Yet another automaker has stepped up to the plate in making their vehicles more environmentally friendly. Volkswagen (VW) has announced that they plan to spend more than 34 billion euros, or $40 billion, between 2018 and 2022 on developing electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and new technology. Most of that money, the company stated after a supervisory meeting, will be spent on updating Volkswagen’s current models to into electric or hybrid.
This projection is significantly larger than a different pledge, released two months ago, that VW would invest 20 billion euros through 2030 on electric and self-driving cars.
“With the planning round now approved, we are laying the foundation for making Volkswagen the world’s No. 1 player in electric mobility by 2025,” said Matthias Mueller, VW Chief Executive, in a press conference, Reuters reports.
The company’s push for more eco-friendly vehicles comes as little surprise in the wake of their 2015 emissions-cheating scandal. The scandal erupted when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that VW vehicles contained a device that allowed them to meet emissions standards when an emissions test was detected, but emit up to 40 times more greenhouse gases than the legal U.S. limit otherwise.
The shift is also being prompted by quotas requiring the shift to electric cars in China, where more electric vehicles (EVs) are sold than anywhere else. CNN reports that Volkswagen plans to invest as much as 10 billion euro, around $11.8 billion, in China over the next seven to eight years. This will include developing as many as 40 new electric and hybrid models by 2025.
Not to mention, Volkswagen may find itself forced to switch over as EVs begin to dominate the auto market — many of VW’s competitors, including General Motors, Porsche, Ford, Honda, and even Lamborghini have announced plans to go hybrid or fully electric.
China continues to make steady progress on its space exploration plans: from a deal with Russia to the possibility of launching rockets near the equator, — and most recently, the ambition to develop a nuclear-powered shuttle. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main contractor for the country’s space program, has laid out a roadmap detailing the country’s goals for space exploration and technology. It offers a glimpse at what the country hopes to accomplish between 2017 and 2045, with one of the most ambitious projects being a nuclear-powered space shuttle.
There are numerous other targets China hopes to hit: as reported by GB Times, CASC will finish development on the Long March 8 rocket and put it into operation launching commercial satellites by 2020. GB Times previously reported that the Long March 8 will complete its first test flight in 2019, making a 2020 debut likely if everything goes as planned.
By 2030, the Long March 9 rocket will be ready for use. Classified as a “heavy-lift” rocket, it’s capable of carrying over 100 tonnes (220,462 pounds), making it perfect for launching crewed missions to the Moon, and possibly unmanned missions to Mars. By comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has a payload capacity of about 63 tonnes (140,660 pounds), though future iterations of the Falcon Heavy are likely to incorporate an increased payload.
Looking ahead to 2035, the CASC wants to make all of its launch vehicles reusable; currently, they’re all single use. Within five years from that time, they expect the introduction of a new generation of rockets and launch vehicles which would be used for interstellar missions, asteroid mining, and “constructing megaprojects such as a space-based solar power station.” The nuclear-powered space shuttle is also set for 2040, but as there are few details about the shuttle at present, it’s unclear if 2040 is when development will begin or when its first launch is expected to take place.
Provided everything progresses as hoped, China foresees itself becoming a leader in aerospace by 2045. It is, of course, difficult to account for everything that could happen over the next couple of decades, but the CASC’s roadmap is a clear sign of its investment in space exploration, and an example of what other countries may want to consider in order to maintain the public’s interest in space.
It should also be noted the roadmap reported by GB Times doesn’t include everything China plans to do. The aforementioned rocket launches near the equator are set to begin next year, while an unmanned probe is on track to be sent to Mars in 2020.
Today, wars are waged on the surface of Earth or just overhead, but tomorrow, militaries could battle it out beyond Earth’s atmosphere. To prepare for such a future, the United States recently considered adding a sixth branch to its armed forces, one dedicated to protecting the nation’s interests in space.
Though the potential creation of the United States Space Corps (USSC) did gain some momentum, on November 8, the program was cut from the Department of Defense’s 2018 budget. However, that doesn’t mean a space force won’t ever be created, and according to one military expert, the nation could actually have it up and running in as few as three years.
In an interview with CNBC, Air Force Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast said he believes militaries from across the globe will soon have an increasingly strong presence between Earth and the Moon, and while the U.S. is currently the world leader in terms of space exploration, that might not be the case for much longer.
In Kwast’s estimation, if China is just 10 years away from being able to run military operations in space, the U.S. is on a 50-year journey. However, if the U.S. did decide to approach the creation of its own space force aggressively, it could dramatically cut down that timeframe. “We could have an operational space force in three to five years,” Kwast told CNBC.
Space is set to have a huge amount of strategic military value in the not-so-distant future, with Kwast telling CNBC that it will represent the new “high ground” in military operations. The nations with a strong presence in space will have a strategic advantage over their adversaries in terms of both offense and defense.
Though Kwast said China is already “working on building a ‘navy in space’,” he isn’t as concerned about its space force ambitions as he is those of a different Asian nation — he told CNBC that he fears North Korea’s continued missile testing could allow the country to knock out the U.S.’s satellite surveillance capabilities via the use of an electromagnetic pulse.
Satellites allow armed forces to track their international counterparts, so an attack on the hardware could prove incredibly debilitating. If the U.S. doesn’t establish its own presence to defend against such attacks, other nations could be able to eke out a tactical advantage.
These are pressing concerns, but, of course, there are other pressing concerns down here on Earth and a finite amount of funding to go around.
Additionally, while Kwast says the U.S. could establish a space force in just a few years, he thinks the nation should first focus on strengthening public-private partnerships in the space industry, working to lower the cost of reaching space and rewriting regulations that currently limit access to space.
“It took the Wright Brothers from 1903 to 1945 — two World Wars — to get flying to where we needed an Air Force,” Kwast told CNBC.
Still, while establishing a military presence in space might sound like science fiction, it’s only a matter of time before one nation or another pulls it off, and then others are sure to follow. If the U.S. wants to remain a world leader in space, it will need to take action now or risk getting left behind.
China is taking the repercussions of climate change seriously. One consequence of our warming world is increasingly frequent and more severe flooding. This is especially problematic in growing, crowded cities, which has made certain regions in China more vulnerable. To combat this growing issue, the country is pursuing the development of “sponge cities.”
The Sponge City Initiative, launched in 2015, invests in projects that focus on absorbing floodwater. Currently, spongy designs are being explored in 30 cities, including Shanghai, Wuhan, and Xiamen. The current aim of the initiative is that, by 2020, 80 percent of urban areas in China will re-use at least 70 percent of their rainwater.
The 30 cities included in the initiative have received more than $12 billion in funding for sponge projects. However, the federal government only provides between 15 and 20 percent of this funding, with the rest coming from local governments and private investors.
Lingang, a planned city in Shanghai’s Pudong district, is working to become the largest sponge city to date. This effort is supported by $119 million in funding from the city government, according to CNN. So far, the city has begun planting on rooftops, building wetlands (which will store rainwater), and laying down permeable roads that are capable of storing runoff water.
The creation of a sponge city is not a singular, defined process. Each project is customized to its region and aims to improve upon previous techniques and overcome difficult challenges. Strategies include using permeable surfaces and green (meaning that it incorporates plant-life) infrastructure. The concept has so much potential that other cities around the world, like in Berlin, are looking to become more “spongy.”
China’s ambitious program is both a creative and effective approach to this life-threatening problem. In 2010, approximately 700 people were killed and more than 300 gone missing as a result of landslides from flooding in China. Just this July, 56 people were killed and entire towns were destroyed because of excessive rain and flooding in southern China.
Increased natural disasters will be a consequence of climate change that threatens all countries around the world, as illustrated by the recent hurricane and resulting flooding in Houston. But China is taking a firm stand against such flooding with this initiative, and the rest of the world might follow suit. From advanced drainage systems to roadways capable of absorbing water and creative planting, sponge cities are getting increasingly innovative in how they might be able to better fend off treacherous floodwaters.
However, all of this is really just a band-aid for a much bigger problem. Experts agree that, unless we make radical, global changes, humanity will feel more and more severe effects of climate change.
It is our responsibility to fight against climate change, and it is also necessary for our survival. So, while policymakers and corporate leaders search for ways to soften the blow of climate change, it is important that more initiatives directly combat our impact of the environment so that lives are not senselessly lost.
Shenzhen’s fleet of buses will be 100 percent electric by the end of 2017. There are already some 14,000 electric buses on the streets of Shenzhen, with only a few hundred diesel-powered stragglers left in commission, which will be phased out over the coming months.
BYD, the company responsible for about 80 percent of the city’s buses, started testing its electric vehicles in 2011. Back then, the space needed for their batteries occupied the space set aside for passengers, but massive improvements have been made since then. In 2016, BYD became the world’s biggest manufacturer of electric vehicles, exporting its wares to over 200 cities across 50 different countries.
China isn’t the only country to pursue electric vehicles for its public transportation – by 2019, electric school buses will be available in the US. However, the country has a especially urgent need to phase out gas- and diesel-powered vehicles as a result of its dire air quality.
The Chinese government has been making huge strides toward its environmental goals, and efforts in Shenzhen will help. While the manufacture of electric vehicles does produce emissions, they’re largely localized to the production plant, rather than pumped out of exhausts in urban areas.
Reports from Chinese state media have revealed the purpose of a huge ship constructed in the country, which is being billed as a “magic island maker.” The boat, named Tian Kun Hao, is apparently Asia’s largest dredging vessel.
Tian Kun Hao is a larger version of the ships China has used in the past to create artificial islands in the South China Sea. This new vessel is capable of digging at a rate of 6,000 cubic meters per hour, which is roughly equivalent to three standard swimming pools.
Artificial islands are produced by digging up enormous quantities of sand, then depositing the matter over an existing island, an appropriate rock formation, or even a coral reef. With this process it’s possible to construct a landmass capable of supporting the likes of military bases and air strips.
This practice has been used extensively by China, and is also popular in Dubai (the Palm Jumeirah archipelago being a particularly well-known example of the technique). However, similar efforts to modify a landmass are popular all over the world: certain estuaries in the U.S., Europe, and Australia have had over 50 percent of their coastline augmented with artificial structures.
Out to Sea
Despite China’s eagerness to construct artificial islands, there have been various criticisms leveled at the practice. These concerns go beyond the country’s contentious claims to the areas of land, as well as its tendency to ignore criticism of the resulting military facilities, which have been raised by the U.S. and others.
For one, there are concerns that the landmasses might not be particularly stable. Recent reports have indicated that a set of artificial islands in Dubai designed to resemble the world map (a project carried out by the developer behind the Palm Jumeirah archipelago) has been degrading since as far back as 2011.
Meanwhile, there are serious concerns about what effect the process of building out into the water may have on existing ecosystems. To that end, it’s been argued that constructing artificial islands is a new form of urban sprawl.
Artificial islands could potentially provide space to meet the agricultural and residential needs of our growing populations. However, it’s crucial that we use this technology with the proper care and consideration.
Whether we’re talking about land or sea, unchecked construction can cause massive harm to the surrounding ecosystem. There are alternatives, however, like building floating cities or even heading underwater, which could turn out to be more ecologically viable.
Officials from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) released a statement on Tuesday saying they’ll be ready to launch the next-generation spaceplane by 2020, according to a report by state news service Xinhua. If the statement is any indication, China seems to be have made significant headway on the development of a highly-secretive advance spacecraft.
At first glance, it may not seem to be a remarkable feat: reusable space rockets have been making headlines consistently since SpaceX successfully launched a used Falcon 9 earlier this year. The company has been flying missions aboard reusable Falcon 9 rockets to the International Space Station, as well as to ferry satellites from private corporations and even several nations.
China’s new space plane — note, not space rocket — is expected to be different. CASTC researcher Chen Hongbo said that unlike traditional spacecrafts, this new spacecraft “will fly into the sky like an aircraft,” Xinhua reports. This would, then, differentiate it from rockets, hence the name spaceplane. Supposedly, the spaceplane will take off from a runway, then fire its ramjet propulsion once high in the atmosphere. At that point, the plane will shift to rocket motors in order to reach orbital space, according to reports noted by Ars Technica.
A Game Changer?
Not much is known about this new spacecraft, which Chen said is meant to transport both crew and cargo into orbital space. The technology behind the space plane would also allow for easy maintenance, Chen added, which China envisions will lower the cost of future launches, while at the same time increasing their frequency. This will significantly improve China’s space efforts, which now include plans for both the Moon and Mars.
“Currently, China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally,” Liu Shiquan, China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation vice director, previously said in June, speaking to the press during the Global Space Exploration Conference in Beijing. “We have already finished several crucial ground tests for engines and [other key components], yielding remarkable achievements.”
China wasn’t the first to consider horizontally launched spacecraft; that was the original idea NASA intended for the space shuttle in the 1970s. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has SpaceShipTwo and XCOR has the Lynx (although it has been suspended due to lack of funding) but both are designed only for suborbital flight. If China succeeds in 2020, it’ll become the first to fly an orbital spacecraft launched from a runway and designed to land back again on one.
During his talk at a tech summit organized by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on Wednesday, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt told his audience that it won’t be long before China overtakes the United States in the development of advanced artificial intelligence (AI), according to a report by The Verge. Schmidt, who’s now the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, said that while the U.S. would maintain its leading place in the next five years, China will be able to catch up “extremely quickly.”
Schmidt is no stranger when it comes to AI, thanks to Alphabet subsidiary DeepMind, which perhaps is familiar to most thanks to its Go-playing AI AlphaGo. Schmidt is also aware of how much enthusiasm China has for AI, as they invited DeepMind to participate in the historic Future of Go summit earlier this year, with the goal of further understanding AlphaGo’s problem-solving capabilities.
Getting its Act Together
China has already overtaken the U.S. when it comes to AI research, and Schmidt believes that a lack of clear policies is making it difficult for the U.S. to maintain a leadership role in the field. The U.S. is failing to invest in basic AI research, Schmidt said, and restrictive immigration policies are making it difficult for the country to attract much-needed talent to bolster AI development.
