Is the era of technological innovation coming to an end?
The Point with Liu Xin
From the second we wake up to the moment we go to bed (and even through the night), we depend on technology to run our lives. Smartphones, social media, artificial intelligence, cashless payment systems, the shared economy, and the Internet have changed the way we work, play, and connect. Most of society is basking in the benefits of tech breakthroughs from the past few decades. But is innovation screeching to a halt? Is the market (and our minds) over saturated? How can countries promote a brighter future for tech innovation?
These questions are taking center stage at the 2019 World Computer Congress in the Chinese city of Changsha, which kicked off on September 9. Tech experts are debating whether the era of technological innovation is coming to a close and what to do about it. One insider, Professor Liu Leibo from the Institute of Microelectronics at Tsinghua University argues that groundbreaking technology's time is up.
"Some 70 years on, after a wave of scientists in the Post-World War II invented the great basic theories, we need current scientists or brains to focus on the new fundamental theories, in order to keep the technologies evolving."
But not everyone agrees. Einar Tangen, a current affairs commentator, is more optimistic, claiming that innovation such as quantum computing and 3D printing, will make a profound impact on solving society's problems.
However, Tangen added, "Whatever new technologies are invented, there will be a set of new problems."
Whether the future is in the invention of new fundamental theories, or in hyped-up areas such as quantum computing and 3D printing, both guests agreed on the importance of talent development—a key factor in building a flourishing ecosystem for innovation.
Andy Mok, a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, said China is giving more financial rewards to scientists who are engaged in basic research, an area where China is still catching up with other countries that are leading in tech innovation.
"Artists don't create art because they want to make money," argued Tangen, emphasizing that doing basic research should not be prompted by financial motives.
Attracting international talent is another way to improve China's innovation capacity. "The Chinese government is also giving easy visas and cash rewards, among other measures, for international talents to come and help develop here in China," said Professor Liu. "In the U.S., however, (top-notch) scientists from around the world have been attracted there (for long)."
Other than talent, technological innovation is another element in a handful of factors, such as top-down or bottom-up approaches, in a more democratic or authoritarian system. A mix of these factors contributes to progress in technological innovation in different countries.
"I'm quite optimistic about the outlook of technology (development) in China. When China does well, so does the world," said Mok.
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