China identifies AI, optoelectric semiconductors, as challenges it wants to crack

Underwater comms make list of 14 techs at which Beijing hopes to do better

China's Academy of Engineering has issued its annual list of technologies it wants to develop, but considers major challenges worthy of prioritization.

This year's list features 14 items, according to Chinese media.

As you'd expect, semiconductors made the list, with the Academy noting that silicon manufacturing process nodes are shrinking to a single nanometer, but that further advances are hitting physical limits. China's engineers reckon they therefore need to master three-dimensional integration, chiplets, and advanced packaging. Integrating microelectronics and optoelectronics in chips is also on Beijing's to-do list, as is work to improve optical comms.

Sensors are also on China's agenda, to help build ultra-precision lithography machines that will be needed to build the semiconductors mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Academy also wants more measurement instruments to help it build aircraft engines and planes. China's been hit hard by export bans on lithography machines and is projected to buy thousands of passenger planes in coming years. Better local tech could reduce its dependence on imports.

Quantum computing, information security and AI also made the most wanted list, and are hardy perennials whenever officials talk about future directions for local industry. So is 6G – which makes this list along with other networking technologies that will improve carrying capacity and energy efficiency, to serve the improved AI-and-big-data-fuelled vertical applications China wants to improve all aspects of its industries.

Work on electromagnetic fields and their environmental effects are another item on this list, owing to their applicability in many other fields.

Beijing also wants to build a "marine network information system." China is already thought to operate a sophisticated underwater surveillance network. The Academy's list, as reported by local press and machine translated, mentions Beijing's desire to "establish the theory of underwater nonlinear sound fields to achieve optimal control and utilization of underwater sound fields" and "make breakthroughs in new types of perception such as ocean refined remote sensing and non-acoustic detection, ocean-going ship weather navigation, cross-domain communication and underwater information processing."

The list also calls for other technologies to be adapted for use in maritime scenarios.

Think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute already rates China as enjoying a global leadership position in 37 of 44 critical or emerging technologies.

Yet China also recently bemoaned the poor reliability of its industrial output, and reformed its Ministry of Science and Technology to get its national R&D back on track. Indeed, during The Register's regular reading of the copious output of China's government, it often urges improvements to R&D and swifter, more profound advances.

The extent to which they're needed is hard to divine. Huawei's recent release of a smartphone that appears to include components that exceed China's previously known manufacturing capabilities suggests the nation can already develop technologies the US and its allies would rather remain theirs alone.

This list signals an intention to do so again, and again. ®

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