Credit: Marvel/YouTube

Before there was Alexa, there was J.A.R.V.I.S, smart assistant to Iron Man Tony Stark, and that controlled appliances, looked up information, managed home security, and even ran Stark Industries in the 2008 box office hit and its sequels.

While we are some way from an AI-run business empire, a future that only recently was the stuff of science-fi movies has very much arrived. And it is one enabled by a constantly – and rapidly – evolving semiconductor industry.

Consider: A smartphone today has far more computing power than the computers used by NASA for the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

“It is a never-ending journey,” says Dhruva Shukla, Senior Director of Technology Development and Product & Test Engineering at Systems on Silicon Manufacturing Company (SSMC) in Singapore. “Our technology roadmap keeps evolving towards the megatrends, towards the brightest future.”

Already in the wings are chips that will power faster, smarter, slimmer, and safer devices with more functions, greater connectivity, lower power consumption – a list that is constantly growing as the industry relentlessly pushes the boundaries on what is possible.

As a global semiconductor hub, much of this groundbreaking work is being done in facilities based in Singapore.

At Realtek Singapore, work is ongoing on a next-gen video-centric IoT edge device with an integrated AI engine. What this translates into: a video doorbell capable of recognising multiple human faces simultaneously, and a smart garage able to recognise vehicle and vehicle plates, among other things. Over at Xilinx, the Singapore design team was heavily involved in the global effort to design and develop a 7nm Versal ACAP which powers advanced AI engines in 5G infrastructure systems, and for the gaming enthusiasts, immersive 3D video applications.

Meanwhile, AMD Singapore’s higher density designs pack more components into a smaller space to support greater efficiency and functionality demanded by Machine Learning apps, while Micron has shipped the world’s first 176-layer NAND. As the global Centre of Excellence for NAND flash, Singapore played a major role in this breakthrough that will enable multiple 5G products, including faster launching and switching across multiple apps in 5G smartphones.

But even those behind these massive tech advancements say we are only on the threshold of what will be – in the semiconductor industry, innovation is a daily occupation, spurred by some of our brightest minds.

It takes commitment at university, company and government levels to grow – and nurture – this talent, industry leaders say, including through scholarships and internships, and opportunities to take risk and think outside the box.

For SgIS scholar Clarence Tan , it was precisely the opportunity to innovate that drew him to the industry. Currently a Physical Design and Power Integrity Engineer at MediaTek Singapore, he says he has the “perfect sandbox for experimenting with Integrated Chip design.”

“The past few years have seen a rapid transformation of technology and constant innovation, but we are just at the cusp of an era of massive connectivity, speed, and possibility,” says Mr Robin Ng, Group CEO, ASM Pacific Technologies, which provides hardware and software solutions that chipmakers and integrated device manufacturers use to design and make computer chips and other electronic components.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As the Mars2020 rover Perseverance prepares for a landing next month (FEB 2021), complete with a  chip-powered self-driving car that will seek signs of habitable conditions and collect samples for future human expeditions to the Red Planet, one thing is clear: the possibilities of tomorrow are limited only by the imaginations of those in the sandbox today.