Hopefully reality has set in. Donald Trump seems to be coming more irrelevant with every passing days of angry tweets and political posturing. He really doesn’t know how to play this game! What has he really accomplished? So November is slowly approaching and now he is talking about bombing North Korea? Maybe this will save his presidency, but God help us all. And now to world affairs and how squelching internet freedom from our friends in China and Russia will make us all better world citizens.
Let’s just talk about China as an example, but I know Trump has great friends in Russia as well, but that may evolve into a more continuing geopolitical saga (can’t get enough of that Vladimir Putin!). “China’s great firewall, a massive system of Internet filters and blocking, has long had a crack in it. The firewall prevents most users inside China from accessing platforms outside the country, such as Facebook, Google and Netflix. In keeping with China’s desire to censor what can be seen and read. But popular software known as virtual private networks, or VPNs permit a user within China to tunnel through the firewall. Now the crack is gradually being cemented up.”
Unfortunately, I believe Trump wants to emulate these totalitarian laders, and make Internet freedom a nostalgic fantasy in the U.S. Please don’t let this happen!
I was in Vietnam about this time last year. President Obama also happened to be in Hanoi at the same time, working to enhance America’s internationally presence and improve trade relations with twelve Pacific Rim partners. Vietnam and the other countries rejoiced at his arrival after a torturous past of wars and corruption that was crippling the economies of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Obama helped broker the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Many trade experts saw TPP as the single most valuable tool America had for shaping the geo-economic future of the region our way and for pressuring China to open its markets.
TPP also included restrictions on foreign state-owned enterprises that dumped subsidized products into our markets, intellectual property protections for rising U.S. technologies – like free access for all cloud computing services. Like any trade deal, TPP would have challenged some U.S. workers but it would have created opportunities for many others, because big economies like Japan and Vietnam were opening their markets. For decades we had allowed Japan to stay way too closed because, because it was an ally in the Cold War, and Vietnam, because it was an enemy. Some 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners were coming into the U.S. duty free already, while our goods and services were still being hit with 18,000 tariffs in their countries – which TPP eliminated.
We could have even helped the economic reformers in China. They were hoping that the emergence of TPP “would force China to reform its trade practices more along American lines and to open its markets . . . We failed the reformers in China.”
P.S. Happy Fourth of July weekend. Enjoy. Back on Wednesday, July 5th.
So it’s only a game as they say, but the geopolitical implications seem obvious. This board game is called Go and I have seen it played in parks around Hanoi, but please don’t ask me to explain it. But I will quote from a article by a Hong Kong reporter that might help shed some light. “Go, in which two players vie for control of a board using black and white pieces called stones, is considered complex because of the sheer number of possible moves. Even supercomputers cannot simply calculate all the possible moves, presenting a big challenge for AlphaGo creators.” But AlphaGo developers did accept the challenge and created the software that makes this game available online.
So far, AlphaGo seems to be the undisputed “artificial intelligence” champion, only being beaten once by South Korea”s Mr. Lee. China’s Mr. Ke seems more resigned to only playing against human opponents. He noted that he would focus more on playing with people saying that the gap between humans was becoming too great. He would treat the software as more of a teacher, he said, to get inspiration and new ideas about moves. Or maybe he should say that he has finally met his match, but when his “match” is basically artficial intelligence, it just may be too hard to admit defeat by a software program? Somehow this all sounds vaguely familiar, like Dr. Frankenstein being outsmarted by his own “monstrous” creation.
AlphaGo is also demonstrating an ability to learn from its gaming experiences. It is not just calculating moves, but learning from its own experiences. That is something that we can all benefit from, so that we can remain smarter than our machines, I hope.
P.S. Happy Memorial Day weekend. Be back on the 31st.
