China is currently developing more powerful supercomputers more quickly than western powers. Will this begin to occur in other fields of study? What has caused this shift? What does it mean for the future?
On January 17th, Chinese state media Xinhua announced that it will complete the world’s first “exascale” supercomputer by the end of this year. It will be 10 times more powerful than Sunway Taihulight, the current record holder for most powerful computer, and 30 times more powerful than Tianhe-2, the last record holder. The designers of the project went on record to report that:
“Using the exascale computer for cloud computing and big data applications, China could spur ahead with many key innovations and high-tech programs.”
There’s no doubt that these computers have the potential to push Chinese research above and beyond western capabilities. The “key innovations” the designers speak of will likely aid in winning many more records beyond the bounds of supercomputing, whilst Europe and the US lag behind. The fact that the US is not predicted to produce its own exascale supercomputer until sometime in the 2020’s shows the balance of innovation slowly tipping. This is amid a widespread campaign by the mainstream media to slander the Chinese economy as unstable, or soon to fail, whilst they continue to push ahead in their plans to modernise unabated.
Regardless of numerous inefficiencies, wasteful construction projects, damage to the environment and human rights abuses the country is well known for – a subject for another time – it cannot be understated that China’s path to become the world’s largest superpower is steadily coming to fruition.
Why the west is slipping
The reasons behind this are entirely the fault of western powers for two crucial reasons; One I have already demonstrated, very prominent in the US is the broken system of government contracting, which for years has been a target for easy profit from multinational arms corporations. The massive spending required for the American military to arm itself, thanks to chalked-up prices from this network of schemers is leaving many important fields of research under funded and less productive. NASA is the chief example, as it too has fallen prey to overblown budgets in their contract for Boeings SLS.
China on the other hand is making major strides in its space program, unburdened by at least this form of corruption. The Chinese military industrial complex is just as conglomerated as the United States, but is entirely nationalised, which at the very least leaves those companies unable to conspire against the state as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General dynamics and many others have. It’s no surprise then that China has more resources to devote to improving its research capabilities, and could well become the next country to send its people to the moon as a result. NASA on the other hand is so underfunded that it has to use Soviet Soyuz rockets to send its astronauts to space.
The other major issue that China has used to outcompete western powers is their affinity for regulations, particularly with regards to the environment. The EU has always employed thousands of extensive regulations on emissions and the handling of products, and under the Obama administration the EPA issued roughly 500 new environmental regulations annually. From a humanitarian perspective, this has been effective at curtailing pollution and preserving natural environments, with many previously endangered species repopulating. However, from the perspective of industry this has left many local businesses unprofitable, with such strict rules becoming vastly more expensive for production. As a result, many either have to close down, pushing the market further into the hands of multinationals who can handle the burden, or to outsource production to China, the more economical alternative.
China has very lenient regulations on emissions, and thus it’s far more affordable. Coupled with cheaper costs of labour, it has become the best – and often only – option for companies to produce affordable goods. The influx of business from the west has helped more than double their GDP since the year 2000, and while the rate of growth has slowed over time money is no problem for the state. With many businesses owned as joint ventures, and increasing ties to multinationals encouraged by countries like Canada, western dependence on China for industry could not only cost prestige in science and technology, but an increasing degree of sovereignty as well.
If China truly continues along this path and completely eclipses the US as an economic powerhouse, this will be no concern to multinationals with the ability to move their headquarters overseas; for local businesses without the resources to do so however, a stagnant western economy could completely burn out their competitive edge – having ironically funded for years the system that took it.
Clearly the public are aware of this issue, with decisions like Brexit or Trump backed by claims of bringing innovation, independence and industry back on the home ground. Trump in particular has already made many lucrative deals with companies like Ford, promising his country to be a competitive alternative to China. EU regulations were a driving force between the Brexit decision, as many UK industries were completely disrupted and uncompetitive as a result. While it’s very unlikely these efforts will in any way disrupt China in its drive to outcompete western powers in research, with luck they will help to avoid a dystopic level of dominance that globalism of the last decade has foreshadowed. Realistically for these old world leaders, this is no longer a winning game, more a case of damage control. It doesn’t take an exascale supercomputer to predict that.