News item #1: The Chinese Tianhe-1A has just been proclaimed the fastest supercomputer in the world, a category perennially dominated by the United States since 2004. The underlying networking technology was built by the National University of Defense Technology, a Chinese scientific research center. According a New York Times article, such supercomputers are “valued for their ability to solve problems critical to national interests in areas like defense, energy, finance and science.”
News item #2: In India, Abhishek Sinha and his brother Abhinav noticed that large numbers of migrant workers coming to Delhi from poorer rural areas had no real means to store their hard earned money or to send money home. As a result, the brothers created a software program that leveraged the ubiquitous local mom-and-pop kiosks as virtual banks that would record, store, and send money through these workers cell phones (read article). The Sinha brothers’ team, EKO India Financial Services, comprises of graduates from India’s top prestigious technology institutes, some of whom worked in the U.S. but came back home.
News item #3: A Nepali telecommunications firm just installed a 3G network service at the top of Mount Everest, so that thousands of climbers and tourists can access the internet through their mobile phones.
All three news stories broke within the past week. In itself, such developments do not seem like a big deal, but it expresses a symbolic shift occurring on a global stage: that countries in Asia are (and have been) poised to take on America for technology and economic superpower status. As discussed in one of my previous posts, the Chinese economy has been growing 10% annually for the past ten years, with substantial investments in education and its infrastructure. It comes as no surprise that this new supercomputer was developed under the dual-supervision of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, the information technology (IT) industry in India continues to account for a major share in its exports, asserting its global technological status and creating national pride. In both cases, the government showed a sense of urgency towards investing in their respective countries’ future.
While China and India are moving assertively towards global superpower status, the U.S., with its feckless partisan bickering, seems to be mired in political and economic stagnation. The long-drawn battle over health care, the economic stimulus package, and education reform demonstrated the increasing polarization of the government and in the American public, and shows no sign of abating with the Republicans now winning the House majority and in prime position to roll back the Obama initiatives. Can the public expect two more years of filibustering? Or will the House and Senate come together and find a collective vision of health care for all citizens and a rigorous education that will produce America’s future leaders? For now, the U.S. has not taken the bold steps necessary to counteract the momentum of the emerging powers of China or India. National pride cannot happen without a united country; as Abraham Lincoln once said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.