The Japanese government's reported plan to organize an
industrial effort to develop an advanced computer technology known
as massively parallel processing, in which the United States now
holds a substantial lead, heightens American anxieties.
Some Americans already believe that Japan has a master strategy
for achieving dominance in all areas of electronics technology and
thereby becoming the world's greatest industrial power.
The Japanese strategy, according to Richard J. Elkus Jr.,
chairman of the Prometrix Corp., a California-based manufacturer of
semiconductor equipment, is based on the concept that products and
markets become more and more interrelated during development.
``Every technology becomes the stepping stone for the next,'' he
said. ``Every product becomes the basis for another. And the
resulting efficiencies of scale are enormous.''
The heart of the Japanese strategy, he contends, is that
capturing product markets is the key to technological supremacy.
``One often hears how we must improve our technological base,''
Elkus told a recent conference of the Center for Strategic and
Industrial Studies in Williamsburg, Va. ``Technology follows markets,
not the other way around. If you own the technology, but lose the
market, you will lose the technology.''
That, he said, is what has been happening to the U.S.
electronics industry. Elkus was part of the team that developed the
videocassette recorder at Ampex in the postwar years.
In 1970 Ampex was involved, through a joint venture partner,
Toshiba, in discussions with other Japanese companies, including
Sony and Matsushita, to develop a VCR standard.
But Ampex, lacking adequate financial resources and seeking
quicker returns elsewhere, decided not to pursue the VCR market,
which was picked up by the Japanese.
With that loss, said Elkus, went not only most of the video
recording but also a major share of support technologies, including
the design and manufacture of semiconductors.
The story permeates consumer electronics. American companies
developed most of the original technology, but the Japanese now
dominate or have a strong position in the markets for recorders,
cameras, radios and television sets, digital watches, solar-powered
calculators and a host of other products, as well as a growing share
of the market for personal computers, work stations and laptop
The linkages among all these products are crucial. Elkus
stresses that, at the highest levels of government and industry, the
United States must understand the importance of market and product
``infrastructure'' that results from those linkages. …