“Some of the very best people are in countries that we won’t let into America. Would you rather have them building AI somewhere else, or rather have them here?” Schmidt said, according to The Verge. “Iran produces some of the top computer scientists in the world, and I want them here. To be clear, I want them working for Alphabet and Google!”
For Schmidt, the need for the U.S. to “get [its] act together as a country” when it comes to AI development is of more importance than AI regulation, which he understood to be the government nitpicking about how private companies develop algorithms. Regulation, he argued, is a side issue and one that shouldn’t hinder the U.S. from coming up with a clear AI strategy to work hand-in-hand with private institutions.
Of course, chief among such private corporations is DeepMind. According to Schmidt, the London-based AI research arm of Alphabet has a better chance than others when it comes to developing super-intelligent AI, which he clarified would still take several years to achieve.
For now, Schmidt called for clarity in decision-making, and he put it rather bluntly. “Weren’t we the ones that invented this stuff? Weren’t we the ones that were going to go exploit the benefits of all this technology for betterment and American exceptionalism, in our own arrogant view.”
ART bears the physical appearance of a train but it doesn’t rely on following a track. Instead, it follows a virtual route using an electric powertrain and tires. It’s expected to function much like an urban train or a tram, but since there’s no investment cost in laying down rails, it should be much cheaper to implement.
This vehicle is also emission free, as it runs on electricity. Currently, its battery packs are only capable of traveling 15 kilometers on a single charge, but they can be fully recharged in just ten minutes using a connection point situated on the top of the carriage.
The concept was first displayed in June 2017, but the system is now being put through its paces on the streets of Zhuzhou in the Hunan Province.
Going the Distance
China is pursuing a variety of different avenues in terms of advanced public transport. The country’s Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation is reportedly working on a more sophisticated version of the Hyperloop concept, although there’s no word on how far into development this initiative is.
One particularly high-profile endeavor was the straddling bus that made headlines in 2016. However, it has since emerged that the project was actually a scam, and its owners were arrested late last year.
It’s no secret that pollution is a huge problem in China, with smog proving to have particularly deadly consequences for people living in the region. However, in recent years the government has committed to making big changes in order to improve the situation.
40 percent of China’s factories have been shut down, and authorities are reportedly working on a timetable to end the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars. Alongside the prospect of the ART system being brought to fruition, there are hopes that air quality might continue to be improved in the years to come.
China is in the midst of an all-out blitz on polluters flouting emissions standards, closing tens of thousands of factories in a massive effort to address the nation’s catastrophic pollution problems.
Estimates of the crackdown suggest as much as 40 percent of China’s factories have been temporarily closed by safety inspectors, with officials from more than 80,000 factories charged with criminal offences for breaching emissions limits over the past year.
The months-long campaign coincides with China announcing this week at its Communist Party congress its plan to cut the concentration of hazardous fine particulate matter (called PM2.5) from 47 micrograms per cubic metre in 2016 to 35 micrograms by 2035.
“It will be very difficult to reach the goal, and we need to make greater efforts to achieve it,” environmental protection minister Li Ganjie said at an event on Monday.
China’s modern efforts to tackle domestic pollution date back to 2013, when the nation announced 10 measures to clean up the country’s air, including reducing emissions from heavily polluting industries by 30 percent by the end of 2017.
To help hit its targets, China has ramped up factory and power plant inspections in the past two years across several provinces, to make sure thousands of companies aren’t breaching emissions laws.
“[B]asically, you’re seeing these inspectors go into factories for surprise inspections,” supply chain consultant Gary Huang from 80/20 Sourcing told NPR.
“They’re instituting daily fines, and sometimes – in the real severe cases – criminal enforcement. People are getting put in jail.”
The moves – which could carry with them the risk of harming China’s strong economic growth, despite the government’s claims otherwise – won’t just result in bluer skies.
It’s hoped that by cracking down on polluters, China will also see cleaner water and enjoy a vast range of ecological benefits – plus of course, breathe easier.
“For those areas that have suffered ecological damage, their leaders and cadres will be held responsible for life,” said deputy director of the Communist Party’s Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, Yang Weimin, told The New York Times.
“Our people will be able to see stars at night and hear birds chirp.”
In previous winters, city officials have been directed to enforce closures for only a few weeks at a time, but with 2017’s end-of-year targets just months away, China is shuttering polluters at a rate Li calls “unprecedented”.
“These special campaigns are not a one-off, instead it is an exploration of long-term mechanisms,” Li announced this week.
“They have proven effective so we will continue with these measures.”
What this means for the industrial sector in China moving forward beyond 2017 isn’t yet exactly clear.
Power plants and factories are still adjusting to the new, unflinching enforcement of the environmental regime, and while thousands of companies are experiencing hardship right now, many think the industry will adapt with better, smarter, and safer ways of doing business that ultimately don’t endanger Chinese air – or the planet as a whole.
“It’s a huge event. It’s a serious event. I think many of us here believe it will become the new normal,” exporter Michael Crotty from China-based MKT & Associates told NPR.
“The consumers of China don’t want red and blue rivers. They don’t want to see grey skies every day.”
China’s air pollution has been a problem for decades now, but with the issue now drawing significant attention worldwide, the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to address it, even going so far as to sacrifice business for the sake of cleaner skies.
According to a report by NPR, authorities from the Chinese environmental bureau have spent the past several months temporarily closing down factories’ access to electricity and gas in order to figure out which ones followed environmental laws and which ones didn’t.
“So, basically, you’re seeing these inspectors go into factories for surprise inspections,” Gary Huang, founder of a firm that serves as a middleman between the Chinese supply chain and foreign companies, told NPR. “They’re instituting daily fines, and sometimes — in the real severe cases — criminal enforcement. People are getting put in jail.”
In the past year, officials in more than 80,000 factories have been punished in some way by China’s Ministry of Environment for violating environmental laws.
China’s Air Pollution Woes
In a press conference on Monday, China’s Environmental Protection Minister Li Ganjie said that the government is serious about addressing China’s air pollution. Concretely, this means lowering the concentration of particulate matter called PM2.5 hovering over China to 35 micrograms by 2035.
So far, these efforts appear to be paying off. Average PM.25 levels were 2.3 percent lower during the first eight months of 2017 compared to 2016’s figures, and at present, PM.25 in Beijing is down to 60 micrograms from last year’s 70 micrograms.
Of course, the path hasn’t been entirely smooth, and Li said China still has a long way to go before the effects of these new policies and initiatives are felt by the nation’s citizens.
“We understand that current air quality fails to meet people’s expectations,” he told Reuters. “People should be patient about improvements in air quality improvement as it will take time to solve such a big problem.”
Located in an underground garage at the Lilacs International Commercial Centre in Shanghai, the station has 50 superchargers electric car owners can use. These are contributing to Tesla’s goal of adding 1,000 superchargers to China, and installing 10,000 around the world before the end of 2018. Just last month, the company introduced smaller superchargers to cities like Chicago and Boston.
China’s supercharger station may not be as aesthetically pleasing as ones found in other locations, but that’s not really an issue as long as it performs. It’s construction is also significantly important to the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs); their increased availability could make EVs an easier sell, as people don’t have to drive as far to find a place to charge their vehicle. Beyond that, it’s a clear sign that EVs are here to stay and are slowly replacing gas-powered cars. We’re sure Tesla is happy to be seen as the company leading the way.
The creation and subsequent adoption of 5G is seemingly inevitable, and like 4G, it will eventually become the leading mobile connection. That said, when the next generation of mobile technology arrives, it won’t be the U.S. or Japan leading the world in 5G users. It will be China.
That’s according to a report published by CSS Insight this week. The mobile industry analysts predict that 1 billion people will be using 5G connections by 2023, with China accounting for more than half of all 5G users as early as 2022. The country is expected to maintain a sizable hold until 2025, when it may still represent 40 percent of global 5G connections.
“China will dominate 5G thanks to its political ambition to lead technology development, the inexorable rise of local manufacturer Huawei, and the breakneck speed at which consumers have upgraded to 4G connections in the recent past,” Marina Koytcheva, VP Forecasting at CCS Insight, told CNBC.
While China will take the lead in 5G users, the analysts predict South Korea, Japan, or the U.S. will launch the first commercial 5G network, with Europe trailing behind by at least a year.
While CCS Insight expects 1 billion people to utilize 5G by 2023, they don’t foresee it having a dramatic presence in the Internet of Things (IoT). How it will affect autonomous cars is also unknown, with CSS stating that such “mission critical” services will “have to wait even longer to come to the fore.”
There are also a number of uncertainties related to 5G’s overall adoption, including factors like how and where network operators will deploy new base stations, the lack of clear business cases for operators, and consumers’ willingness to upgrade their smartphones. If people aren’t buying new devices that take advantage of 5G, why continue investing in it?
Europe is expected to face its own set of problems stemming from market fragmentation, the availability of spectrum, and the influence of regulators.
Of course, a 5G network doesn’t even exist yet, and CSS Insights’ predictions on 5G users won’t come into play for several years. However, development on 5G is ramping up.
The 8.5-tonne (9.4-ton) station, initially launched in 2011, hosted three missions during its time out in space, including a mission involving China’s first female astronauts, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping. It was never meant to function for more than two years, but continued use until 2016, when its data service was cut off. Several months later, China had reportedly lost control of the station, predicting the eventual impact with Earth “in the second half of 2017” would be harmless.
The Chinese space agency has stated that most of the station will burn up in the atmosphere, and the rest likely land in the ocean.
However, Harvard astrophysicist and space enthusiast Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian it will be impossible to guess where the station would crash, even if it was a day before it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.
“You really can’t steer these things,” he said last year. “Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won’t know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it’s going to come down. Not knowing when it’s going to come down translates as not knowing where it’s going to come down.”
“Yes there’s a chance it will do damage, it might take out someone’s car, there will be a rain of a few pieces of metal, it might go through someone’s roof, like if a flap fell off a plane, but it is not widespread damage,” McDowell told The Guardian.
China has become the most powerful political force driving the globalization of electric vehicle (EV) technology. And, while natural driving forces such as dwindling fossil fuel resources and the hazards of climate change are also hastening change, these political pressures are, for now, the most effective driving factors in the electric car revolution.
Much of China’s journey toward EVs has been fueled by necessity. The Chinese government has invested vast sums of money into the industry and set aggressive pro-electric regulations because of its citizens suffering from worsening air pollution and because of the country’s overall goal of technological dominance including developments in artificial intelligence (AI).
At least one expert has asserted that all cars in China will be electric by 2030. The government is expected to ban production of fossil fuel vehicles soon. This is impressive for any country, but the automobile market in China is so vast that the nation’s policy decisions have global impact. China already makes and sells more EVs than any other country, and Chinese buyers will purchase more than three times as many EVs than American buyers in 2017 — and more than the rest of the world’s buyers altogether. And, although China taxes import cars at ten times the rate we do here in the US, Chinese
buyers still purchase more General Motors (GM) cars than Americans.
There is no guarantee that China will be able to dominate the electric car market. Despite notable auto manufacturing skills, the nation hasn’t yet developed a car that has become a trendy import, which is necessary to extend its influence. Most Chinese car buyers still prefer American and European cars, although joint ventures with international automakers may allow China’s car designers to imitate their style in the future.
The market is responding to China’s electric car boom as you might expect. GM, Ford, and Volkswagen are all adding electric models to their offerings and moving R&D operations for EVs to China. The Chinese government has made it a priority to recruit top electrical engineering talent from around the world, including the US.
This isn’t China’s first rodeo in terms of transforming industries. With its knockout combination of cheap, plentiful labor and strong government support, China has previously changed the steel making and clothing industries, and green energy businesses more recently. However, the auto industry is taking this pattern to an entirely new scale.
Meanwhile, for Chinese citizens, the environmental benefits of electric cars can’t come too soon and it will feel like they’re a long time coming. Especially in big cities like Beijing, citizens are exposed to highly hazardous air regularly. There will be no turning back for China, and it seems that the country will be leading the rest of the world in the right direction.
There are more ways to pay for goods and services now than ever before, and as such paper money seems increasingly old-fashioned. In China, cash is all but dead thanks to more convenient options.
Last year, the volume of mobile payments in China more than doubled, surging to a total of $5 trillion. Figures from the first three months of 2017 suggest that Alipay and WeChat Pay are the two services that dominate the market, with the former accounting for 54 percent of transactions, and the latter making up 40 percent.
CLSA, a research investment company based in Hong Kong, predicts that electronic payments in China will reach a volume of $45 trillion by 2021. Even now, everything from bike rental to fast food can be paid for with a smartphone — and sometimes cash isn’t a valid form of payment.
The ubiquity of smartphones makes it easy to conduct fast, secure payments whether you’re sending money to a friend, or paying for something in a store. However, it may well be that the current rise of digital transactions is simply an intermediary step.
If cash is indeed on its way out, cryptocurrency seems to be its heir apparent. It offers up all the same benefits in terms of convenience and accessibility, but with the added protection of a digital ledger, and technological advantages like smart contracts.
That being said, a cashless future isn’t without its drawbacks. Most digital transactions are easier to track than cash payments — with certain cryptocurrencies serving as notable exceptions — which provides more methods of data collection to companies and organizations that have an interest in tracking consumer behavior to allocate advertising and marketing for optimum exposure.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.
On September 29, a video call took place between Beijing, the capital of China, and Vienna, the capital of Austria. This wasn’t any ordinary call, however: it was the first live demonstration of a call powered and securely encrypted using quantum technology. It marks a huge breakthrough in the realm of quantum communications, and shows the potential impact the technology could have on how information is transmitted and secured.
The quantum video call is the result of a collaboration between researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Vienna. The call was encrypted by sending information embedded in particles of light (photons) generated by the Micius satellite. Micius was launched last year and successfully used quantum cryptography to send data to Earth back in August.
As explained by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the photons are sent to ground stations located in China and Europe, as well as the Satellite Laser Ranging Station in Austria’s city of Graz. Using the orbital relay station, communications can bypass the limitations imposed by the curvature of the Earth and the signal loss in long fiber optic cables. More importantly, unlike traditional communication methods (which can be hacked by anyone with the right technical knowledge) the process for quantum communications is said to be unhackable; anyone who attempts to infiltrate the system will immediately be discovered.
