Look Beyond the Horizon: The U.S. Will Be A Developing Nation

Like a bankruptcy, nations collapse slowly and then all at once. Once a nation loses its edge and starts falling behind, it appears to be doing well because its currency remains strong or it uses debt financing. This is used to finance consumer spending, not to develop cutting edge technology. The people are concerned with who has how much, not how to create more. When the currency falls or the debt devalues, the nation is suddenly poorer and can no longer afford its lifestyle. It also finds itself behind the competition. It requires a serious retrenchment and extraordinary effort to catch up, effectively what a developing nation goes through to move from poor to middle class to wealthy.

There are signs the United States is in trouble. It has only one aluminum plant that can produce metal for fighter jets. It's industrial base was hollowed out. It doesn't maintain its nuclear arsenal, and that means the United States no longer produces enough plutonium-238 for space exploration. If the U.S. doesn't start making more, it will run out in a couple of decades.

PopSci: Plutonium-238 Is Produced In America For The First Time In Almost 30 Years
Plutonium-238 is the fuel that is driving the Mars rover Curiosity across the Martian landscape. It flew the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto and beyond, and is still powering the Voyager probe into the depths of space 38 years after it was launched. It's a fuel that is in high demand and very short supply.

Last year, it came to light that there was only enough plutonium-238 to make three more batteries for NASA missions, a potentially devastating shortfall, and one that NASA has been working to remedy. Now, it seems like there is hope. This week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that in collaboration with NASA, they have succeeded in producing plutonium-238, the first time the substance has been made on American soil in 27 years.

...Plutonium-238 started out as a byproduct of the nuclear bomb-making process, but eventually as nuclear weapons ceased to be manufactured, the supply dried up, first in the United States, then in Russia. There is now only about 77 pounds left in the United States, and only about half of that is still of high enough quality to be used on space missions. The DOE and NASA hope that next year they will be able to produce 12 ounces of plutonium-238, eventually scaling up to producing 3.3 pounds per year.
The above article is from 2015. This next one is from 2017.

Space.com: Production of Plutonium Spacecraft Fuel Could Boom in Early 2020s
NASA's current RTG design, known as the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, requires 10.6 lbs. (4.8 kg) of Pu-238. So, currently, the U.S. has enough Pu-238 to power just three or four more deep-space missions.

The DOE recently started a new Pu-238 production program, which manufactured a 1.8-ounce (50 grams) sample of the stuff at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee in late 2015. If everything goes according to plan, this pipeline should begin churning out the amount that NASA has requested — 3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) of Pu-238 every year — by 2023, DOE officials have said.

...Assuming the current DOE manufacturing effort proceeds as planned, NASA won't face a Pu-238 shortage anytime soon, said David Schurr, deputy director of the space agency's Planetary Science division.

"That's clearly enough through 2030," Schurr told Space.com. (He declined to forecast any further into the future, saying not enough is known yet about NASA's post-2030 plans.)
This does not inspire confidence.

The U.S. has also lost its edge in semiconductors.

ZH: Did "China" Just Buy The Most Important Company In The World?
In the aftermath of last night stunning announcement that Japan's Internet giant SoftBank would acquire UK-based ARM Holdings, a company which makes chips present in virtually every mobile and "connected" device, for $32 billion, sending the semiconductor sector surging, questions emerged why the company is doing this.

On one hand, even the founder of ARM Holdings himself, Hermann Hauser said, told the BBC he believes its imminent sale to Japanese technology giant Softbank is "a sad day for technology in Britain". Hauser said the result of the Softbank deal meant the "determination of what comes next for technology will not be decided in Britain any more, but in Japan".

...ARM Holdings (ARMH) holds the keys to the future of electronics That's not hyberbole.

Not only does ARMH dominate the world of mobile devices, it is rapidly penetrating all electronics: from consumer electronics to the computer network.

ARMH designs and licenses semiconductors. Their designs are the core of the critical components of consumer electronics: smartphones, tablets, TVs, and so on. For example, most of today's tablets and phones run on Qualcomm chips: they did $26B in sales last year. These chips re-package ARMH designs.

As electronics continue to penetrate everything from cars to refrigerators, they use ARM designs. The Internet of Things (IOT) uses ARMH technology.

Like a spider in the web, ARMH sits firmly at the heart of the future of all electronics.

...Softbank = China

Softbank is a Japanese company best known for owning Yahoo Japan and Sprint.
With their background in telecommunications and the internet, why would they want to buy a major semiconductor company? And why, with $89B in debt, is Softbank adding another $31B?

The answer: Softbank is not what they appear. What isn't as well known is that Softbank is actually a major player in China's internet economy.
For starters, they bankrolled Alibaba. They control 32% of Alibaba, and through Alibaba, they dominate the Chinese internet economy because Alibaba has invested in the top internet companies in China: Weibo, for example.

Although based in Japan, Softbank is very much a Chinese company.

The Verge: ARM's idea of 'China speed' helps explain why it's so hard to compete with Chinese phone makers
Ahead of this week's unveiling of the new ARM Cortex-A75 and A55 CPUs, ARM hosted a preview event at its hometown of Cambridge, England, where its representatives talked about the changing demands for processor power and how its new designs would address them. It was there that I first heard Ian Hutchinson, director for channel marketing at ARM, talk about "China speed" and what it means for his business. The Huawei Mate 9, he pointed out, was released with Mali-G71 graphics just eight months after ARM delivered that graphics processor design to its partners. The typical time taken to go from the raw design to a full retail product is at least a year, according to Hutchinson, so Huawei chopped a full third off the turnaround time.

...I have heard from multiple people familiar with how Chinese companies operate that their prevailing business culture is one of utmost speed. Decisions that would take American and European companies weeks, if not months, turn into action and engineering prototypes within days in China. That's partially down to the shorter physical distance between the decision makers and the manufacturing facilities, but more than that, it's an expression of a particular Chinese version of the "move fast and break stuff" attitude endorsed in Silicon Valley.
China is also leading in quantum communications.

Inside Science: Is China the Leader in Quantum Communications?

In China, there is a full on race to dominate in technology. In the United States, there is race.

Quartz: The people running Silicon Valley are pretty much all white or Asian men
In a blog post releasing the data, Facebook pledges to hire from underrepresented communities through recruitment and partnering with organizations working toward that same goal. “As these numbers show, we have more work to do – a lot more,” writes Facebook’s head of diversity, Maxine Williams. “But the good news is that we’ve begun to make progress.”
Progress in China and progress in America are two very different things.

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