The sci-fi world of tomorrow just turned in our direction.
The U.S. Senate just voted in overwhelming approval for a bill designed to jump-start key technological advancements of the 21st century, taking up the challenge of outpacing growing economic competition from its new rival: China.
Called the "U.S. Innovation and Competition Act" (formerly the "Endless Frontiers Act"), the new bill passed on a 68-32 vote, and it could serve as the early kick-off of the next industrial revolution, triggering unprecedented advances in AI, semiconductor manufacturing, and even space travel.
Welcome to the 21st-century tech economy.
The US aims to challenge China's growing tech economy
Typically, senate bills see partisan politics prevail more often than not, but this tech-focused initiative shows that there is still one issue on which two parties can unite: keeping pace with China's accelerated tech development. This goal is so important that it's been called the most expansive industrial policy legislation in the history of the country. The new bill tags nearly a quarter-trillion dollars in government money for U.S. manufacturing and technological enhancements, to keep the nation from lagging behind China.
The new tech bill calls for colossal investments in artificial intelligence research, semiconductor manufacturing, quantum computing, robotics, and several other technologies and industries. Fear that inaction could leave the U.S. dependent on a major geopolitical rival is believed to be the driving force behind the overwhelming success of the bill. "Around the globe, authoritarian governments smell blood in the water," said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the floor of the Senate, leaning heavy into dramatic flare, in a New York Times report. "They believe that squabbling democracies like ours can't come together and invest in national priorities the way a top-down, centralized and authoritarian government can."
Whether or not this is the case, quantum computing, AI, semiconductors, and even space travel are crucial to the future of tech in the United States. And combined, the new effort could represent the kick-start of the next industrial revolution. Since the high tide of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, the largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world, including Samsung, Intel Corp., NVIDIA, and many more, have had to face a major shortage. This was caused in part when many foundries closed in the wake of the virus, and it negatively impacted the manufacturing of smartphones, causing companies on the scale of Apple and Samsung to delay or skip the launch of flagship consumer devices, respectively.
Supercharging AI and a transforming auto industry
The auto industry, too, suffered. Used for steering, braking, engine management, airbag control, and Bluetooth connectivity, semiconductors are crucial for automakers to continue running assembly lines, especially while more and more carmakers are beginning to pivot to all-electric, following Tesla's lead. Even video game consoles entered limited or incremental releases, with the President and Chief Executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment saying he expected the PS5 supply limitations to continue until sometime this year.
And while AI won't achieve sentience anytime soon, a major influx of financial power to researchers will supercharge several industries. AI-augmented robots already execute a wide variety of tasks in- and outside of factories, removing the need for humans at every level of production, from assembly and packaging to customer service and HR. Enhancing AI capabilities will add substantial levels of efficiency to this process, but it could also transform weather predictive capabilities, streamline emergency or disaster response digital infrastructures, create new jobs, and even save lives on distant battlefields.
NASA's $10 billion to largely fund its Artemis lander
Last but not least, the giant tech bill allocated $10 billion toward the development of private crewed landers for NASA. The funds will largely be allocated to the agency's Artemis program, which aims to construct a sustainable human presence on and in orbit of the moon before the screaming 2020s are finished. But who will build the final moon lander might still be up for grabs, since the initial award of a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to complete its Starship vehicle was later contested in protests from Dynetics and "The National Team," the latter of which CEO Blue Origin Jeff Bezos led.
The future is scary, but it's also exciting. From advanced AI streamlining nearly every aspect of human life and production to a renewed semiconductor industry revving up for the next generation of all-electric vehicles, to financing the future of human exploration of space and moon settlements, it seems the United States government is very passionate about moving full steam ahead into the next industrial revolution.