Keeping Up With A Changing World

FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS, the US electrical-engineering industry has been largely consumed by thoughts, concerns, and plans for China. On one hand, design companies invested a lot of engineering resources and legal clout as they tried to protect their intellectual property (IP) from being mercilessly copied. At the same time, much was being made about China's growing economy. Both large and small companies began opening offices in China or forging business relationships in hopes of eventually cashing in on the country's huge population.

Meanwhile, the outsourcing issue was beginning to make news. The US feared that it would go from leading design-engineering innovations to lagging behind other countries. China was investing a very large amount of time and resources in bridging the gap between its technology expertise and that of the West. Many industry analysts forecasted that the country would make the leap from manufacturing and re-engineering to engineering itself. In 2003, it looked like it had succeeded. Chen Jin, a top Chinese computer scientist, announced that he had developed one of the country's first digitalsignalprocessing (DSP) chips. This DSP could supposedly process 200 million instructions per second.

Then, on May 12 of this year, China announced that the DSP chip was a complete fraud. According to a May 14 article in The New York Times titled, "In A Scientist's Fall, China Feels Robbed Of Its Glory," Chen Jin had falsified research done at Jiaotong University. The "Hanxin" or China chip was actually a chip design that was stolen from a company outside of China.

The story of Chen Jin's rise and fall highlights an interesting point. Often, the state of education in the US is blamed for the supposedly impending loss of our technical leadership. Yet many of these countries' best and brightest come to the US for their graduate engineering degrees. Chen Jin, for example, received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, The New York Times reported that he was working at Motorola's Austin research center.

Studies have shown that our math and science curriculums are not as competitive as those of other countries. In addition, we do not do enough to entice our young people to go into the fields of science and technology. On the graduate level, however, our universities are currently highly desirable. Despite various fears, we seem to be holding onto our leadership position when it comes to technology innovation. If we continue to attract the world's best and brightest students, it follows that we could learn from them and therefore keep that position. Or could we be giving away our leadership by educating the world's brightest and then letting them go back home? Send me your thoughts at [email protected]

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