What did Moore's Law bring to Japan May 5 at 16:17

In March, Gordon Moore, co-founder of semiconductor giant Intel, passed away.

Moore's Law, which guided the technological evolution of semiconductors, had a great effect and impact on the world. Japan is no exception.

In an interview, we interviewed Mr. Tetsuro Azuma, former president of Tokyo Electron, a major semiconductor manufacturing equipment company, who has been involved in the semiconductor industry for many years since the early days of the Japan semiconductor industry.

What did Moore's Law bring to the history of the semiconductor industry in Japan? And where is the path to the next future?

(Economic Affairs Department reporter: Kenta Shimai)

What is Moore's Law?

Intel co-founder Gordon Moore became involved in the semiconductor industry in the mid-20th century, when the transistor had just been invented.

Transistors were the beginning of computers that made calculations possible by turning electrical signals on and off.

This is miniaturized and burned into a silicon substrate as a circuit to form a semiconductor chip.

The smaller it is, the more powerful the computer.

The driving force behind the development of the semiconductor industry was what Moore advocated called "Moore's Law."

<Moore's Law>
the number of elements (transistors) in semiconductor integrated circuits doubles every two years

Although it is a law, it can be said that it is not a prediction backed by theory, but as a result of all companies focusing on development to realize this law, the practical application of products and the improvement of computer performance have progressed at a pace of about 50 years according to this law, and it has continued to have a great influence as a common understanding in the semiconductor industry.

Based on Moore's Law, industry associations in each country have jointly developed a concrete roadmap, and the timeline of development goals, so to speak, has been set out in detail, how much technological evolution is to be achieved by what year.

The roadmap in the industry has truly become the "base of technological innovation."

Each company competed with development to meet the indicated issues, and fierce competition unfolded in which if it was not done in time, it became a winner, if it was not in time, it became a loser, and if it was eliminated, it disappeared.

Highly influential as a goal of innovation

Tetsuro Azuma joined Tokyo Electron, a semiconductor equipment manufacturer, in 1977.

After working overseas, he served as president and chairman.

He reflected on the existence of Moore's Law as follows:

Tetsuro Azuma
: Moore's Law was very influential, and I think it is one of the major reasons why semiconductors have grown at such a rapid pace. We (semiconductor manufacturing equipment manufacturers) develop while maintaining the pace of device design and development by our customers (semiconductor manufacturers).

At the same time, we must proceed with the development of semiconductor manufacturing equipment so that it is technically possible. We will also proceed with the development of semiconductor materials accordingly. As we proceed with development at the same pace, it becomes the foundation for steady growth.

Intel will join hands with Microsoft in the PC field to conquer the world. Without Moore's Law, the level of development would be disjointed, and as a result, the pace would be very slow."

Led to the "dropout" of Japan

The current semiconductor industry in Japan is simply composed of semiconductor manufacturing equipment manufacturers and material manufacturers that survived, and semiconductor manufacturers that have lost.

In the manufacture of semiconductors, in which a huge number of chemical materials and optical technologies are intricately intertwined, various companies have entered the semiconductor business in fields such as chemistry and optics, which have been Japan's specialties for a long time, and many companies still have a high global market share, so to speak, they continue to maintain a presence that cannot be made without Japan manufacturing equipment and materials.

On the other hand, semiconductor manufacturers dominated the world market in the 80s and 90s, but now they are largely overwhelmed by the United States and South Korea in advanced semiconductors that match the technological evolution of Moore's Law.

Why did Japan semiconductor manufacturers fall out of Moore's Law?

Mr. Azuma, who said that he visited the production bases of semiconductor manufacturers around the world as a sales representative when he was stationed overseas, explained the reason based on his own experience.

Tetsuro Azuma
: I think it was in 1987, when Mr. Kawanishi (former vice president of Toshiba, Tsuyoshi Kawanishi), who was the head of Toshiba's semiconductor business, organized a multimedia trip, and I was also invited to become a young engineer at Tokyo Electron and Toshiba. About 10 people fly to the United States.

At that time, the first company I visited was a company called Silicon Graphics in California. I was doing what we now call virtual reality in 1987.

At that time, Japan was only working on strengthening memory and memory parts, but the American people said that they were developing an engine that would work in a way that was close to reality by incorporating image processing into it and mixing not only calculations and text, but also images and sounds.

At that time, I was very surprised and realized that Japan is moving around memory, but the United States is starting to move in a different direction. I remember returning from a business trip and attending a board meeting and reporting that it would be dangerous to continue to work mainly on Japan."

He then looks back on the Japan at that time as follows.

Tetsuro Azuma
: "One is that we lacked a global perspective. The other thing is that we took the stance of doing something after the customer told us to, and we became a parts manufacturer.

On the other hand, Intel did not think of itself as a parts manufacturer. We are creating new applications. As a result, there are no engineers in the Japan to think about applications, and design capabilities are very weak.