“If somebody attempts to intercept the photons exchanged between the satellite and the ground station and to measure their polarization, the quantum state of the photons will be changed by this measurement attempt, immediately exposing the hackers,” explains Johannes Handsteiner from the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
The Most Secure…For Now
It should be noted that quantum communications are only currently unhackable, and that’s largely due to how new the technology is. Someone could eventually devise a way to intercept such communications, which would hopefully, in turn, spur the development of more secure methods. We have some time before that happens, but for now at least, quantum technology is our most secure way of sharing data.
Beijing and Vienna won’t be the only cities to experience quantum video calls, though. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, future calls are planned between China and Singapore, Italy, Germany and Russia. Through constant use, we may be able to learn of the technology’s limitations, and the minimum hardware required to make it possible. We said in August that China appears to be leading the charge on quantum technology, and it continues to be the case months later.
The experience of using a computer today is nothing like it was a few decades ago. The sheer speed of computer systems has nearly doubled each year; transistors, once as big as a pencil eraser, have become so small that billions could fit on a fingernail. The average central processing unit (CPU) inside a current-day laptop can perform roughly 21 billion instructions per second—a number exponentially higher than even the most sophisticated computers in the 1970s.
But as computing power has grown, so too has the need to perform increasingly complex computations. We are collecting more and more data, all of which needs to be processed. New scientific fields, such as advanced weather forecasting, nuclear test simulations, cell modeling at the molecular level, and even simulating the human brain, have also become more complicated, warranting the need for even faster, more powerful supercomputers.
Where there is innovation, there is also competition. Organizations seek to create machines that can outdo one another in how many operations they can perform per second, a metric called floating-point operations per second (FLOPS).In the process, engineersswap out and engineer components of the computers so that they can race like Formula 1 cars. Some of these components (very much like a standard desktop computer) include:
Transistors: Electronic circuits require the fast and precise movement of electronic signals. Transistors allow these signals to be either amplified or switched to complete different types of operations of varying complexity. The more transistors on an integrated circuit, the greater its processing power and ability to perform a greater number of operations.
CPUs: A Central Processing Unit is, as the name suggests, the heart of a computer’s operations. It executes all instructions detailed in a computer program by running through a set list of operations at a specific speed (clock rate). Early supercomputers took advantage of a small number of CPUs working in parallel. Modern supercomputers have taken this idea to groundbreaking levels, often hooking together tens of thousands of consumer-grade processors into massive arrays.
Cooling: Supercomputers suck up a lot of energy—the Tianhe-2 consumes 24 MW of power, which is enough to power 24,000 average U.S. homes for a whole month. Some of that energy is released as heat, so supercomputers need to be kept cool enough for components to work efficiently. Once one of the biggest operational challenges for early, pre-silicon transistor supercomputers, overheating is now a minor concern thanks to the use of sophisticated liquid cooling, low power processors, and industrial air-conditioning.
These materials have become much more advanced in a very short period. Up until the early 2000s, China did not have a single supercomputer in the TOP500, the definitive ranking of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. In 2017, it holds almost a third of the TOP500 spots. The following list of the eight most powerful supercomputers in the world is based on the most up-to-date TOP500 ranking.
(Note: a computer’s real performance often falls short of its theoretical performance, which is calculated according to the Linpack benchmark for the TOP500. It’s more expensive to power a supercomputer than to deck it out with more processing components, so modern supercomputers are designed to contain more nodes than they could run. The theoretical peak performance is the upper limit of a computer’s performance. The Linpack benchmark approximates that, along with standardized, arithmetic speed tests.)
8. Fujitsu’s K
Fujitu’s K computer was the first supercomputer to have ever broken the ten petaFLOPS barrier in November 2011. The K in its name refers to the Japanese word “kei,” or 10 quadrillion—a reference to the number of FLOPS. To compute at this level, the K combines the power of 80,000 separate CPUs through specialized connectors designed to transmit data at high speeds. A water-cooling system makes individual CPU cores less likely to overheat.
Resulting from a collaboration between the University of Tokyo, the University of Tsukuba and Fujistu Limited, the supercomputer dubbed Oakforest-PACS broke the 25 petaFLOP barrier thanks to Intel’s latest generation of Xeon Phi processors, making it the fastest supercomputer in Japan. The system is made up of 8,208 computational nodes, and is used for furthering computational science research and teaching young researchers how to conduct high-performance computing.
6. Cori (NERSC)
The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center near Oakland, California named its newest supercomputer creation “Cori,” after Gerty Cori, the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize. The system is a Cray XC40,manufactured by the company responsible for major breakthroughs in supercomputer performance during the 1970s. Cori can theoretically achieve a processing speed of 29.1 petaFLOPS. It achieves this through the use of Haswell architecture Intel Xeon and Xeon Phi processors.
The Sequoia is a supercomputer built to measure the risks of nuclear warfare by making advanced weapons science calculations. It’s owned by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. With 98,304 nodes, it’s ranked as the fifth most powerful supercomputer on the planet. According to the Linpack benchmark, it has a speed of 17.2 petaFLOPS.
Perhaps one of the best-known supercomputers in the Western world, Titan at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory was the fastest supercomputer on the planet until the Tianhe-2 (below) jockeyed it out of first place in 2013. Titan is the first supercomputer to combine AMD Opteron CPUs and NVIDIA Tesla GPUs, bringing its total theoretical peak output to 27 petaFLOPS (Linpack approximates its output at 17.6). This kind of power enables researchers to perform the complex simulations needed in climate science, astrophysics, and molecular physics.
The Tianhe-2, also known as MILKYWAY-2, is a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology. It became the world’s fastest supercomputer in June 2013 with a peak performance of 33.86 petaFLOPS (although peak theoretical performance could be much higher), though it has slid down to third place in the years since. 16,000 computer nodes, made up of Intel Ivy Bridge and Xeon Phi processors, enable simulations of government security applications. It also serves as an open research platform for scientists in southern China.
2. Piz Daint (2017)
In late 2016, the Piz Daint supercomputer in Lugano, Switzerland gained a huge hardware upgrade. That new power tripled its computing performance and brought its theoretical peak performance up to 19.6 petaFLOPS (their own measurements pin it currently at 25.3), making it the fastest supercomputer outside Asia. Named after a mountain in the Swiss Alps, the Piz Daint also creates advanced visualizations and high-resolution imaging simulations. It will soon provide processing power to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, helping it analyze huge amounts of data.
A robot dentist in China has successfully operated on a human patient without human input and, more importantly, without any harm coming to the patient.
The South China Morning Post reports the procedure lasted about an hour, and involved the implanting of two teeth into a woman’s mouth. The artificial teeth, created using 3D printing technology, were fitted within a margin of error of 0.2 – 0.3 mm — the standard required for the type of surgery the robot was performing.
Prior to the beginning of the operation, human medical staff positioned orientation equipment onto the patient. They also programmed the robot’s movements, as well determined the angle and depth needed to properly implant the teeth. So while the robot did perform the operation on its own, it still needed people to set things up.
The Need for Robotic Assistants
The Chinese robot dentist was created in response to a shortage of qualified human dentists and the disconcerting number of human-made errors. Dentists are always working within a small space within the mouth, and are sometimes unable to see what they’re doing.
According to the South China Morning Post, a survey discovered over 400 million people are in need of new teeth, and of the one million implants performed each year, a number of low quality dental surgeries can cause more problems for the patient.
The robot dentist’s success will go a long way to support the development of other such robotics and reduce the number of issues that arise as a result of mishandled operations. Over the years, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic assistants have been used to aid dentists with other procedures like root canal surgery and orthodontic operations as well as training students. In March, a dental assistant known as Yomi received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is also expected to improve the success of dental procedures.
One of China’s supercomputers, Tianhe-2, just received a major upgrade, nearly doubling its power. An announcement from the head of Matsuoka Lab, Satoshi Matsuoka, was made during the International HPC Forum (IHPCF) via a series of tweets. The upgraded computer now performs at a staggering 94.97 petaflops, or 949.7 trillion calculations per second, compared to its previous peak performance of 54.9 petaflops.
The upgrade came from replacing coprocessor chips installed in 2013 and replacing them with domestic chips. The 2013 installation used chips developed by Intel, called Knights Corner Xeon Phi coprocessors, and the original plan was to upgrade the system with upgraded Intel chips. However, the United States issued an embargo blocking the export of these chips to specific supercomputing sites, including the home of the Tianhe-2. In response, China was forced to begin building their own chips. They succeeded in matching the power of the Intel chips with the Matrix-2000 GPDSP accelerators.
There is a major race for nations to expand their supercomputing power to the exascale (1,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second). Right now, China holds a significant lead by being home to the two fastest supercomputers; the United states comes in fourth (behind Switzerland) with its Titan machine.
“The Mars exploration program is well underway,” Zhang Rongqiao, chief architect of China’s Mars mission, said on Wednesday while speaking at the Beijing International Forum on Lunar and Deep-Space Exploration, according to state news agency Xinhua.
China plans to send an unmanned probe comprising three parts — an orbiter, a lander, and a rover — to Mars by 2020. The probe will carry 13 payloads, seven of which will be on the orbiter and the remaining six on the rover. “The payloads will be used to collect data on the environment, morphology, surface structure, and atmosphere of Mars,” explained Rongqiao.
After a seven-month journey to the Red Planet, the orbiter will launch the lander towards Mars’ northern hemisphere, where it will explore the surface. Its tasks will include testing equipment for sample retrieval missions, which are scheduled between 2025 and 2030.
“Chinese scientists are doing preliminary research now to anticipate the data that will be collected from Mars, so we can publish our reports faster,” Zhang said, as reported by China News.
China’s mission to Mars is part of their space agency’s goal of becoming a frontrunner in space exploration by 2030. Aside from Mars, they also plan on sending unmanned probes to Jupiter in 2036 and to Uranus in 2046.
Mars. So Hot Right Now.
Seemingly everyone wants to go Mars right now — it’s currently the hottest item in space exploration.
This interest is understandable, as most experts see Mars as a potential jumping off point in humanity’s attempts to colonize space, but actually bringing these plans to fruition will be no easy task.
While today’s advances in rocket technology will certainly help, colonizing Mars won’t be as simple as sending unmanned missions and probes and rovers to the Red Planet. We need to send people, and doing that may well end up being a collective endeavor. It’s not difficult to imagine SpaceX and NASA teaming up, although both have their own plans for getting to Mars. Russia supposedly has plans to work with the U.S. on a joint Mars project, too.
After a relatively long news hiatus, the impossible EM (Electromagnetic) Drive is making a comeback. Researchers from China’s space agency have released a video through state media earlier this month showing a supposedly-functional EM Drive. Have the Chinese finally made the impossible happen? Let’s not be quick to jump to conclusions here, though — at least not as fast as China did.
China has signed a trade agreement with Israel worth $300 million that will see the country import lab-grown meats produced by three companies: SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, and Meat the Future. This move is part of China’s ongoing effort to address its most pressing environmental problems.
The Israel Innovation Authority and the Israel Export Institute were involved in brokering the deal with China. Both organizations were in attendance at the inaugural lab-made meat conference, which took place in Haifa, Israel this past May.
This particular kind of lab-grown meat is produced using animal cells, so it’s not completely slaughter-free — even if it does reduce the number of creatures killed for food overall. Scientists are researching a completely synthetic substitute. For the time being, lab-grown meat is poised to at least reduce the strain on the environment that’s caused by the farming of livestock.
It’s estimated that 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to livestock, with cattle being the biggest culprit. If we didn’t need to farm so many cows to produce beef products, we could reduce these emissions considerably.
Last year, he Chinese government announced plans to encourage citizens to eat less meat, in an effort to reduce the country’s consumption by 50 percent. As it stands, around $13.5 billion worth of meat is imported into the country every year.
While $300 million may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to $10 billion, there are hopes that this partnership will be successful enough to prompt a larger investment. “This could put [lab-made] meat onto the radar of Chinese officials who have the capacity to steer billions of dollars into this technology,” commented head of the Good Food Initiative, Bruce Friedrich, according to a report by Quartz.
Japan has risen above the U.S. in the worldwide rankings for the largest bitcoin exchange market. The country now accounts for roughly 48 percent of the global market share, reaching a high of 51 percent over the weekend.
Those deadlines are still weeks away, but traders aren’t waiting around. Many that were previously operating in China have taking their activity to Japan, causing the spike in the nation’s market share — and reducing China’s from 15 percent to less than seven percent in just three days.
It remains to be seen whether Japan’s current position will hold or is a fleeting surge. One Chinese official has claimed that the country’s ban on ICOs is a temporary measure, but the country’s position in the cryptocurrency market might be forever changed if the current situation drags on too long.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.
China may account for the lion’s share of bitcoin mining, but that doesn’t mean the nation is blindly in support of all things cryptocurrency-related. Last week, Chinese regulators announced a ban on initial coin offerings (ICOs), the method through which many blockchain-based startups raise funds, citing the potential for ICOs to be used for money laundering or the financing of terrorist organizations.
The source of these details is Hu Bing, a researcher at the Chinese government-supported Institute of Finance and Banking. During an interview with Chinese television network CCTV-13, Bing explained that last week’s “ban” isn’t actually a ban at all — ICOs have simply been “paused” while the government hashes out the appropriate regulations.
While they consider various policies for ICOs and those investing in them, the government will also consider the potential for an ICO licensing program. This would involve startups securing a license through the Chinese government prior to their ICO, which, in theory, would ensure only legitimate companies are able to use the method to raise funds.
Knowing that the Chinese government intends for their “ban” on ICOs to be temporary should assuage the fears of those who were concerned it was a sign of trouble ahead for blockchain technology. In fact, this temporary pause is essentially a good omen — one of the world’s most powerful economies is putting in a significant amount of effort to ensure that a solid foundation for the technology is in place. That effort wouldn’t be necessary if they thought it was going to be a passing fad.
All new technologies go through growing pains. Some of those pains may be caused by the tech itself — even Google needed five years to figure out how to make augmented reality (AR) functional in their Glass device. Some may be a matter of figuring out how to best integrate a new technology into current society through laws and regulations — those are the kinds of challenges creators of autonomous driving systems, artificial intelligences, and gene editing are currently facing.
