Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Science, Technology (and Innovation?) 科學、技術 (與創造力?)

An article on innovation and technical advance in China:
Power in Numbers: China Aims for High-Tech Primacy

This appended note was hilarious: "Correction: December 5, 2011. An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Tsinghua University as Tsingtao." If only.

Now on a more serious note ...

1. The article points out two kinds of innovation: “We tend to equate innovation with companies that start from garages based on brainstorms. There is another kind of innovation that results in constant improvement that we are not good at — and they are.” Do you buy that sort of distinction, and do you believe one model or the other is more prevalent in China? It is a little scary to contemplate the idea that America is slipping, that we can no longer be as innovative or creative as before, whether this is because our students are getting worse and worse at math and science, the economic stagnation means fewer innovations come to market and fewer firms get funding, or just because the Chinese are advancing their scientists and engineers in leaps and bounds. (However, it must be pointed out that the "top-ranked" scientists and engineers only come from a small handful of schools or from abroad. So the "big numbers" here are less scary than sometimes cited.)

2. There is also a difference between state-backed projects, such as supercomputing centers that require massive government investment, compared to innovation among firms and the products they create more generally.

3. "What scares competitors is that China has begun producing waves of amazing hardware engineers and software programmers, winning international competitions and beginning to dominate the best engineering programs in the United States. The University of California, Berkeley, is about to announce a deal to create an engineering campus in Shanghai, raising fears about transferring technology from one of the best American engineering schools."

If we are worried about this, then get those graduates visas and green cards, and keep them here in the US! Many of my friends from China going to school in the US actually do want to stay and work in Silicon Valley firms (e.g. ZY went to NVIDIA) or in New York (LQ went there), etc.

I am a little bit worried about creating the UC outpost in Shanghai. What if in the future, Chinese don't have to come to the US for a UC-quality education? We have sold our competitive advantage, the one American thing that China doesn't have and could not replicate for decades.

Actually, that makes me a little bit mad. At a time of severe budget cuts and hardship for UC students in California, UC Berkeley is now expanding into Shanghai? So it's willing to provide quality education to Chinese students (and give up our competitive advantage), but it's not willing to help absorb the pain for California students who are now facing massive tuition increases and getting less for it?

4. “This is what Chinese companies need to do,” said Hu Weiwu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is the chief designer of another Chinese family of microprocessor chips. “We can send a spaceship to space. We can design high-performance computers.”

Sometimes I really feel China has priorities misplaced. I don't think spending billions and billions on a space program is the best use of those funds when there are people living in rural poverty or urban squalor. Sure, Europe and the US have our own issues with poverty, but we're also not the ones who keep claiming that "We are only a developing country!" and trying to get out of climate responsibility, as it were.

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