Globalization And Regionalization Of Knowledge

The quiet shakeup being driven by virtual conferences.


Anyone who has clicked on the chat feature on virtual conferences may have noticed the striking mix of nationalities logging in. The explosion of these conferences, as well as video calls, has opened the door for engineers at all levels — from students to industry veterans — to exchange ideas on a global scale.

In the past, companies would send a handful of their employees to conferences to garner the latest industry advances and trouble spots, and they often would return after days of travel too tired to share their experiences with co-workers. That’s no longer the case. For the price of a couple employees’ travel, companies can afford to register dozens of their engineers at all levels. Moreover, students often can get free or reduced-cost access to the latest trends and developments, adding context and new possibilities for their research.

It’s far too early to measure the full impact of this trend, but the potential is enormous. The actual results will depend on a variety of factors, including how long the ongoing pandemic lasts before the industry is comfortable enough again to hold conferences, and after that how long it takes until companies are confident enough to send their workers. The coronavirus is just beginning to hit some parts of the world, and there is no herd immunity anywhere. In addition, the whole work-from-home movement has received mixed marks, depending upon the industry sector and company culture.

However, in the short term — and perhaps for much longer than that — the whole virtual conference circuit is spreading knowledge far beyond the normal radius for attendees. And it is making some conferences significantly more efficient because the conference sponsors don’t need to do regional conferences in addition to international ones unless there is a need to hold it in a different language or it needs to be targeted to a highly specialized audience. This, in turn, reduces the cost of hosting a conference, which in turn reduces the cost of putting one on.

It also puts pressure on conference organizers to deliver on good content, because attendees won’t waste their time on a bad presentation. It’s not always easy to get up in the middle of a panel or presentation, particularly when you’ve flown thousands of miles to attend. It’s quite simple to log off, or at least do something else, while someone delivers a product pitch that is off-topic.

The flip side of this is that because it’s relative cheap to put on a conference anywhere, that’s exactly what will happen. At this point, the critical masses for chips and system design are in the United States, Europe, China, Taiwan and Japan, which is where most of the conferences are being held. Companies from French-speaking countries in Africa, for example, attend shows like the Viva Technology conference in France rather than host their own. Although this still may be beneficial for companies looking for funding, they also can hold more regional conferences that target how technology can be used on a more regional basis, which can very different than in other parts of the world.

This is true for China, as well. As that country develops its own separate supply chain, particularly in the wake of a devastating trade war that has produced sporadic gaps in various technologies and materials, conferences may be much more tailored for the Chinese market and the growing Chinese sphere of influence.

Taken as a whole, the conference world may be headed for some radical changes, and those could have a pronounced impact on where and how people get details on the latest research and broad trends. And the longer the pandemic lasts, the more distinct the dividing line between how things were done in the past and how they will be done in the future.

Events & Webinars in the chip industry
Semiconductor Engineering’s resource for finding useful conferences (mostly online) and practical webinars.
Chip Industry Videos to Learn From
Semiconductor Engineering’s YouTube channel has a ton of useful videos from experts in the chip industry.

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