San Francisco, CA. A weeklong focus on semiconductor technology got underway here today when Dave Anderson, president, SEMI Americas, welcomed guests to the imec Technology Forum USA (ITFUSA), marking the seventh time the ITF has co-located with SEMICON West. Attendees, he said, would see industry-relevant solutions for next-generation technology—with a focus not just on logic and memory but on many applications as well, including healthcare, smart cities, mobility, and manufacturing. More than ever, he said, semiconductor equipment and materials suppliers—SEMI’s core constituency—would play key roles. Strong interaction in R&D—such as that facilitated by imec—would accelerate technology by enabling cost sharing risk minimization, and ROI optimization.

The ITFUSA theme was “Nanobytes creating magic—semiconductor and system scaling beyond tomorrow.” In a keynote address titled “Technology needs a human face,” Luc Van den hove, imec president and CEO, questioned whether nano and digital technology together can create magic, or is magic just an illusion? “I don’t believe in magic as such,” he said, suggesting that what might seem magical today has been the result of hard work.

Van den hove cited three major industrial revolutions: Water and steam power to mechanize production, electric power for railroads and other networks to enable the first waves of globalization, and electronics and the full automation of production.

In the fourth revolution, he said, microchips are backbone of society. The IoT will generate so much data needing so much compute power and storage, thereby driving a continuing need for high-end technology.

Today, he said, the FinFET is on way to 7 nm, but path has been bumpy—requiring new materials and, with the delays in EUV, a push toward making the most of emersion lithography through technologies such as triple patterning. But by now, he said, EUV is reaching a maturity level where companies are making commitment to it on the roadmap to 3 nm.

The future may be populated by nanowire, VFET, and spin devices incorporating new materials at backend, with rubidium perhaps replacing copper and optical I/O becoming indispensable. Further, the boundary between logic and memory may fade away. In addition, brain-inspired neuromorphic computing or quantum computing will gain in importance, he said.

He cited imec’s system and technology co-optimization portfolio. Acceleration of the IoT rollout, he said, will require innovation at the level of sensor nodes connected wirelessly to a network over high-bandwidth, mmWave CMOS technologies. He cited several potential innovation areas: 140-GHz radar, multi-ion sensors, image sensors, biomedical sensor hubs, and data fusion of multisensory systems.

Machine learning will have a key role to play, he said. There is no future for IoT without IoT from evolving from predictive to adaptive intelligence. AI, he said, is entering unnoticed into everyday life—much as we don’t think “electricity” when we flip a switch and a light comes on.

He cited many innovations on which work is accelerating: a flexible implantable chip used for improved control over prosthetic limb, self-learning interfaces based on AI, brain-inspired neuromorphic computing systems that can compose music, natural user interfaces, and haptic feedback systems supporting remote surgery.

He noted that many innovations were introduced many years ago in science fiction. Although Van den hove said he doesn’t favor traditional sci-fi because of its dystopian tendencies, he acknowledged that Darth Vader does exist—at least figuratively, representing the dark side of the IoT with the rise of IoT hacking. With IoT networks and devices not only around us but increasingly inside us, we must focus on security, he said, moving beyond the Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES, now in use every day. He said a focus for imec is low-power cryptography for the IoT.

He asked whether software keys can provide the ultimate in security or whether hardware can help. He noted that no two chips are identical, thanks to nanoscale variability—a problem that has plagued analog circuit designers in particular. But we may now be able to make a positive use of this limitation to stamp each chip with unique fingerprint. He cited as an example physically unclonable functions (PUFs) based in unique imec IP.

As for the fourth industrial revolution, he asked, “Are we ready?” Industrial revolutions in the past have raised global income and quality of life. Will it be the same this time, or are we facing the dawn of a jobless future? He sees a continuing role for emotions, creativity, soft skills, and judgment. “It’s important to give technology human face,” he said.

He cited innovative work in which cobots work together with humans. In the biomed domain, there is an opportunity to have people be supported by machine learning—a “Dr. House” backed up by an AI decision-support tool.

Following up on the medical area, he said DNA sequencing is being adopted widely thanks to microchip technology. However, DNA sequencing still begins with biopsies, so the bottom line is reactive analysis after significant tumors are detected. The holy grail of cancer detection, he said, is the liquid biopsy and sequencing through cell sorting and personalized therapy, with cancer becoming a chronic disease—not a fatal one. Personal health coaches and wearables coupled with data fusion and analytics can help patients cope.

He concluded by citing the important roles of smart technology powerhouses and smart deployment powerhouses. “I don’t believe in magic as such but do believe in ground-breaking research,” he said. “Therefore I believe we can create magic by bringing together people and technology.”

In conjunction with ITFUSA, imec issued two announcements focused on how 2D materials can be used to scale FETs for very advanced technology nodes and an electrically functional solution for the 5-nm back-end-of-line (BEOL). See the related article here.

ITFUSA kicks off SEMICON West putting a human face on technology
Rick Nelson
Rick became Executive Editor for EE in 2011. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.