover, their value lies principally in the consumer products that they facilitate. The lead time to market can therefore be unusually long. Accordingly, the report makes recommendations – addressed to Government and the business community – aimed at creating a climate within which new business opportunities can be better identified, launched and supported.
The long lead time in developing high-technology products – but with the prospect of good returns in the longer term – led the Committee to make recommendations about the public and private sectors taking more active steps to encourage demand and facilitate research and development.
Success in many of these areas depends on the availability of high-quality university academic staff in computing and electronics. There is a crisis in the recruitment and retention of such staff and the Government and universities are recommended to take specific action to address this, not least by making the exchange of staff between universities and industry more straightforward and commonplace.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1.The report follows a nine-month inquiry by a Sub-Committee of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Wade of Chorlton. The Select Committee is chaired by Lord Oxburgh, (the former Rector of Imperial College, London). The other members of the Sub-Committee were Lord Flowers; Lord Freeman; Lord Hunt of Chesterton; Lord Lewis of Newnham; Lord Methuen; Lord Mitchell; Lord Patel; and Baroness Wilcox.
2.The report is published by the Stationery Office: Chips for Everything: Britain's opportunities in a key global market, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 2nd Report, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 13-I, ISBN 010 400112 7, £13.00. The full text of the report will be available on the internet via www.parliament.uk shortly after publication. The link will be www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldsctech.htm
3.The oral and written evidence received by the Sub-Committee is published in a separate companion volume HL Paper 13-II, ISBN 010 400111 9, £21.50.
Further information from:
- Roger Morgan
- Jillian Bailey
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