Blockchain is no different. The technology has already shown remarkable potential to change our world for the better, and as more people recognize this potential, more will want to invest in it. By putting policies in place that protect those investors from fraud, nations can ensure that blockchain lives up to its potential for good while minimizing the collateral damage caused by those looking to take advantage of enthusiastic supporters.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.
The Russian government is working on a plan to introduce new laws pertaining to cryptocurrencies. Finance minister Anton Siluanov confirmed at the Moscow Financial Forum that new regulation is in the works, but he maintained that these changes will ultimately benefit those who have invested in the crypto market.
“The state understands indeed that crypto-currencies are real,” said Siluanov. “There is no sense in banning them, there is a need to regulate them.”
It’s expected that these regulations will be completely developed by the end of 2017. They’re likely to stipulate that anyone purchasing cryptocurrencies will need to be registered, and offer up a clear delineation of what the government deems acceptable in terms of how funds are bought and circulated.
Siluanov asserted that anyone currently buying cryptocurrency runs a greater risk because there’s no external oversight. He compared an ideal system to the protections offered when buying securities like treasury bonds.
As cryptocurrency continues to grow in popularity, governments all over the world are attempting to lay down legislation before its seemingly imminent mainstream adoption. Australian authorities have been considering incorporating cryptocurrency, and in the U.S., a bill is expected to be submitted to Congress later this month.
Chinese authorities have claimed that the ban is temporary and merely a method of introducing the policies required for legal ICOs. But, as it now stands, countries like Russia and China have the potential to majorly affect the value of cryptocurrencies if and when they enforce new legislation. So, as investors closely track the progress of legal frameworks, it will be interesting to see how government involvement affects the future of cryptocurrencies.
The Chinese government is working on a plan to halt the production and sale of cars powered by fossil fuels. Given that the country sees more cars bought and sold than any other, this could have a huge impact on the global electric auto industry.
Deputy industry minister Xin Guobin stated that officials are working on a timetable for the change, speaking at an automotive industry forum on 9 September. While the shift away from gasoline-powered vehicles will obviously help with the country’s far-reaching ecological efforts, it would also contribute to its attempt to curb a growing reliance on imported oil.
China is already the biggest market for electric autos, having surpassed the US in 2016. In 2015, sales of electric-powered and hybrid vehicles swelled by 50 percent, accounting for 40 percent of worldwide sales.
Authorities have been proactive in encouraging this growth, investing billions in research and programs to spur adoption. Starting next year, auto manufacturers will be required to ensure that 8 percent of their output is comprised of electric vehicles and hybrids, with that proportion rising to 10 percent in 2019, and 12 percent in 2020.
China is not the only country that’s preparing to enforce constraints on the manufacture of gas-powered cars in an effort to encourage more eco-friendly alternatives. France committed to putting a ban in place by 2040 at the beginning of July, and the UK followed suit just a few weeks later.
However, it should be noted that these measures don’t extend to decommissioning gas-powered vehicles that are already out on the roads. China’s goal is to hasten the transition to electric autos, but there hasn’t been any mention of banning vehicles that were sold before the restrictions were put in place.
Meanwhile, China has already cleared its goal of reaching a capacity of 105 GW by the end of 2020. The country has now attained 112.34 GW, and as such has tweaked its forecast for 2017, now predicting that this year’s installations will total between 40 and 45 GW when all is said and done.
China once held the title for the world’s fastest train, but a devastating crash in 2011 forced the country to slow down their transits, lest they experience another tragic event.
Next month, however, China will regain is lost title, as it plans to introduce several new bullet trains that will move at the speeds necessary to once again be the world’s fastest. Prior to the aforementioned accident, China’s bullet trains traveled at 350 km/h (217 mph), but were then reduced to 250-300 km/h (155-186 mph).
Come September 21, when the new trains are up and running, speeds will return to 350 km/h, but will be capable of going 400 km/h (248 mph). For comparison, the still-in-development Hyperloop One recently reached speeds of 308 km/h (192 mph), though the plan is to hit 402 km/h (250 mph) while still in testing.
Zhao Jian, Beijing Jiaotong University professor and a leading researcher on China’s high-speed railway network, told the South China Morning Post that in order to avoid more accidents at higher speeds, the railway operator will need to reduce the number of trains in use at one time.
According to the Associated Press, China has laid over 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles) of high-speed rail, and intends to add another 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles) by 2020. To date, over $360 billion has been spent on the railway’s creation.
The Chinese government listed blockchain in its “Thirteenth Five-Year” National Informatization Plan from 2015, and since that time the nation has been working diligently toward incorporate the technology into daily life. The tech’s inclusion in the plan signals the importance China has attached to it, and this was just confirmed by the government’s announcement that it “will utilize blockchain technology for social taxation and electronic invoice issuance matters.”
This is a major development, and given that the Chinese economy is the world’s largest, with a 2016 GDP of over RMB 70 trillion (approximately U.S. $10.4 trillion), this should be an interesting test case for the implementation of blockchain technology. China has already launched a test of its own cryptocurrency based on the technology, so these initiatives should be able to build on each other.
Furthermore, we should also see implementation at the city level in China, as several local and provincial governments have recently promulgated pro-blockchain policies. In fact, a smart cities initiative has already enticed a Chinese automaker to integrate the tech into its business model. Additionally, blockchain-based industrial parks have gone up in Chengdu, Hangzhou, and other major cities, and agencies at different levels of government have created blockchain R&D teams.
Blockchain Technology Applications
This latest development in China is a good example of how blockchain technology can be used in a broad array of applications. Blockchain tech has been proposed for use in elections do to its potential for both transparency and security. It’s these features that make it appealing for taxation as well.
Governments aren’t the only ones exploring the tech’s applications. Walmart has started experimenting with a blockchain database that would protect consumers from contaminated food products as well as guard against product waste. Toyota is using blockchain to get its self-driving cars on the road faster, and the company plans to give customers access to their own data the same way.
Moving forward, we will see more and more innovative uses of blockchain technology as its potential is more fully realized. Transparency and security are both absolute essentials in a digital age, and China appears to be recognizing that need and putting this powerful tech to use through policy.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.
China aims to be a global frontrunner in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030, according to the government’s new plan. Released on Thursday, the national AI development plan lays out a timeline for the growth of the country’s core AI industries — the State Council estimates they will be worth over 150 billion yuan ($22.15 billion) by 2020 and 400 billion yuan ($59.07 billion) by 2025. This growth will ensure that the AI industry is a “new, important” driver of economic expansion in China by 2020. Critical areas of development will include intelligent robotics and vehicles, AI software and hardware, and augmented and virtual reality.
“Artificial intelligence has become the new focus of international competition,” the report said. “We must take the initiative to firmly grasp the next stage of AI development to create a new competitive advantage, open the development of new industries and improve the protection of national security.”
This plan is the government’s expression of China’s global ambition, a desire supported by its military, research centers, and technology sector, all of which are already investing heavily in AI, according to Bloomberg. In other words, the developing tech that could boost China’s dominance are already currently underway. A PwC report from June indicates that AI technology will contribute as much as $15.7 trillion to worldwide output by 2030 — more than the combined output of India and China currently. The report also shows that China stands to gain more from investing in AI than any other country due to its huge manufacturing industry.
Beijing is well on its way to a future powered by clean energy as the city’s municipal development and reform commission announced on Tuesday that there will be almost no coal consumption in Beijing’s plain areas by 202o.
This latest thrust in the Chinese effort to fight air pollution will all but eliminate coal use in the southern plain areas and six downtown districts of the Chinese capital city. Almost all coal use in the downtown areas will be replaced by clean energy, electricity, and gas, with all coal-fired boilers used for heating and industrial purposes converted to clean-energy alternatives.
The commission added that the city’s gross coal consumption will be capped at 5 million tonnes by 2020. Its total energy consumption will be limited to the equivalent of 76 million tonnes of standard coal by that year, which would be an average yearly consumption increase of 2.1 percent.
With these changes in place, renewable energy should account for more than 8 percent of Beijing’s total energy consumption by 2020, while the proportion of high-quality energy consumption is projected to exceed 95 percent. It’s just the latest measure in China’s aggressive war against pollution, which is designed to save lives as well as prevent the destruction of the environment.
China is quickly transitioning away from paper currency, with nearly everyone in major urban centers using smartphones to pay for almost everything. Alipay and WeChat are the two dominant technologies in use in the country, and they are eclipsing cash almost completely as a payment option.
Street vendors and huge shopping centers now rely on these apps, and even beggars and street musicians use QR codes in big cities in China. “It has become the default way of life now,” IDC research analyst Shiv Putcha told The New York Times. “Literally every business and brand in China is plugged into this ecosystem.”
Three years ago, everyone was still using cash, but the transition to digital payments has happened rapidly. According to consulting firm iResearch, in 2016, mobile payments in China were worth about $5.5 trillion, approximately 50 times the United States’ $112 billion market.
Tencent and Ant Financial (the parent companies of WeChat and Alipay, respectively) collect payment data from users, and they also charge both users and the companies being paid for their services — services that require very little in the way of overhead as they involve neither card readers nor interactions with banks.
As a result, Tencent’s 2016 Q4 revenues from “other services,” which includes mobile payments, tripled from 2015 to reach $940 million, and both they and Ant Financial are poised to surpass Mastercard and Visa in total daily transactions by 2018.
Cash-free campuses in cities like Tianjin allow students to pay all of their expenses, from tuition to meals, with their smartphones, making even physical student IDs obsolete.If implemented countrywide, these kinds of plans could save colleges an estimated 300,000 yuan ($44,034) per year in production costs for cards and 10 million yuan ($1,467,825) in annual card loss costs.
Digital payment technology linked to smartphones is also being used to improve health access in China and reduce notoriously long wait times in clinics.
Digital payments are part of the “green finance” project being piloted in China. Cashless technology is a green finance principle because it is more efficient. According to the World Bank, businesses and governments can cut costs by up to 75 percent using digital payment programs.
China is especially receptive to this kind of cashless transformation for several reasons. It has a huge unbanked population (about 12 percent of the unbanked adults worldwide are in China), a low rate of credit card usage (only about 16 percent penetration in 2014), and a lack of credit rating systems. Personal checks are largely obsolete in the nation, while digital options are widely available.
A primary difference between the Scandinavian countries and China, however, is the use of debit and credit cards. Cards remain common in Sweden, with almost 2.4 billion such transactions taking place in 2013. In China, cards are rarely used, and the transition from cash skipped straight to digital apps. These are gaining ground in Scandinavian countries, though, with everyone from street vendors to churches making use of digital payment apps on smartphones.
The move toward digital payments and a cash-free world has its critics. With local users locked into two platforms in China, for example, it is hard for tourists and other visitors to pay for anything. This could deter foreign businesses from coming to China or anywhere with more specialized digital payment platforms.
Furthermore, digital payment options bring with them privacy issues and cybersecurity concerns. The ability to track payment data and restrict access to money, for example, is a real concern for many users, especially when the government is the one in control.
However, for a host of reasons, the cash-free transition appears to be imminent. Ideally, we can make the transition a positive one by focusing on technologies, such as blockchain, that will ensure these transactions are private and secure.
By the end of August, China plans to rollout the Jinan Project — the world’s first unhackable computer network, which is based on quantum principles. The project uses the city of Jinan as a quantum computer hub that boosts the Beijing-Shanghai quantum network due to its central geographical position between the two larger cities.
Specifically, the network alerts both users to any tampering with the system — as tampering alters the information being relayed. The disturbance is instantly recognizable and both parties can immediately identify when something is amiss.
Zhou Fei, Assistant Director of the Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology, sees the system having worldwide ramifications. He told the Financial Times that “We plan to use the network for national defense, finance and other fields, and hope to spread it out as a pilot that if successful, can be used across China and the whole world.”
By implementing the quantum computer network, China will become the first country to implement quantum technology for a real life, commercial end. It also marks China as a quantum leader worldwide — a status that is reinforced by their development of the Heifei machine, which could eclipse all current supercomputers, as well as their successful transportation of a photon from a satellite in space using quantum physics.
The age of cryptocurrencies is upon us, and two countries in particular have been instrumental in their stratospheric rise: China and Japan.
Cryptocurrencies have become popular in China due to the government’s stringent control of the yuan — a power they occasionally exercise by artificially devaluing the currency for trading purposes. With private wealth in China growing, affluent individuals have found a more stable and accessible alternative to the yuan in cryptocurrencies.
Additionally, China has an abundance of cheap energy and hardware, which facilitates crypto mining (the process through which new blocks in the blockchain are created and transactions are verified). Chinese exchanges run mining “pools” to generate these blocks, and these efforts constitute 60 percent of Bitcoin’s total hashrate (the speed at which Bitcoin operations are completed).
Japan got its foot in the cryptocurrency door at the beginning of 2017 when the market in China experienced an institutional and systematic crackdown, with the most potent measure being a ban on all cryptocurrency withdrawals. This caused an increase in Japan’s trading volume, which grew from one percent to as high as six percent.
Cryptocurrency adoption was further amplified by currency turbulence in the country. Quantitive easing lead to extremely low interest rates, which have occasionally even become negative, meaning that it costs an individual to save money. As in China, cryptocurrencies therefore became viewed as a more stable asset than the native currency, so more people have chosen to invest and store their money in them.
The final piece in the cryptocurrency success puzzle for both countries is increasing institutional acceptance. In China, this takes the form of the country’s Royal Mint, which has invested resources and money into digitizing the yuan and promoting blockchain technology. Japan, meanwhile, began accepting payments in stores using cryptocurrencies earlier this year, and its three largest banks — MUFJ, Mizuho, and SMBC — have all backed the country’s largest Bitcoin exchange, bitFlyer.
A Worldwide Revolution
The enthusiasm with which China and Japan have embraced cryptocurrency systems has contributed to their worldwide success. Virtual currencies have become more popular and valuable than the vast majority of people could have anticipated upon their inception around a decade ago. The value of a single bitcoin has risen from roughly $0.00075 to $2,500, and the market cap for all cryptocurrencies has exceed $100 billion.
