To Build a Better World: Two Stories and Two Values
On 4th March 2023, Mr. John Wu opened his speech with his observations and discussions with the number of computer engineers, programming languages, and Chinese engineers in the IT field. He later discussed the number of computer engineers worldwide, which figure is 26 million, with more than 6 million in mainland China, which surpasses the number in the US and India. John Wu noted that China and India account for 67% of the world's software engineers, making them the largest.
Mr. Wu then talked about the number of computer languages, around 707. The high number of programming languages is due to different needs for different applications and the gradual improvements of hardware. Each application requires various tools and languages, hence the need for more than 700 languages. Furthermore, every language requires a compiler, software that translates language into machine language. Writing a compiler is the most challenging software program in the field.
Mr. Wu then highlighted the prevalence of Chinese engineers in IT, accounting for 40% of the world's designed and programmed software. He questioned why there aren't any Chinese or other Asian engineers on the top 10 greatest computer engineers and programs in the world list. Besides, it is worth noting that none of these 700+ computer programing languages were designed by a Chinese engineer, leading to the speculation that Chinese engineers may need to be more vital in fundamental research and innovative 0-1 breakthroughs. While the absence of a Chinese-designed programing language may imply a lack of breakthroughs, it is essential to approach this caution and consider other factors. He later cautioned against making assumptions based on race regarding intelligence. The Bell Curve, a controversial book published in the 1990s, used data to argue that there are racial differences in terms of pure intelligence. Still, it's important to remember that intelligence is a complex and multifaceted concept that a single test cannot accurately measure.
Notably, out of the 5 million competitive computer engineers in America, about 20% may possess specific attributes commonly associated with Chinese individuals. When discussing countries like China and Singapore, topics such as philosophy, literature, and history are often emphasized, highlighting the importance of knowledge, and understanding past events. However, workforce engineering, mathematics, physics, and chemistry are also crucial. He pointed out that the Asian medical system is also performing exceptionally well, surpassing the American system.
Two Stories and Two Values
Regarding intelligence and education, two stories can shed light on the issue. One story involves a brilliant and talented computer scientist who has achieved significant success throughout his career. Despite this, he encountered internal politics at his former company and decided to leave the academic field to become an investor. The second story involves John Wu himself; he started his education at Shanghai Jiaotong University and studied computer science at the University of Michigan. After working for companies such as Oracle and Yahoo, he was recruited by Jack Ma and became the Chief Technology Officer of a successful company that went IPO in 2008. However, he eventually transitioned to become an investor.
These stories illustrate that some Chinese individuals who start as successful engineers or researchers may eventually leave academia or the craftsmanship of their field to pursue other opportunities, which is likely influenced by the value system of Chinese culture, which is highly secular and places great importance on practical success. Despite this, the culture still values education and knowledge in philosophy, literature, and history.
Mr. Wu then elaborated on how Chinese people or other Asians measure success by secular standards. One measure is the level of one's position in government - the higher the position, the more successful one is considered. Another measure is how much money one earns in business and how close one is to successful businesspeople like Jack Ma. These are the secular standards people use to measure success. The reflective appraisal is the psychological term for how Asian measure themselves based on others' opinions, which is common in Chinese culture. However, in the West, success is often measured differently. Religion is one way to measure success, focusing on being a good person and getting closer to God. Another way is self-appraisal, which measures how much joy one experiences in activities like science. Critical thinking is highly valued in the West, and failure is often tolerated as it can lead to new discoveries.
It brings out several potential solutions to improve the current situation in China. One is to change the education system to promote critical thinking and self-appraisal. However, this will take several generations to achieve.
Another argument Mr. Wu presented is that the current situation may be acceptable, as globalisation allows countries to specialise in different areas. For example, Chinese entrepreneurs are skilled at scaling manufacturing to achieve economies of scale, while Westerners are often more innovative in fundamental research. By working together, the US and China can create a perfect partnership where the US can focus on breakthroughs while China focuses on manufacturing and scaling. Finally, other countries can participate in globalisation by specialising in areas such as natural resources or tourism.