Western governments and that of the UK in particular, could learn much from China's approach to the Internet of Things. But there's just too much disdain about engineering right now.
Engineering and technology are not the best routes to the boardroom or to political careers - or for getting attention at social gatherings for that matter! And scientific or engineering competence is scarce among British Members of Parliament.
Not so in China.
The date 7th August 2009 is one of the pivotal dates of this century. That is when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited a key sensor R&D centre in Wuxi, about 140km from Shanghai. (http://english.sim.cas.cn/ns/es/200910/t20091016_45383.html)
It was part of his series of many inspection tours to over 20 provinces in China with three targets.
- To spread messages of confidence - but what politicians do not do that?
- He wanted to know the real situation,
- He used that knowledge as a basis to search for policy solutions.
That process just doesn't happen in the UK in my experience!
On Wuxi, Wen Jiabao talked engineer-to-engineer to young researchers who had been studying abroad. He grilled them on China's strengths and weaknesses in sensor technology, engaged with sensor demonstrator applications and pronounced that this was the future. That visit was the genesis of the Chinese policy to take a co-ordinated lead in the Internet of Things with the very public pronouncement by Wen Jiabao that “The Internet + Internet of Things = Wisdom of the Earth”
I've heard all sorts of reasons touted as to why the Chinese may not succeed. But looked at in 10 years’ time the Chinese Internet of Things programme could prove to be as visionary as the US putting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon by the end of the 1960s, or Japanese Fifth Generation supercomputer project which caused such paranoia in the West in the early 1980s.
Just look at the backgrounds of China's key leaders. It is led by technocrats and it's salutary to review the backgrounds of China current 9-man Politburo Standing Committee.
China's Politburo Standing Committee
- Hu Jintao (President, Peoples' Republic of China): Graduate in hydraulic engineering, then several years as engineer in the Hydroelectric power industry
- Wu Bangguo (Chairman, Standing Committee of the National Peoples' Congress): Graduate in electronic engineering then over a decade's work as engineer and manager in electrical tube engineering industry
- Wen Jiabao (Premier of the State Council) Graduate and postgraduate in geology, then over a decade's work on geomechanics.
- Jia Qinglin: Graduate in electrical power (electric motor and appliance design & manufacture), then over 20 years in the machine building industry
- Li Changchun: Graduate in electrical engineering.
- Xi JinPing: Graduate in chemical engineering
- Li Kequiang: Graduate in Humanities & Social Sciences, then doctorate in Law.
- He Guoqiang: Graduate in inorganic chemistry, then over a decade's work on a chemical plant.
- Zhon Yongkang: Graduate in geophysical survey and exploration followed by many years in the petroleum industry rising to become, in 1996, General Manager of the Chinese National Petroleum Company.
This list should send a shudder up and down corporate and political spines. If it doesn't then we've got a bleaker future than we think.