In addition, while cryptocurrencies may be more stable assets than the native currency in Japan and China, they are not absolutely stable. In fact, they are currently far from it, and though prices continue to rise, rapid drops are not uncommon, and public opinion can have a major impact on value.
Cryptocurrencies are clearly on the rise, and due to their successes, they can no longer be dismissed as a niche monetary system. The pertinent question is will this rise will lead to the worldwide adoption of an entirely new currency and finance system?
China has just launched five “green finance” pilot zones, according to the central bank. The purpose of the zones will be to promote and fund the country’s 3 trillion yuan ($440 billion) war on pollution. Financial institutions in each zone will be authorized to offer incentives such as special funds and credit for environmentally friendly businesses and industries. The program will also hasten the development of green insurance and encourage banks to explore new mechanisms for financing, including water use permits and emissions trading.
There’s been a lot of scepticism about whether renewable energy can produce all our future energy needs. So last week, a Chinese province went out of their way to show it was possible for the entire region to run solely on green energy.
The stunt was part of a trial, conducted by the State Grid Corporation of China, designed to demonstrate that fossil fuels are not required to produce future energy needs.
Between 17 and 23 June 2017, the province generated all its power needs for its 5.2 million residents from clean energy sources, including solar, wind and hydro power.
Shifting the Nation’s Energy Supply
“Being the first trial of this kind in the country and a major step in the transformation of energy supply, it will be of great importance in promoting the use of clean energy in China in a sustainable and effective way,” Quan Shenming, general manger of Qinghai Electric Power Corporation, a subsidiary of State Grid Corporation, said in a statement to the press.
During the week of the trial, electricity use amounted to 1.1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), which would have required about 535,000 tonnes of coal.
Of all that electricity, hydro power contributed about 72.3 percent, while newer energy sources, including wind and solar picked up the rest of the slack.
It’s important to note these figures haven’t been independently verified just yet, so for now we’re taking the State’s word for it.
But, if confirmed, the Qinghai trial supports the idea that the grid will be able to remain stable without needing coal or gas to supply ‘base load’ energy, which many renewable opponents claim. In fact, companies in Qinghai experienced no fluctuation in power during the trial.
The Qinghai province already relies heavily upon renewables and is well-prepared for a future founded on green energy.
Qinghai’s power grid has a total installed capacity of 23.4 million kW, and a whopping 83.8 percent of that power currently comes from solar, wind and hydro power.
Not satisfied with those numbers, the province is continuing to improve their clean energy infrastructure.
“Clean energy is the ultimate way. We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuel, improve our energy structure, and reduce carbon emissions,” Han Ti, vice general manger of Qinhai Electric Power Corporation, told Xinhua.
According to the 13th provincial Five-Year Plan, the news agency reports that Qinghai expects to expand its solar and wind capacity to 35 million kW by 2020, sharing 110 billion kWh of its clean electricity to central and eastern parts of China every year.
By no means is this move to renewable energy confined to the Qinghai Province, either.
The world’s first “Forest City,” created to fight pollution, is now under construction in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province, China. Designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti, a team that develops green projects all around the world, the futuristic Forest City will be home to a community of about 30,000 people. It will be covered in greenery, including nearly 1 million plants of more than 100 species and 40,000 trees that together absorb almost 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of pollutants, and produce approximately 900 tons of oxygen annually. As a result, Forest City will help to decrease the average air temperature, improve local air quality, create noise barriers, generate habitats, and improve local biodiversity in the region.
Now, in a historic demonstration, one of China’s northwestern provinces just ran on only renewable energy for seven consecutive days. The trial took place in Qinghai, the country’s fourth biggest region with a population of roughly 6 million people, and as of May 2017, about 82.8 percent of the province’s 23.4 million-kilowatt capacity was already being generated by wind, solar, and hydro power sources.
According to China’s official news agency, Xinhua, the province received 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity — roughly equal to burning 535,000 tons of coal — from renewable energy sources from June 17 to 23. Of these, 72 percent came from hydro plants, while the rest was divided between solar and wind.
The reason behind the week-long demonstration is simple: China wanted to show that it’s possible to power a province using just clean, renewable energy sources.
“Clean energy is the ultimate way. We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuel, improve our energy structure, and reduce carbon emissions,” Han Ti, vice general manager of Qinghai’s grid company, told Xinhua.
Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, renewables are also economically sound, even more so than fossil fuels. China plans to invest 2.5 trillion yuan (roughly $370 billion) into renewable energy, which would generate more than 13 million jobs according to the National Energy Administration. Meanwhile, the solar industry in the U.S. is creating jobs at 17 times the rate of the rest of the economy.
Truly, clean energy does appear to be the best path forward for both our planet and our society.
China’s central bank — the People’s Bank of China — has developed a prototype of a cryptocurrency that it could end up in circulation in the near future. It would be introduced alongside the China’s primary currency the renminbi (also called the yuan). China will be simulating possible scenarios and running mock transactions using the cryptocurrency with some commercial Chinese banks.
The potential benefits of developing a digital currency are significant, particularly in China. First, it would decrease the cost of transactions, and therefore make financial services more accessible, which would be a big help to the millions of people in the country who are unconnected to conventional banks. Second, as it would be supported by blockchain, it has the potential to decrease the rates of fraud and counterfeiting, which would be of service to the government’s attempts to reduce corruption — a key concern. Third, it would make the currency easier to obtain, which would increase the rate of international transactions, allowing for more trades and faster economic growth.
The Rise of Cryptocurrencies
Since Bitcoin’s humble beginnings back in 2009 (when it was only valued at around 0.0007 USD) the digital currency, and the very idea of cryptocurrencies in fact, has grown monumentally. The total market cap of cryptocurrencies on April 1st of this year was over $25 Billion. A single Bitcoin is now worth more than $2,500. Now many national economies, as China’s plan shows, are considering the idea of developing their own variant.
Although China’s experimental approach to simulate a self-developed cryptocurrency’s usage is the first of its kind, other countries and institutions have made strides in that direction as well. The Deputy of Russia’s central bank has emphatically stated that “regulators of all countries agree that it’s time to develop national cryptocurrencies.” Over 260,000 stores in Japan will begin accepting Bitcoin as legal tender this summer, and big banks like Santander have announced plans to develop their own version.
Rumors that Tesla is looking to establish a firmer foothold in China by building a factory in the region have been circulating all week. First, China Daily shared the news, then both Bloomberg and Reuterspicked it up. Now, the world has confirmation straight from Tesla that the electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer is indeed in talks with local government in China.
Tesla is working with the Shanghai Municipal Government to explore the possibility of establishing a manufacturing facility in the region to serve the Chinese market. As we have said before, we expect to more clearly define our plans for production in China by the end of the year.
Tesla is deeply committed to the Chinese market, and we continue to evaluate potential manufacturing sites around the globe to serve the local markets.
While details of a deal haven’t been confirmed, anonymous sources told both China Daily and Bloomberg that one would be signed yesterday.
By manufacturing cars for local distribution in China, Tesla could avoid the 25 percent import tariffs it currently pays, but the company stressed in its statement that it would continue manufacturing the bulk of its cars in the United States: “While we expect most of our production to remain in the U.S., we do need to establish local factories to ensure affordability for the markets they serve.”
Surgeons in Zhengzhou, China, will soon begin the first clinical trial of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) in the world as they open the skulls of Parkinson’s patients and inject the ESCs into their brains. The goal for the 4 million or so immature embryonic neuron cells to treat the debilitating symptoms of the Parkinson’s disease. After the injections, the patients’ skulls will be closed up, and they will return home to wait and see if the treatment pans out.
A second medical team, also in Zhengzhou, will target age-related blindness caused by macular degeneration using ESCs. In that trial, the ESCs will hopefully replace lost retinal cells.
Both trials signal a new era in stem cell treatments and their regulation in China. Before 2015, China lacked a clear regulatory framework in this area, and this led to various unproven treatments making use of stem cells popping up on the market. The country’s researchers hope to solve this problem through these new regulations and groundbreaking clinical trials like these two.
“It will be a major new direction for China,” Beijing Institute of Transfusion Medicine stem-cell scientist Pei Xuetao told Nature. Xuetao’s position is no surprise, since he is on the central-government committee that approved the trials.
However, the scientific community isn’t entirely unified in its support of the trials, and not everyone is convinced that they will be successful. Scripps Research Institute stem cell biologist Jeanne Loring said she thinks the choice of cell in the Parkinson’s disease trial is not specialized enough to achieve the intended results. “Not knowing what the cells will become is troubling,” Loring told Nature.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center stem-cell biologist Lorenz Studer, who has years of experience characterizing these kinds of neurons in advance to prepare for clinical trials of his own, told Nature that “support is not very strong” for the use of precursor cells. “I am somewhat surprised and concerned, as I have not seen any peer-reviewed preclinical data on this approach,” he said.
However, the Chinese research team is confident about their plans. Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Zoology stem cell specialist Qi Zhou, who is leading both ESC trials, said that the animal trials conducted thus far have been promising. “We have all the imaging data, behavioral data, and molecular data to support efficacy,” Zhou told Nature.
If Zhou and the rest of the team is correct, this will represent a major step forward for the entire world and usher in a new era of stem cell research.
On Thursday Elon Musk pushed back on some of President Donald Trump’s claims in the wake of the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Musk placed the new American stance in the context of the ongoing Chinese commitment to producing clean power in a tweet.
Under Paris deal, China committed to produce as much clean electricity by 2030 as the US does from all sources today https://t.co/F8Ppr2o7Rl
Musk is referring to a set of data on China’s current and predicted performance under the accord, which it has pledged to uphold. This information contradicts some of President Trump’s claims that the Paris agreement gives China a free pass to use fossil fuels.
In fact, China has already been outpacing the U.S. in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. According to The Washington Post, “[E]xperts now predict that China’s carbon emissions will peak, and then begin to decline, significantly earlier than the country’s 2030 target, and the country is investing more in renewable energy than any other nation in the world, pledging a further $360 billion by 2020.”
Impact Of Paris Withdrawal
The U.S. withdrawal will make it harder for the rest of the world to reach the Paris goals, not only because the U.S. produces about 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but also because the nation has been an important source of energy technology and financing for developing countries. The dropping of the agreement will also likely have international diplomatic fallout, as nearly all other nations have agreed to the accord.
Domestic problems may also arise. Corporate America has strongly supported the Paris accord, including tech companies such as Apple, Google, and Tesla, and even fossil fuel producers such as Exxon Mobil. This support is based in the recognition that the U.S. will be less competitive on the global stage when it loses its place at the negotiating table — which this withdrawal may ensure. Meanwhile, coal jobs will not be coming back, and industries like solar continue to grow.
In the end, emissions from the U.S. will keep falling, because the green energy paradigm shift can’t be stopped by a single person or political move. However, in the meantime, the U.S. may miss out on this critical opportunity to invest in renewable technology, and the world will struggle to meet the Paris goals in the fight to save our planet.
The world’s largest floating solar power plant is now online in China. Built by Sungrow, a supplier of PV inverter systems, the 40MW plant is now afloat in water four to 10 meters deep, and successfully linked to Huainan, China’s grid. The placement was chosen in large part because the area was previously the location of coal mining operations; and, as a result, the water there is now mineralized and mostly useless. The lake itself was only formed after years of mining operations, the surrounding land collapsed and created a cavity that was filled with rainwater.
Floating solar plants are advantageous because they put otherwise useless water and land to good use, and the water naturally cools the system and the ambient temperatures, improving generation and limiting long-term damage from heat. They also avoid taking up space in densely populated regions, which is especially an issue in China; the country is currently home to more than 100 cities with populations of at least one million people each. Finally, the floating PV arrays, customized to work efficiently despite higher levels of humidity, prevent the evaporation of fresh water.
China Leading The Way
Although it was once among the worst offenders worldwide in the realm of carbon emissions and climate change, China has turned the page in a serious way. Now, it has become a world leader in the adoption of renewables in its quest to lead the way toward a greener, more sustainable future. This kind of dedication is what each country needs to commit to. As climate change progresses, we continue to see negative trends and changes; the last three years have all set horrifying temperature records. The future of humanity is directly tied to the future of renewables. Fortunately, innovations like the floating solar plant prove that there are almost endless ways to approach the problem in a practical, effective way.
Bitcoin (for its history, see this infographic) has experienced unprecedented success since their domain name was registered on anonymousspeech.com. Monday, it was reported that the single bitcoin hit a landmark point, reaching $2,251.61 dollars, which far exceeds the price of gold. Its exchange rate has increased in 23 of its past 26 sessions. It has been the top performing currency every year since 2010 (besides 2014). By the summer, it will be accepted at more than 260,000 stores in Japan, since it is officially legal tender in the country. The verdict against the Winklevoss Twins to not allow it to enter the U.S stock exchange may, in the wake of this success, be overturned.
All of this seems to point to Bitcoin becoming a currency on par with the Dollar, Pound, Yen or Euro; or — because of its decentralized and digital nature — it could become the global currency.
Why This Might Not be so Great
These figures, however, may not tell us the whole story. “All that glitters is not gold.”
The first thing that Bitcoin will have to do to continue its rise is to become more stable. The reason Bitcoin is so successful is also the reason it could fail. It has the ability to swing and shift extremely quickly: we need only look at when it dropped 15% in a matter of minutes in response to the Winklevoss Twin’s ETF verdict. One key characteristic of a successful currency, rather than its worth as an asset, is stability, which Bitcoin has not yet achieved.
Second, it will need to increase its transaction speed. In comparison with payment processors like Visa, the number of transactions Bitcoin can process is tiny: around 7 compared to thousands. This is because of each transaction has to be validated and verified by an individual due to it being part of a blockchain. And, even though it has the potential to stretch to 27, unless this value is increased there will forever be a serious limitation to how much bitcoin can grow.
