First, we all looked at the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea. But is the conflict with China one dimensional? Or has China more than one iron in the fire? I wonder if we ask the right questions, if we look in the right direction. China might have a more holistic strategy on how to get to the top of in the world picking order.
Second, why did Eve bite in the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge? Why do we have to keep learning? As people, we all experience the same learning process, we went through the same cultural revolutions that changed all aspect of our daily lives at once. We adapted (at different speeds) the same solutions or values, for the same set of newly created problems:
Values of the agricultural revolution: expansion of land, property, military power.
China was one of the first to adapt agriculture. It stayed in that phase until recently. Still, in its current momentum, it wants to move to a larger “land” position too. Some recent history: first there was nothing, then a piece of paper with a dotted line, a shelter for fishermen, a few sandy islands, huge and fully equipped military bases… what’s next?
But the more important question could be: “Is this the meat or just a distraction?”
Property is ingrained in our deep farmer society cultures. Property issues generate high emotions. Do emotions suppress our rational thinking?
Values of the industrial revolution: monopolistic positions, financial power.
China started with a 200 year delay. Smothered in opium, misguided with communism and then a sudden explosion from nowhere to position number two in the world.
The digital and scientific revolution values: speed, power of imagination.
As speed is the important variable, let’s look at some fields of life/science:
2. Some fields of speed and acceleration.
The reader could add timelines, the first improvement wave took thousands of years, than hundreds, decennia and now we double many performances in 18 months; see Moore’s law.
As a warm-up exercise, some history:
- Hunting-gathering, planting seeds in the wild, domestication of plants and animals, natural selection and breeding, cloning, genetic modifications, designer crops and animals, the Human Genome Project, DNA printing… soon designer babies on the shelves or the eternal life promised by the Methuselah foundation?
- Muscular energy, fire, water- and wind mills, chemical energy (powder), steam power, electricity, internal combustion, nuclear power, renewables… too late to prevent climate change?
- Posture and noise communication, language, writing, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, internet, 3 billion smart phones, social media…. soon all interconnected living in mega-cities?
- Mathematics, astronomy, physics, relativity and quantum mechanics…the CERN Large Hadron Collider proving the Higgs boson or God particle (China is building now a collider twice the size!), string theories, many universes….the end of physics?
- Evolution of the artificial/virtual: paintings and statues, printing, photography and film, digital transformation, internet, Siri, Artificial Intelligence…. soon the Technological Singularity?
Things are moving fast today, not only fast, but also faster and faster. Our political thinking overtaken by major technological innovations. With no time to adjust as we previously did when we went through our agricultural revolution, industrial revolution and the digital revolution. Will China surprise us all in this science race?
Progress in the West has to deal with checks and balances. Look at Europe where privacy laws are slowing down the Googles and Facebooks of this world. At the slow democratic processes to release funds for fundamental research. The ethical committees in the academic interfering with scientific decisions. A lot is caused by conservative reactions of voters, the resistance to change. Voters live in cultures still stuck in an agricultural era. Even worse, our “DNA nature” is based on hunting-gathering conditions and values.
Little of this in China. Autocratic governments can decide and implement much faster. Chinese are also less hindered by ethical concerns, the (their) end justifies the means”.
And China understands that is not only about speed, it is about acceleration. All want to rise in the pecking order of things, the one that moves faster will prevail.
Let’s have a look at some areas where dramatic change might be around the corner:
3. Where to expect breakthroughs?
Let’s look at some areas where we could expect some world changing technologies. Will the breakthroughs and dominance come from China?
Performance enhancing drugs for athletes… performance enhancing drugs for factory workers? Enhancing muscle performance… enhancing brain performance? Performance enhanced scientists developing better performance enhancing drugs faster?
And what about gene modified scientists? Thinking faster, memories as idiot savant, needing less sleep, concentrating better, all a matter of a few genes. DNA printing is just around the corner. And why only scientists?
Gene drives exist, forcing certain specific changes in DNA to be inherited, dominant or not.
Oscar Pretorius and artificial limbs, night vision, firing assistance, Google glasses… all quite primitive. But what about artificial intelligence?
3.2 Information Technology.
A long time ago 1K of data was a lot for a computer, then 1M, a decade ago 1B, now the amount of data a computer can handle is almost unlimited, Giga-, Tera-, Peta-… and increasing fast. Do you know what your phone company knows? A German, Malte Spitz, long ago in 2009, via legal action got his meta-data Deutsche Telecom collected over the last 6 month: 35,800 lines of information. By reconstructing this information you could see where he slept, when and where he traveled, with who and how long he called professionally and privately. The company also knew what his friends did, where they traveled, whom his colleagues contacted…
The same goes for Google, Facebook, your internet provider, the only difference that they have more extensive, more detailed information. All your photos on the cloud have tags with dates and location, cookies return specific information of your computer use.
NSA is spying (industrial, military, political) according Snowdon, ISIS accelerated surveillance technologies, face recognition, Deep Learning (see below) and all of this is outdated the moment you type it.
Cybercrime robbing the Bangladesh National Bank, cyber wars…
And what does China do as a state? They didn’t complain about the ZTE deal, did they find easier ways to collect information about the Philippine government in the mean time?
What’s done in BPO’s? Reading and writing, listening and speaking, looking at things, integrating information, all things where computers are learning very fast the last 2 years due to deep learning. Computers acquire knowledge no longer via complicated programmed algorithms but in ways the human brain functions, by simulating levels of neurons. They will do BPO tasks faster and better than humans.
The Chinese are very slow in the BPO industry, does this mean they advanced enough with deep learning computers?
My brother was a Gas Chromatograph expert (consulted several times by MIT). He lost his job 10 years ago because computers did an (almost) equally good job in suggesting how samples had to be prepared, how to be measured and how to interpret the resulting graphs. Deep Blue defeating Kasparov, GPS guiding you, the Google self-driving car, face recognition… More and more areas of human knowledge are simulated or surpassed by computers.
AI requires 3 basic realms of expertise: (1) understanding the human brain or brain mapping, (2) simulating thinking processes, and (3) embodiment or making them interact with the real world. In all three fields huge progress has been made over the last few years. We can see and understand in ever greater detail and in real time what our synapses are doing. With scanners we can see what letters you are reading; recording dreams is for the near future. We have accurate estimates of the size of the computations we make and the size of the memory we use. Our current computers will still have to grow in several orders of magnitude, but ideas exist to simulate a rat sized brain.
Where the military are in all this, we don’t know. Where the Googles and Facebooks are, we don’t know. The public discussion is lagging. Too few people have an idea what the scientists are doing.
Will future (Chinese?) superintelligence be heaven or hell?
3D printing, new materials, Nano technologies, robotics…
And the Russian creativity guru, Genrich Altshuller . . . he set up a method of structured creativity, TRIZ, and predicted in the early ‘50ies that, at the limit, products evolve towards doing everything with nothing. Remember a big black phone, only phoning in the ‘50ies; seen the functionality of some of the smallest smartphones today? A lot of China’s methods came from the USSR. China in the 50ies had a good relationship with Russia.
China is morphing into a new manufacturing power. It’s no longer about cheap labor, but about innovative products.
We are discussing the near future, the next election, education, RH bill implementation, mining, our territorial rights… But what will the environment be at fruition times? What new humans skills will be required, what new challenges, how will China exploit all these? What leverage will China get from its new capacities? What dangers will it create? How does one make superpowers behave? A centrally controlled superpower such as China? A sling and a stone?