Thursday, November 09, 2006

One Cheer for China

Having just discussed China with a pleasant lady who fears that the Chinese are buying up all the world's resources, I thought it would be worth explaining why I regard the existence of China as a good thing.

I expect quite a lot of important technologies to develop over the next few decades. I also expect that there will be attempts to block some of those developments, whether under the rubric of the Precautionary Principle or other, and perhaps better, arguments. On the whole, I prefer that those attempts fail. While I recognize that there are potential dangers, even serious dangers, in some of the likely technologies, I think the dangers of blocking them are probably greater.

As a general rule, if you cannot block a technology everywhere, you cannot block it anywhere. Once nanotech, or artificial intelligence, or life extension, is developed somewhere in the world, it will be hard to prevent people elsewhere from using. Seen from this standpoint, China has two things going for it:

1. It is sufficiently powerful so that the U.S. cannot push it around.

2. It is sufficiently different from the U.S. so that it is likely to want to ban different things.

Hence there is a reasonable hope that the technological developments that are banned in the U.S. will be permitted in China, and vice versa.

As an earlier example of the same principle, consider the desirable effect of France's demonstration to the rest of the world that it really is possible to shift to nuclear power on a large scale.

I should probably add that China also has lots of smart energetic people, and there is at least some possibility, if present trends continue, that it will end up more capitalist than the U.S. And that what I have said about China also applies, with slightly less force, to India.


Anonymous said...

The number of esoteric psychedelics available mail order from labs in China boggles the mind. I definately think you are correct.

Anonymous said...

link plz!

Anonymous said...

I've said the same thing. If you really think about it, modern technological progress has been dominated by North America and Europe (with places like Japan, Taiwan, etc adding to the numbers). That's what, 800 million people? Maybe 2-3% are scientists and engineers?

What happens when we add 2-3% of 2.2 billion people from China and India. The rate of technological progress will undoubtedly increase. That's a hugely-encouraging prospect!

Anonymous said...

Even more exciting to me is that China, Russia, and other countries which are lax on copyright protection offer testbeds for new ways of thinking about intellectual property.

Perhaps some musicians will come to encourage the sharing of their music on the Internet, and will make their livings by doing live performances. The Grateful Dead allowed fans to tape their shows and share the recordings freely, and the network of fans grew so large that the GD sold out every performance minutes after the tickets went on sale.

Or, perhaps open source concepts will be applied to things other than software, such as pharmaceuticals.

Yeah, competition among governments is good.