Third, these exciting new figures may be artificially caused by an indirect centralization (centralization not through the legal process, but by market means — similar to a hostile takeover of a company). While Bitcoin is an uncentralized currency, if an individual miner (or collection of miners) take control of most of the mining then they are able to abuse the majority loophole, created as a democratic foundation of the currency. This would also allow the individual or group to rewrite the blockchain. As the majority of the miners are Chinese companies, and demand for the currency is increasing in the country due to the value of domestic currency falling, some fear the rise of state control in a system designed to be anti-state.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) just released its coal-fired power generation data analysis concerning China and the United States. The research was intended to enhance understanding of trends in coal-fired power in both countries and provide data upon which to base the analysis.
In the United States, coal-fired plants can shift to natural gas to lower emissions. However, that’s not really an option in China as natural gas is neither as plentiful nor as accessible. Therefore, China has to take a different path to clean energy.
That path begins with phasing out the worst coal-fired offenders. To that end, the nation is retiring older coal-fired power plants and replacing them with newer ones with lower emissions. It is also increasing transparency, providing citizens with emissions-related data and information, ensuring that the entire country remains invested in its energy efforts.
The final conclusion of the report is that China’s coal plan has actually been very aggressive and effective. What’s working for China, however, will not necessarily work for the U.S as the countries are very different.
The U.S. has fewer people, different natural resources, and its own infrastructural strengths and weaknesses to contend with. However, as Vox suggests in its analysis of the CAP research, the U.S. should emulate China’s ambition, if not its actual plans.
China has taken massive steps to reduce its coal dependency even as its demand for power continues to grow. In fact, its aggressive stance against climate change has transformed China into one of the world’s leaders in the fight to save the planet. Its ongoing anti-coal position is yielding real results, even if those results may not be instantaneous. The U.S. must do its part to lower emissions and help the planet recover from the devastating effects those emissions have had on it.
A machine’s computing power comes from its capacity to make calculations. For conventional computers, these calculations are carried out using electronic gates and switches found in transistors. Through the transistors, information is translated into binary code, which is made up of 0s and 1s. All the computing power in the world — from your mobile device to your laptop computer — works using these 0s and 1s.
However, there is a computing system — generally known as a quantum computer — that doesn’t rely on binary. Instead, it uses particles that interact at a subatomic level to translate information into quantum bits, called qubits. These qubits are capable of being both a 0 and a 1 at the same time, thanks to a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.
In short, quantum computers are capable of more sophisticated computations. To demonstrate this, a team of researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) at Hefei in Anhui built the first kind of quantum computer that’s faster than the early generations of conventional computers — which were built in the 1940s.
Pan and his team used their machine to compute photon behavior — a feat conventional computers find difficult due to the unpredictable nature of photons. The results of this boson sampling machine showed that their machine performed about 10 to 100 times than the first electronic computer (called ENIAC) Pan said.
A Case for Quantum Computers
While the Hefei machine doesn’t have much use in the practice sense — aside from predicting protons — it does prove the ability of quantum computers to perform such complex computations. Its sampling rate, according to Pan’s team, was at least 24,000 times faster than its international counterparts. “Our architecture is feasible to be scaled up to a larger number of photons and with a higher rate to race against increasingly advanced classical computers,” the team wrote in their research paper, published in the journal Nature Photonics.
The use of boson sampling machines was first proposed by University of Texas at Austin professor Scott Aaronson. One of its main purposes, he said, was to prove that quantum computers could perform better in a specific area of complex computation compared to other existing types of computers. “Doing so would answer the quantum computing skeptics and help pave the way towards universal quantum computation,” Aaronson said.
This is where the Hefei machine’s value comes in: “It’s a step towards boson sampling with say 30 photons or some number that’s large enough that no one will have to squint or argue about whether a quantum advantage has been attained,” he added. As far as Pan is concerned, in a few years time, their machine would be able to eclipse all of the supercomputers in the world in performing these calculations.
For any manufacturer, one of the biggest overhead costs to consider is labor. But in China, which has been particularly aggressive in their attempts to shift towards automation for better efficiency, a company has found a way to tap into the inherent advantages of robots to address this concern.
Shipping company Shentong Express has managed to slash labor costs in half by using sorting robots developed by Hikvision. In the video below, you can see these robots shuttling around an eastern China warehouse, each one taking a parcel from a human working before it goes into a scanner and takes the package to a chute ready for shipping.
The tiny robots are capable of sorting up to 200,000 packages a day; and because they are equipped to self-charge, they can operate 24/7. To that end, a Shentong Express spokesperson notes to the South China Morning Post that this has not only helped the company cut labor costs by half, but also managed to improve efficiency by 30 percent and maximize sorting accuracy.
Right now, the robots are being used in two Hangzhou centers, but the company is looking to deploy the robots in their largest locations.
The Threat of Automation
Perhaps no other country is more focused on shifting to automation and replacing human workers with machines than China, especially given that the output of industrial robots in the country rose by 30.4 percent in 2016. Earlier this year, a Chinese factory replaced 90 percent of its human workforce with automated machines, resulting in a 250 percent increase in productivity and 80 percent drop in defects. Foxconn, an Apple supplier, also cut 60,000 jobs and replaced them with robots.
To that end, China’s five-year plan is targeting production of these robots to reach 100,000 by 2020. This means that as the world continues to achieve unprecedented levels of advancement in AI and robotics, it will likely cause the displacement of thousands of human workers in favor of automated efficiency. Already, 137 million workers across five Southeast Asian countries are in danger of being displaced by automated systems in the next 20 years.
“Countries that compete on low-wage labour need to reposition themselves — price advantage is no longer enough,” said Deborah France-Massin, director for the ILO’s bureau for employers’ activities. “Robots are becoming better at assembly, cheaper, and increasingly able to collaborate with people,” the ILO said.
Experts are urging everyone to start talking about the implications of automation now — and the conversation doesn’t have to center on how the world can resist automation, but more on how we can embrace robotics and ensure that the human population is not left unemployed. Universal basic income may be the solution here.
While Tindr and other apps might be the height of how technology is shaping human relationships, an engineer in China has taken it to the next level: Zheng Jiajia has “married” a robot he created.
Zheng, an artificial intelligence expert, spent two months “dating” Yingying, who he built late last year. He made their relationship “official” in a simple ceremony with his mother and friends in attendance. Or at least — as official as the government would allow. Local authorities do not actually recognize the union, through the ceremony did follow Chinese tradition.
Zheng’s decision to wed the robot was spurred by mounting pressure for the 31-year-old to marry. Due to China’s one-child policy,sex-selective abortions are common (and preferential to male offspring). China, therefore, has one worst gender gaps in the world. There are 113.5 men for every 100 women in the country, according to the World Economic Forum. That fact, combined with views on matrimony among China’s middle class, is making it difficult for men to find wives.
As for Zheng and Yingying, the first hurdle in their relationship may be not dissimilar from human relationships: communication. Yingying is capable of reading some Chinese characters and images and can even speak a few words. Zheng is already working on an update which would hopefully allow her to walk (as of now she must be carried everywhere), do household chores, and converse at a higher level.
The Future of Relationships
Reactions around the world to this unprecedented union have, of course, been mixed — but its a very clear demonstration of how relationships and intimacy are evolving in the context of advancing technology.
Technology is pushing human sexuality into uncharted terrain. It’s transforming how we express love and intimacy, and holds tremendous potential for deeper emotional and physical connections. While everyone stands to benefit, this is perhaps especially true for those who face sexual challenges due to distance, loneliness, discrimination, or disability.
For many people faced with physical, emotional, and geographic challenges that impact their relationships, turning to technology for emotional and sexual fulfillment may be their only option. And there are a number of options in that vein, many of which involve the use of remote sex tech, such as long-distance kissing devices, VR haptic body suits, or connected pillows for couples who are in two different geographic locations. Other avenues include adult virtual worlds where users create avatars and join in virtual gatherings. Similar to Zheng’s idea, there are also those creating robotic prototypes equipped with the illusion of sentience and human augmentation which provide companionship for human users.
If anything, these emerging technologies are able to provide context for the integral role that relationships play in human interaction. How these innovations will one day shape human connection and intimacy, however, is very much still evolving.
China, being one of the world’s biggest industrial nations, is also one of the planet’s biggest contributors to global warming.
The country’s coal consumption is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, which get trapped in our atmosphere. To date, the country releases twice the CO2 emissions as the US. But it’s something that the Chinese government is working hard to change.
In recent years, the country has made significant strides towards implementing and enforcing nationwide proposals and policies towards minimizing their carbon emissions. For instance, in keeping with the Paris Agreement, China introduced a cap on coal use in the country; they also demonstrated how serious they are about their anti-coal stance by cancelling 104 new coal plants and shifting focus towards renewable energy sources, such as hydro, wind, and solar.
As a result, the country was able to reduce its coal consumption for the third year in a row and establish itself as a global leader in the battle against climate change.
Based on initial data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the country’s coal consumption declined by 4.7 percent last year. The share of coal in China’s total energy mix sits at 62 percent, with solar capacity growing 81.6 percent and wind power growing 13.2 percent since 2015.
China Tackles Climate Change
Back in 2014, China reported that it managed to bring down coal use by 1.28 percent—while it may not seem like a significant number, it’s notable because this was first time coal use dropped in China in this century.
Since then, a trend that saw a steady decline of coal use and CO2 emissions was maintained by China, which they hope to continue well into the coming years.
Their efforts to address the effects of climate change on our environment has “completely revolutionized the prospects for bringing global emissions and bringing climate change under control,” says senior coal campaigner for Greenpeace Lauri Myllyvirta.
According to Myllyvirta, the steady fall of global emissions in recent years can largely be credited to the efforts made by China and the US, who are the world’s leading producers of carbon emission.
In addition, energy demand is no longer tied to China’s economic activity. Combined with the country’s efforts to diversify their power sources and support for renewable energy installations, the country is truly making a mark in the fight against climate change.
China is working to develop a new spaceship that can both fly in low-Earth orbit and land on the moon.
Their announcement comes shortly after the US announced plans to fly two private citizens around the Moon by late 2018, under private aerospace company SpaceX.
China’s spacecraft will be designed to be recoverable, with better capacity than other similar spaceships, capable of shuttling multiple crew members. Spaceship engineer Zhang Bainian, who spoke to Science and Technology Daily, compared the planned spacecraft to the NASA and the European Space Agency’s Orion—a spacecraft equipped for a moon landing operation, which they hope will be able to bring astronauts to space by 2023.
Advances in Space
Despite joining the space race fairly recently (their first crewed mission was in 2003), China’s achievements have firmly established the country as a major contender in the field.
In terms of rocket launches, China has already overtaken Russia in volume and is at par with the US, reaching a total of 22. In contrast, Russia, despite having a long-established space program, fell behind with only 17 launches. According to Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, the US could have achieved more if the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket fleet had not been grounded after an explosion in September 2016.
In addition, China’s most recent crewed mission saw two astronauts spend a month aboard the Chinese space station, with plans for a permanently crewed space station to start operations within five years.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics show a 4.7 percent drop in coal consumption in 2016, indicating that the plan is working already. In fact, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook Report estimates that China’s coal use probably peaked in 2013, and has been falling significantly since that time. China is using multiple clean energy tactics to achieve its goals, and has begun a $474 billion renewable energy program; $361 billion of that will go into renewable fuel by 2020.
According to China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), in 2016 the country more than doubled its solar energy production. By the end of the year, China hit 77.42 gigawatts, allowing the generation of 66.2 billion kilowatt-hours of power. This made them the largest producer of solar energy in the world, at least in terms of capacity. NEA’s development plan indicates that China intends to add over 110 gigawatts of capacity by 2020.
China is also in the process of building the largest waste-to-energy plant in the world. The Shenzen East-to-Waste plant is only one of 300 facilities that generate sustainable energy as they address the mounting waste problem in the world’s most populous country. The Shenzen plant is scheduled to be online by 2020, and although it is not solely a green solution (as it produces some CO2 emissions), given its role in waste reduction, it is part of the overall green picture in China.
China wants to take a shortcut in sending their rockets into space. Instead of the usual take off from the ground, Chinese engineers are working on designing a space rocket that can be launched from an aircraft, according to a senior official talking to state-run newspaper China Daily.
Li Tongyu, the head of carrier rocket development at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, explained that the rockets are meant to send hundreds of low-orbit satellites into space for military and research purposes. The academy’s designers already have a ready-for-production model for a solid-fuel rocket that’s capable of carrying a 100-kilogram (220-pound) payload into low Earth orbit. The designers, however, intend to develop a heavy-duty version of the rocket, capable of carrying a 200-kilogram (440-pound) payload.
“The Y-20 strategic transport plane will be the carrier of these rockets. The jet will hold a rocket within its fuselage and release it at a certain altitude. The rocket will be ignited after it leaves the plane,” Li explained. The country will only consider launching solid-fuel rockets from aircraft, as land-based rockets relying on liquid fuel require days of preparation, according to Chinese experts, and China will continue to rely on conventional rockets for heavier satellites, as well.
Launching in Flight
If successful, China may be pioneering a new method for the country to fly space missions. Air-launched rockets can be deployed more quickly than their ground-launched counterparts, so the method could save valuable time when sending a crew to repair satellites or when launching observation satellites that could assist in relief efforts during disasters. They also aren’t beholden to launch range schedules and susceptible to weather-related delays.
Recently, China has been beefing up its space program. Just last year, the country sent its second space station into orbit, as the Tiangong-1 retired with a crash into the Earth. By April 2017, the Chinese plan to launch their first cargo spacecraft into space with a goal to maintain a permanently crewed space station by 2022. China has also expressed intentions to send a mission to Mars.
Any country’s dedication of funds and resources into space exploration is good for humanity as a whole, so having China making space a priority is great news for anyone interested in expanding our understanding of the cosmos.
Several of the world’s militaries boast some version or another of a trimaran ship. These vessels have three hulls: a big central one up front and two others connected by decks in the rear. This design gives the ships a wider deck, which allows them to accommodate more helicopters and other vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) systems, as well as achieve higher speeds by reducing drag.
