Anxieties Heighten over Japanese Computer Plans

Article excerpt

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 computers.

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. …

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