Japan sponsors project to develop super computers


TOKYO -- Japanese government officials this week invited the leading computer companies in the United States and Europe, along with the top research universities on both sides of the Atlantic, to join in a 10-year project to develop advanced computers for the next century.

For reasons that appear equally rooted in trade politics and Japan's own technological gaps, Tokyo is going to great lengths to draw American and European researchers into the project.

The invitation, extended during an international conference, seems open to all comers, though clearly Japan will direct its pitch to leading companies, which would have the required resources.

The effort is being led by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which says the problems to be addressed are of such complexity that they can be solved only through international cooperation.

The invitation to join what is informally being called the Sixth Generation Project poses a critical and difficult strategic choice for Western industry: Whether to link up with the Japanese effort -- gaining access to its results and millions of dollars in funds for research -- or to work in projects that largely exclude their Japanese competitors.

"Right now I don't see any barriers to cooperation, but it is still too early to judge," said Edward M. Malloy, counselor for scientific and technological affairs at the American Embassy in Tokyo. "Companies are understandably cautious these days about giving up technology in return for some loose change for research."

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