Soon, China’s military may have one of the most heavily armed trimarans in production. At the 2017 International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), the country’s navy unveiled a trimaran designed to be used as a naval frigate and export vessel for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The ship would be 465 feet long with a beam of 105 feet and a weight of 2,450 tons. It would support up to two helicopters with hangar space and a landing pad and would be built by the China Shipbuilding Trading Company, who says it plans to start construction by 2018.
Smaller trimaran ships are already being used by the Chinese navy for non-combat missions, such as search and rescue, oceanographic research, and torpedo recovery. Should this naval project push through, it will be the first heavily armed Chinese warship integrated with an electrical propulsion system (IEPS) that can run at high speeds. The massive ship could provide air defense and helicopter coverage for equally fast boats, such as the Type 022 stealth missile and Type 056 corvette.
The vessels do weigh roughly the same, but the proposed trimaran is longer. The USS Independence is faster, but less heavily armed with a single 57-millimeter gun and two 30-millimeter guns. In contrast, China’s trimaran is expected to pack a 76-millimeter gun and four anti-ship missiles.
Because this particular warship will have wider hulls and better stability in high seas, it could be a sign that unmanned and manned aviation might eventually become a bigger part of the Chinese Navy’s fleet moving forward. Indeed, technology is transforming every aspect of militaries all around the world, from their weapons to their soldiers — this Chinese ship is only the tip of the iceberg.
AnBot—a black and white, 149 centimeters (59 in) tall, 78-kilogram (172-pound) security robot that looks like a more efficient R2D2, and a less threatening Dalek—is now patrolling a railway station in China.
This robot, the AnBot, is equipped with a system of four high-definition digital cameras that allow it to move around safely and independently at 18 kilometers per hour (11 mph). The AnBot is designed to help assist passengers passing through the Zhengzhou East Railway Station.
Deployed February 17, 2016, the machine can aid commuters in the station, respond to questions, scan, as well as identify faces, and if deemed necessary, pass these images on to security. The machine’s sensors also allow it to keep track of air quality and changes in temperature. At night, the AnBot can reliably guard the station and alert authorities to possible emergencies, like fires, and recharge itself autonomously.
Developed by the National Defense University, the AnBot was first introduced early in 2016 and was the first security robot to roam the halls of China’s Shenzhen airport, then primarily used for its facial recognition capabilities. Its deployment at the Zhengzhou East station makes it the first security robot to patrol a railway station in China. This development begs the question: will the progression of robots in public spaces make us safer, or just take existing jobs?
Year after year, we witness drones becoming more multifaceted in functionality. From artificial pollination to performing at halftime during the Super Bowl – drones have become just as diverse as the society that created them. This is now truer than ever, as China has recently equipped drones with flamethrowers for the benefit of the public.
A power company in Xiangyang, China has established a hot, new way to clean power lines. Rather than having people try to reach the far corners of the city scraping off caked-on debris that’s been lodged in hard-to-reach-spots, the power company will now have drones perform this task.
While this seems dangerous, the use of drones seems to actually be safer than the previous protocol. Before, maintenance workers would risk their lives to clean power lines, climbing upwards of 10 meters (32 feet) into the air while risking electrocution with each step. While the use of a flamethrower may require more frequent cable replacements, the metal power lines will not be harmed by the flames.
The 11kg drones have officially made their fiery debut, reminding us that while this might mean fewer maintenance jobs, technology, and flamethrowers, can improve safety.
The China Meteorological Administration wants to increase rainfall and snow across 960,000 square kilometers of the country. A more effective way of making this happen that doesn’t involve a ritualistic rain dance? Spending $168 million on cloud seeding technology that they hope will allow them to manipulate the weather.
Here’s how it works. The money will be invested into four new aircrafts, upgrading eight
existing planes, and launching 900 rocket systems that will allow them to sprinkle substances above the clouds that could induce the rainmaking process. These substances range from silver iodide to dry ice. Adding these chemicals into clouds might lower their temperature and speed up the condensation process.
While this method has yet to be scientifically proven, the country claims it has already helped them to increase precipitation by 55 billion cubic meters from 2006 to 2016, especially in the western part of China.
“The […] project is expected to help with “ecological security, water resource allocation, drought fighting and forest fire prevention” in Gansu, Shaanxi, Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, all of which are western regions plagued by water shortages.” reports The South China Morning Post.
Make it Rain
Cloud seeding schemes have been around for years. And theoretically, the method makes scientific sense. However, unrealistic claims regarding its success when it was first introduced prompted experiments with cloud seeding to be regarded with apprehension. Through the years, the consensus among weather scientists was that cloud seeding’s positive results had to be supported with greater scientific data. Ultimately, even with advanced tools and techniques, it’s still very difficult to establish whether weather conditions were prompted artificially or naturally-occurring.
However, this lack of concrete evidence hasn’t stopped people from using this weather modification technique. China, for instance, has used the method to ensure weather conditions for major events like the Beijing Olympics. Back in 2008, China launched over a thousand rockets to release silver iodide over the city sky to clear storm clouds and ensure that the international event would remain rain-free.
To that end, they’re now hoping that the same technique will work to address changes in temperature and precipitation caused by climate change, especially in drought-stricken regions, cities where they need to increase rainfall, or in cities suffering from heavy smog where they need rain to clear the air.
There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding cloud seeding, and scientists are still trying to find concrete solutions in the technique. But continued research into the field will indeed prove to be invaluable during a time where countries continue to experience extreme weather events due to climate change.
China is looking toward more innovative — and in this case, breathtaking — solutions to its pollution problem.
More than eight million people live in Nanjing, the second largest city in the East China region, so there’s hardly any room to plant new trees to combat the city’s pollution. As an alternative, Nanjing is building a vertical forest by constructing living, breathing buildings that can serve to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen at the same time.
This vertical forrest is essentially two buildings whose construction will incorporate 1,100 trees and over 2,500 shrubs and plants. The buildings will stand at 107 and 199 meters (354 and 656 feet) tall, respectively, and they will be functional additions to Nanjing’s cityscape. The shorter tower is being eyed to become a Hyatt hotel, while the taller structure will house a museum, offices, and an architectural school.
Once construction is completed in 2018, the structures will be able to absorb enough carbon dioxide to produce 132 pounds (60 kilograms) of oxygen.
On the standard air quality index, which pegs 60 as “moderate” and anything above 100 as “unhealthy,” Nanjing’s 167 is well above ideal. The city is hoping that the creation of the Nanjing Vertical Forest will improve its air quality.
Two other vertical forests are already in place, one in Italy and one in Switzerland, but this is the first to be constructed in Asia, with additional ones expected to follow in Chongqing, Shijiazhuang, Liuzhou, Guizhou, and Shanghai.
China has proven that it is, in fact, very serious about its intentions to lessen dependence on coal. According to China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), the country has more than doubled its solar energy production in 2016—making them the biggest producer of solar energy (in terms of capacity) in the world
By the end of last year, China hit 77.42 gigawatts, which generated 66.2 billion kilowatt-hours of power. While significant, the figure is relatively small given China’s massive population. And being the world’s biggest industrial nation, this only accounted for one percent of the country’s total power generation. However, given that China is looking to significantly boost its use of renewable power, that number will hopefully increase in the years to come.
Following NEA’s development plan and energy goals, the country is working towards adding over 110 gigawatts of capacity by 2020. With continued focus and effort, they hope to increase their use of renewable power from 11 percent to 20 percent by 2030.
Transitioning to renewable energy will require a significant investment from China, but it’s an investment that China is clearly ready to make. In fact, the country has already allotted $364 billion (2.5 trillion yuan) towards this vision. Since China is such a large producer with such a massive population, this large step towards sustainability will have a tremendous impact. With the ever-progressing repercussions of climate change upon us, efforts like this are what make a green future possible.
China just announced that they plan to release a prototype of an exascale computer by the end of this year. Just to put that into perspective, this computer would be capable of one quintillion (a billion billion) or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second. The machine would technically be classified as a ‘super-supercomputer.’
The enhanced supercomputer goes beyond any technological limits previously set by China. “A complete computing system of the exascale supercomputer and its applications can only be expected in 2020, and will be 200 times more powerful than the country’s first petaflop computer Tianhe-1, recognized as the world’s fastest in 2010,” stated Zhang Ting, application engineer from the Tianjin-based National Supercomputer Center.
To put the performance capabilities of the Tianhe-1 into perspective as well, a single petaflop can compute one quadrillion arithmetic operations per second. An exascale system would be 1,000 petaflops. The only other supercomputer that nearly contains that functionality is China’s Sunway TaihuLight, which can reach up to 125 petaflops per second, it was the world’s first computer to exceed 100 petaflops.
The purpose of China’s exascale computer is two-fold. First, they’re trying to build a supercomputer program that will improve their scientific research capabilities. Second, they’re trying to build an IT industry that’s independent of the U.S.
The Future of Supercomputing
The U.S. has its own plans to develop an exascale system. While China’s release date is set for 2020, and they expect to have a prototype available by 2018, America predicts they will complete their system in 2023. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Exascale Computing Project will completely and utterly revolutionize the research industry. They mention the possibilities as follows:
“At a [quintillion] calculations per second, exascale computers will be able to quickly analyze massive volumes of data and more realistically simulate the complex processes and relationships behind many of the fundamental forces of the universe. Exascale computers will more realistically simulate the processes involved in precision medicine, regional climate, additive manufacturing, the conversion of plants to biofuels, the relationship between energy and water use, the unseen physics in material discovery and design…and much more.”
These predictions are just a piece of what exascale computers could be used for. But if it’s a race between China and the U.S. in their release and performance of exascale systems within the next few years, the U.S. has a lot of work to do.
For now, all that is certain is that the next few years will reveal incredible advances with China’s exascale computing system release. Many say that a computing system at this level would rival the processing power of a human brain at the neural level. And while many are making predictions about the potential innovation that is bound to follow this release, it is impossible to say for sure what could happen. All we can know for sure is that research and science as we know it will be able to grow in ways we have yet to understand.
China is notorious for blocking internet access to many of the world’s most popular websites, including Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. It’s so bad that internet censorship in China has been humorously called the “Great Firewall.” And just like the historical landmark it was named after, the Great Firewall is being extended bit by bit. Now, according to a report by the South China Morning Post, state-sanctioned censorship is expanding to include special cable and virtual private network (VPN) services.
Most mainland Chinese citizens bypass the government’s ban on the world’s most popular websites using VPNs, but now, doing so could be illegal. This ban on unapproved VPN usage is being called a 14-month-long “clean up” of the nation’s internet connections in preparation for a reshuffle of leadership in China’s congress.
“China’s internet connection service market … has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance,” according to a notice released Sunday by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The new ruling is effective immediately and would last until March 31, 2018, to “strengthen cyberspace information security management.”
Major VPN services, such as Vypr and Express, are aware of the new situation, with Vypr already working on ways around it. That might be difficult, though, as the government remains vague about how it will implement these new rules, according to The Washington Post.
The Internet and Global Communications
Though not the first time the country has cracked down on VPNs, this new measure represents a more stringent China when it comes to its citizens’ online privacy and access to information. In a modern, globalized world where access to the internet is considered by many a necessity, China continues to uphold a rather backward stance.
There’s no doubt about how access to the internet — or, more specifically, access to information — can help people form opinions. And, indeed, it has done so in the past. For instance, many believe that the internet and social media played a very important role in the Arab Spring. The recent Syrian crisis is another example. More recently still, information on the internet has helped shape the opinions of many Americans — for better or worse — in the recently concluded elections. Information that comes through the internet is so influential that the proliferation of “fake news” has become an alarming phenomenon, so much so that Facebook was compelled to do something about it.
The internet has become essential to modern life, and there are various efforts to bring access to it to even the most remote parts of the world. The United Nations Human Rights Council has definitively condemned state-sponsored meddling with internet access. Granted, it does take some form of “policing” — usually personal vigilance — to sift through what is and isn’t factual information, but shouldn’t that policing be left to the individual? Besides, it’s doubtful that China is blocking VPNs for the sake of saving its citizens from fake news.
The internet, for all its imperfections, has become an essential avenue for freedom of expression. A state should be concerned with safeguarding the online privacy of its citizens, not curbing their access to this valuable tool of the information age.
Almost three years ago, China declared their intentions to wage a war against pollution – a move in direct response to the dire state of the country’s air quality and worldwide efforts to address climate change. Even now, as the country announces plans to shut down the construction of more than one hundred coal-fired power plants, some of its major cities are still reeling from the toxic smog that blanketed the nation at the beginning of 2017. Around the globe, the very real consequences brought on by climate change continue to be felt.
But with China’s National Energy Administration cancelling a significant number of its planned coal-fired projects, it looks like China is going to make significant strides toward winning this war. According to The RAND Corporation, China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and shutting down 104 coal-fired projects across 13 provinces – which are expected to deliver a total of 120 gigawatts of power – will have a significant impact on their total volume of carbon emissions.
It might actually be possible for the world’s biggest industrial nation to meet its target of limiting coal-fired power generation to 1,100 gigawatts by 2020.
Electricity generated from coal is by far the largest source of greenhouse gasses that lead to global warming; and China, as well as the rest of the coal-dependent countries around the world, have a long way to go. For instance, while the steps China is taking right now are notable, the recent government-ordered cancellations total to only a third of the United States’ massive coal fleet.
Recognizing how coal affects the environment is one thing, stepping up and doing something about it is another – especially if leaders of the biggest nations are not going to make it a priority. But, as we pointed out in a previous report, numerous initiatives are already in place, or are being started, in a global and concerted effort to address global warming. While Donald Trump will be in a powerful position as the president of the United States, even he won’t be able to stop the global community from fighting back against man-made climate change.
Renewable energy sources are becoming more accessible, while awareness regarding the environmental consequences of continued use and dependence on fossil fuel is growing. To that end, high-profile investors are also coming together to dedicate money and time towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Technology designed to provide clean and affordable energy is also on the rise–constantly evolving and improving.
If you’ve seen Rogue One (or any Star Wars movie), you’ve seen how those X-Wing and TIE fighters were able to do those crazy maneuvers in space using just their thruster engines, right? Well, that’s supposed to be impossible in a vacuum. But with the EmDrive (short for Electromagnetic Drive), which is able to generate thrust without needing a propellant, it just might be possible—of course, it’ll need more than just that.