Our stance has become that we are chasing things by imitating them later, so we have become a stance of making parts for that purpose."

In response to the suggestion that the decline of the semiconductor industry in Japan may have been due in part to the trade friction between Japan and the United States, Mr. Azuma believes that the stance of "imitation" on the Japan side was greatly influenced.

. Tetsuro Azuma: From the perspective of the United States, when Japan is still trying hard to catch up, we are relatively relieved, and as soon as we are technically catching up, the trade friction between Japan and the United States occurs. The same thing is happening in China now, but they try to suppress it in that way.

The reason for this is that there is a consciousness that trying to catch up by imitating what we are doing is cowardly from the other side. We spend a lot of money on development to create new things.

Japan did not spend development costs, but came here as a parts supplier. We can't stand the fact that American manufacturers are in a tough position by lowering prices.

In that sense, fundamentally speaking Japan I think it would have been very different if we had been able to create something unique enough to create global demand while drawing a line from the rest of the world in terms of the application."

Semiconductors cannot demonstrate their functions on their own, and they can only be demonstrated when they are used in computers, smartphones, etc.

Mr. Azuma explained that the improvement of the performance of semiconductors themselves has promoted new technological innovation as applications, but that the true contribution of Moore's Law is not the improvement of semiconductor performance, but the development and innovation of new uses.

I believe that this difference in perception is the cause of the defeat of Japan semiconductor manufacturers.

The "mutation" of Moore's Law

Will Moore's Law live on in the future?

While there were various discussions such as the limit theory, Mr. Azuma said the following.

Tetsuro Azuma
: "From around 1992, Intel became the world's number one PC company, and that was when the IT bubble burst. With Moore's Law, the bottom collapsed all at once.

On the other hand, something like the iPhone has been born in a new form, and there has been a lot of confusion around it. Of course, Intel will move in the form of PCs and then servers, but on the other hand, smartphones and computers centered on image processing have appeared, and they gradually fall apart and differentiation has begun.

The Lehman shock was the ultimate one, and since then, places like GAFA have grown so rapidly that they don't necessarily have to use cutting-edge semiconductors. We are working harder and harder to respond to various software aspects. Also, miniaturization itself has become difficult."

Mr. Azuma analyzes that Moore's Law mutated and differentiated, so to speak.

He points out that there is a possibility of the future of Japan.

Tetsuro Azuma
: "We have to speed up, and in the basic part, we have to continue to follow Moore's Law. In that sense, there is one direction, but when viewed in applications, it becomes more specialized.

In finance, we have to use something like quantum computing, and there are countless fields such as health, medicine, and manufacturing, and I think we have to work with the enthusiasm to create what Japan are good at, or what we are good at. 」

The path to the future of Japan

Mr. Azuma is once again in the semiconductor industry as chairman of Rapidus, a semiconductor company that aims to produce advanced semiconductors in Japan.

The goal is to hone the expertise of Japan.

Azuma: "Of course, we are trying to chase 2nm technology and learn from IBM and make it possible to do it with Japan, but at the same time, we will strengthen the application and design as well as marketing in general. I don't think that's a good idea."

On top of that, he reflected on the current situation of Japan, where there is a shortage of young human resources who aspire to the semiconductor industry, and said that it is important to pass it on to the younger generation.

Tetsuro Azuma
: There are quite a few people who blame young people. Isn't it us who should be blamed? I strongly believe now that I haven't inherited it. I think that the fact that we are not in an atmosphere where there is a future next is the responsibility of our generation, not the young people.

The people who come to Rapidus now are in their 50s. People who were doing semiconductors. It is very rewarding as an engineer for people who can't take the plunge due to company circumstances or something else to come to Rapidus and do cutting-edge work. But now, for example, there are not many people who have graduated from university or graduate school who want to work in semiconductors.

When you think about the next generation, the development of human resources is very important. We will develop human resources while involving universities. I try to make it so that when I get into my 20s and 30s, it will be a big help."

After the interview

If you look at the history of Moore's Law created by Gordon Moore, you will be amazed at the changes from the past to the present.

Looking at semiconductors as the axis, starting with spacecraft (rockets) and computers, home appliances, smartphones, the cloud, AI, quantum computers, etc.

In addition, the trend of corporate competition, the competition between countries, and the trend of new technologies that are born one after another.

The world has been changing at a dizzying pace.

It may have been precisely because of the rapid changes that people involved in semiconductors sought one unchanging yardstick called Moore's Law.

Through the interview, I felt that the basis of this is the belief in technology, which is that "progress never stops."

In this age of increasing diversity, there may be much to learn from Moore's strong will to carve out a future.

Shimai, Reporter
of the Economic DepartmentJoined the Miyazaki Bureau
in 2012 and Morioka Bureau before joining the current department in charge of electrical machinery