Yesterday’s Country: Not to Worry, They Can’t Innovate

For many years the United States has regarded itself as, and been, the world’s technological leader. One can easily make a long and impressive list of seminal discoveries and inventions coming from America, from the moon landings to the internet. It was an astonishing performance. The US maintains a lead, though usually a shrinking one, in many fields. But:

  • Fred on Everything

China has risen explosively, from being clearly a “Third World” country forty years ago to become a very serious and rapidly advancing competitor to America. Anyone who has seen today’s China (I recently spent  two weeks there, traveling muchly) will have been  astonished by the ubiquitous construction, the quality of planning, the roads and airports and high-speed rail, the sense of confidence and modernity. Compare this with America’s rotting and dangerous cities, swarms of homeless people, deteriorating education, antique rail, deindustrialized midlands, loony government, and ahe military sucking blood from the economy like some vast leech, and America will seem yesterday’s country. The phrase “national suicide” comes to mind.

A common response to these observations from thunder-thump patriots is the assertion that the Chinese can’t invent anything, just copy and steal. What one actually sees is a combination of rapid and successful adoption of foreign technology (see Shanghai maglev below) and, increasingly, cutting edge science and technology.  More attention might be in order. A few examples: A few examples from many thatmight be adduced:

“China  Confirms Scientist Genetically Engineered Babies”

Supposedly the intent was to make the twins resistant to AIDS. It was done using CRISPR-Cas 9, a gene-editing technique invented in the West by Jennifer Dooudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier but quickly mastered by China. It seemed odd that AIDS resistance would be the goal since the disease is easily avoided. Maybe, I thought, for some technical reason the insertion was particularly easy. But then: ….

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