Well, China claims to have been able to prove that it does, and says it’s already begun testing one. The news comes from a government-sponsored article published at the Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, which claims that the country has been doing “key technology research” for five years now into the EmDrive for “possible engineering applications.”
In a press conference announcement, officials from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) confirm that they have indeed developed EmDrive prototypes and have begun testing if the device could actually work in space.
“We have successfully developed several specifications of multiple prototype principles,” claimed CAST communication satellite division head Chen Yue. “The establishment of an experimental verification platform to complete the milli-level micro thrust measurement test, as well as several years of repeated experiments and investigations into corresponding interference factors, confirm that in this type of thruster, thrust exists.”
Also at the press conference, Li Feng, chief designer of the communication satellite division of CAST, explained what exactly it is they’re doing. “This technology is currently in the latter stages of the proof-of-principle phase, with the goal of making the technology available in satellite engineering as quickly as possible,” he said. “Although it is difficult to do this, we have the confidence that we will succeed.”
This would seem to confirm information from unnamed sources which claim that an EmDrive is being tested on its Tiangong-2 space laboratory.
No Real Proof
Apart from these mysterious sources, however, there’s no actual indication that China indeed has a functioning EmDrive in space—especially since China doesn’t exactly enjoy a good record when it comes to trustworthy research. And, Chinese tests or no, it’s certainly not proven that this “propellantless” thruster technology actually works. Despite NASA’s recent publication of their peer-reviewed study, experts remain skeptical about the EmDrive. They are also taking the NASA study with a sizable grain of salt.
This is a violation of Newton’s third law of motion, which says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Action and reaction is a direct result of the conservation of momentum. The violation of such a basic law as the conservation of momentum would invalidate much of the basis for all of physics as we know it. Hence, many scientists and engineers feel the thrust measurements reported for the EM Drive are due to experimental error. Adding to this is the fact that those who believe the results are valid do not yet have an experimentally or a theoretically plausible proven physical explanation.
In an effort to stop the outflow of investments, and at the same time, reduce carbon emissions, China’s National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Commerce have announced a new policy that will relax the country’s protectionist laws for electric vehicles — subject to public approval.
The global superpower has laws in force that require foreign automobile companies wanting to establish a Chinese production base to form partnerships with the local ones, and divulge their manufacturing process. This discourages external competition and protects the domestic manufacturers. But apparently China can’t produce enough EVs by itself, so it’s bringing in foreign companies.
As it stands, the government is rallying for its citizens to make the switch to EVs. China wants to have 5 million EVs rolled out on the roads by 2020, as a measure to combat its massive carbon footprint.
This is backed up by studies which show that “electrification” of automobiles is a huge step towards being green. One of which shows that an across-the-table use of EVs reduces greenhouse gasses by 45 to 77 percent, carbon emissions by 80 to 100%, and air quality.
For a country that has been struggling with carbon emissions like China, EVs could be instrumental in achieving its goals. The relaxation of laws cultivates competition, which hopefully results in more EVs on the road, and more efficient models in the future.
As the latest move in the country’s ambitious military modernization program, China is in the process of developing its first-ever strategic stealth bomber. The aircraft, called the Xian H-20, is expected to be able to deploy long-range weapons — something their current Xian H-6 models aren’t capable of doing.
The Director of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) Expert Consultation Committee, Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, said that the H-20 will be on the same level as the U.S.’s Nothtrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, which was made operational in 1997. Expected similarities with the B-2 Spirit include a subsonic low-observable flying wing design.
Adm. Zhuo believes that all the pieces are in place for this project, as China has gained a working knowledge of stealth technology and heavy transport design, both of which will be useful in creating the H-20. He also revealed that all the weapons that will arm the new aircraft, like nuclear bombs and cruise missiles, are ready.
The Xian H-20 will be produced by Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation, the same company that produces the H-6 models currently in use. Adm. Zhuo noted that the creation process could take a long time, so the bomber might not be in service until 2025.
As the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theaters, and Magnolia Pictures, businessman Mark Cuban clearly knows a thing or two about where to invest money. And apparently, he isn’t shy about sharing his tricks with others. In a recent blog post, Cuban made an investment suggestion to the government.
“If it was me spending the money, I would take 100 billion of the proposed $1 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment and invest it in Robotics,” Cuban says. “I would invest it in the companies that do R&D, software, and design for robots and every other facet of the Robotics Industry.”
Cuban thinks the US is getting left behind in terms of robotics research and development. What’s more, he says, “none of the companies that actually make the robotics are based here in the USA. That’s a problem that needs to be solved.”
Winning the Robotics Race
Cuban seems to think that China is the opponent to beat. He notes how China, according to a recent report, is spending more on robotics than the US — about $3 billion a year. “We need to quickly pass them by,” he says. The Mavericks owner also notes how China, the EU, and Korea offer “billions in credits to support their robotics industry. We spend about $100m. That ain’t gonna work.”
According to Cuban, US “infrastructure” spending should look forward, not backward so that we can be the robotics hub of the world.” He believes the US currently doesn’t have the best robotic technology and the infrastructure needed to enable it. Cuban insists:
Why is this so important? Because technological change always accelerates. It never stagnates over time. Which means we are going to face the fact that if nothing in the States changes, we will find ourselves dependent on other countries for almost everything that can and will be manufactured in a quickly approaching future.
“We have to win the robotics race,” Cuban writes. “We are not even close right now.”
The Transit Elevated Bus (TEB) was unveiled several months ago in Hebei province’s Qinhuangdao City in China. The electric-powered, 4.8 meter (~16 ft) tall elevated bus straddled the road to allow cars to pass underneath it. Its design was meant to ease traffic as well as provide the people of the city an alternative mode of public transportation.
Once a sign of progress in the city, it has now fallen victim to a series of set-backs, mismanagement, and flawed design.
A local reporter followed up on the bus but instead of finding a working vehicle, the reporter found a rusting heap of metal guarded by a pair of security guards who couldn’t even get in touch with management.
It is the culmination of a string of set-backs that befell the once promising piece of technology since its introduction in August. The problems started with the design of the bus. With its vertical clearance just above 2 meters (6.5 ft), it didn’t make sense to deploy it on roads that also allow vehicles up to 4.2 meters (~14 ft) in height. There were also concerns that the TEB would be too heavy on Chinese roads, fearing that it might fall victim to sinkholes. Additionally, there are also accusations of fraud and postponed tests which lead investors to understandably pull their money out of the venture. It now sits on a leased road in the city and it currently obstructing 3 lanes of traffic, much to the irritation of local residents.
Innovation And Practicality
This case highlights a crucial lesson for city planners who wish to integrate new technologies within their cities: there must be a balance between innovation and practicality. It can come in the form small incremental changes to the existing infrastructure like Chile’s solar powered trains. It must also be unobtrusive when deployed so as not to disturb the everyday activities of its inhabitants. An example of this would be Singapore’s Smart Nation Program where a bunch of sensors and cctv cameras were scattered throughout the city allowing it to monitor flood levels, and traffic, among other things.
Hopefully, the local government in Qinhuangdao City is able to learn from this so that they will be able to produce better, thoughtful plans in the future.
The Chinese government is taking a controversial step in security, with plans to implement a system that gives and collects financial, social, political, and legal credit ratings of citizens into a social credit score. The idea itself seems straight out of science fiction, but in a society like China’s, it’s already beginning to take shape.
For a nation that has a more-or-less openly totalitarian approach to governance, a move to install a Big Brother social credit system shouldn’t be surprising. Proponents of the idea are already testing various aspects of the system — gathering digital records of citizens, specifically financial behavior. These will then be used to create a social credit score system, which will determine if a citizen can avail themselves of certain services based on his or her social credit rating.
“China has a long way to go before it actually assigns everyone a score. If it wants to do that, it needs to work on the accuracy of the data. At the moment it’s ‘garbage in, garbage out,’” explained Wang Zhicheng of Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management.
Taking a Cue From Science Fiction
If China successfully consolidates data from around 1.4 billion people into one system, then it’s more than likely that this social credit system will be put in place. Once it does, it’s going to be like an episode from Black Mirror — the social credit score of citizens will be the basis for access to services ranging from travel and education to loans and insurance coverage.
Of course, supporters of this system have their reasons, including developing a unitary system for granting citizen’s access to financial services, given that 1.3 billion Chinese don’t own a credit card. Besides, the government assures that the system would “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” as The Wall Street Journal reports. Which would never work in the United States — Washington, D.C., for instance, would become a ghost town.
But perhaps, in a country where even Facebook is largely censored and internet access is still limited to what the government allows, a social credit scoring system would be less beneficial than it would seem. Certainly, it would grant the government more access and control over the lives of its citizens. And, if that episode from Black Mirror is to be believed, it’s a system that can do more damage than good.
While the middle part of the 20th century saw the world’s superpowers racing to explore space, the first global competition of this century is being set in a much smaller arena: our DNA.
This month, Chinese scientists announced that they have tested the CRISPR gene-editing technique on a human for the first time, and the race is on to hone the new technology. “I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0’, a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States,” Carl June, immunotherapy specialist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told Nature.
But while anyone with a view of the night sky could tell you what the Moon was when Neil Armstrong took his one small step on it back in 1969, not everyone has heard of CRISPR, and even fewer people understand how it works or why it’s so important.
A Brief History of Genetic Engineering
Even if it’s been a while since your last biology class, you likely know that most living organisms possess DNA. These little strands of molecules contain all of our genetic information. They determine what we look like, how our bodies function, and everything else that makes a living thing what it is.
Since the 1970s, scientists have been exploring ways to manipulate DNA. They’ve learned how to cut bits out, put chunks of code in, and generally rework these molecules to suit our needs. In 1974, they created genetically modified mice, improving researchers’ ability to conduct medical tests. In 1982, bacteria modified to produced insulin hit the market, eliminating the need for it to be sourced from animals. And ever since 1994, grocery stores have been carrying genetically modified crops, giving us access to longer-lasting, nutritionally superior foods.
As revolutionary as all this has been, genetic engineering has traditionally been expensive, complicated, and remarkably time-consuming. Then along came CRISPR.
In the late-1980s, scientists noticed little repeating segments of DNA sequences that were palindromes (the same front to back). Their existence was unusual, and they named them “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” (CRISPR). In 2005, a microbiologist figured out that these sequences essentially did for the bacteria what our immune systems do for us: protect against pathogens.
Using CRISPR, the bacteria can snip out a little piece of the pathogen that has invaded its system and store it for future reference. The next time the bacteria encountered that pathogen, it would already be prepared to defend itself. Upon further study, scientists figured out more about how the CRISPR system worked: a protein called CAS9 would make the cut in the targeted DNA after being guided directly to it by a strand of RNA.
Scientists have since found CRISPR in 40 percent of sequenced bacterial genomes and 90 percent of sequenced archaea. It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that biochemist Jennifer Doudna and microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier figured out that they could use this naturally occurring system as a programmable machine to modify DNA. They published their findings in 2012, and by 2013, papers were being published showing how CRISPR could be used in labs to edit genes in humans and mice.
Faster, Cheaper Gene Editing
This new gene editing system was 99 percent cheaper than the existing methods of genetic modification and also much faster — an experiment that would have previously taken a year could be completed in just a week — so once scientists realized how CRISPR worked, they began finding beneficial ways of manipulating the system.
They figured out how to guide the CAS9 protein to the right spot in the DNA to block a gene without cutting it, and they learned how to attach a different protein to the system to activate dormant genes. Some even figured out how to get the CAS9 protein to turn a gene on or off in response to stimuli, such as certain chemicals or light.
The new system was particularly useful for researchers using live mice in their experiments. No longer would they need to spend up to two years modifying and breeding generations of mice until they arrived at those with the perfect DNA to test new medicines or treatment options. Now, they could have their perfect mouse in as little as six months. As Rudolf Jaenisch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told Science, “You don’t need [skills] anymore. Any idiot can do it.”
From Mice To Men
The scientists who’ve since used CRISPR to test their theories on live animals are far from idiots, though. They’ve been smart enough to figure out how to repair the defect that causes sickle cell anemia, cut out the gene that causes HIV, and treat muscular dystrophy in live animals, all using CRISPR.
While animal testing is great for the early stages of research, though, we can never know how a human is going to react to a medication or treatment until we actually test it on humans. An estimated 80 percent of potential treatments fail in people even after they yield promising results in animals. Advances in computer processing and machine learning are improving the ability of researchers to perform in silico clinical trials, but even those can’t yet compete with the real thing.
However, the path from animal to human CRISPR testing has been fraught with controversy. While proponents are quick to point out all the good the system can do in helping us treat and even cure diseases, others are concerned about the possible implications, both moral and practical. A Pew research study this summer revealed that Americans are almost equally divided on whether “[gene editing] is meddling with nature and crosses a line we should not cross,” while only 36 percent thought the societal benefits of gene editing would outnumber the downsides.
Regulations Mount Up
Most of the world’s major governments are erring on the side of caution, enacting series of rules, regulations, and even bans on how CRISPR is used. The United States government currently prohibits funding for gene-editing research in human embryos, so CRISPR researchers won’t be using any government grants for their studies (though some are receiving funds from private donors). Earlier this year, a team in the UK was granted permission to use CRISPR on human embryos, but that’s just one team, it’s only in the pursuit of fertility treatments, and the embryos had to be destroyed after testing.
Some scientists have called for a halt to any CRISPR testing on humans until we better understand the technology, and others warn of the dangers if it falls into the wrong hands. In fact, just this month, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), a group of 18 scientists and scientific policy experts from a variety of disciplines, wrote a letter urging the U.S. government to prepare now for potential future bioterrorist attacks made possible by CRISPR technology.
Others scientists have argued that regulations will leave the U.S. behind countries like Sweden and China in the race to tap the potential of CRISPR, and right now, that latter group is being proven right. With one small trial on a patient suffering from an aggressive form of lung cancer, China has already made the giant leap to human CRISPR test subjects.
Now, the question isn’t so much if the U.S. can win this new global race, but whether or not the country is going to let extreme caution prevent it from even entering in time to compete.