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.