Maybe mobile phones will finally bring the dawning on the new Age of Aquarius. We used to think that transcendental meditation would do that for all of us, but the answer may be literally in the palm of our hands. Who would have ever thought that Communist China would now be opening its economic doors and welcoming America’s iPhones to compete in their domestic marketplace. I guess we can all thank the Beijing Intellectual Property Court for revoking a ban that prohibited such sales. LET THE SUNSHINE IN!
The Beijing Intellectual Property Court ruled that the regulator, the Beijing Intellectual Property Office, had not properly followed procedures in ordering the ban while there was no sufficient proof to claim that the designs constituted a violation of intellectual property rights. Those required procedures will get you every time. I guess we all have to wait until a legal battle between some high-powered attorneys from both sides settles this issue in court. But I am not sure how this all happens in China when, in this case, the government’ s Intellectual Property Court has ruled that its own government’s Intellectual Property Office had “not properly followed procedures”?
Soon there will be Apple Stores all over China, and there may even be some stores selling iPhone copies. Just a guess on my part. )
Sad, but true. Now I don’t know if Confucius ever said that, but it seems that many American inventors and entrepreneurs developing innovative technologies for the U.S. military are finding more support from Chinese investors than from the Pentagon. For example, Neurala, a Boston start-up that makes robots and drones got little response from the American military when it needed money. But it landed an investment from a state-run Chinese company.
Beijing is encouraging Chinese companies with close government ties to invest in American start-ups specializing in critical technologies like artificial intelligence and robots to advance China’s military capacity as well as its economy. The size and breadth of these Chinese-U.S. deals are not clear because start-ups and their backers are not obligated to disclose them. Over all, China has been increasingly active in the American start-up world, investing $9.9 billion in 2015. Chinese investors have money and are looking for returns, while the Chinese government has pushed investment in ways to clean up China’s skies, upgrade its industrial capacity and unclog its snarled highways.
I bet that Donald Trump could personally help Neurala and other American technology start-ups, and make America Great Again. Save U.S. budget dollars by NOT flying his whole family around the world and NOT going to Mar-a-Lago every weekend. Maybe he too could begin investing in America’s future, just like the Chinese!
Unfortunately, the censorship of apps on the Internet is a much easier tool for repressive governments to apply. In countries such as China and Russia, it is like a return to the “good old days” when books were banned by totalitarian governments or local authorities and other self-appointed censors. It seems like censoring apps can be done in a very effective and efficient way if any government so chooses. Banning an app from an App Store is like shutting down the printing press before the book is ever published. If the app isn’t in a country’s App Store, it effectively doesn’t exist. The censorship is nearly total and inescapable.
In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove the New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store. Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the networks declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country. Finally, two weeks ago, a Chinese regulator asked App Stores operating in the country to register with the government, an apparent precursor to wider restrictions on app marketplaces.
Decentralized communications was once a central promise of the Internet. Not any more. Big brother may be watching, and blocking.
Google is really just one of over a hundred websites blocked in mainland China. How do I know this, besides reading about it in the New York Times? As I mentioned in previous posts, I landed in Guangzhou, China, in flying to and from Hanoi over the past two months. I politely told one of the hostesses in the airport travelers’ lounge that I was unable to connect to Google, and received a very terse reply, “No Google.” Once over the border into Vietnam, I again became part of the Internet world, or at least to that part of the connected world where I spend a lot of my time.
I only revisited this topic in reading the Times’ article this week about China’s Internet Czar, Lu Wei, “stepping down” from his post. He had visited the U.S. this year and met with some of Silicon Valley’s giants such as Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg (I think he even wore a tie for the occasion). The Times article describes this leadership change as “a surprise move, but unlikely to signal a change in restrictive digital policies.” As for Mr. Wei, please don’t worry too much. China experts predict that he will likely end up getting a promotion in another area of the bureaucracy. It’s not uncommon for these important positions to be moved around frequently. Not exactly like the “up or out” policies in many other workplaces around the world.
What will happen next in terms of China’s digital policies is really anyone’s guess. Now if you had access to Google, you could probably just type in “social media in China.” I just did and got “very local and fragmented.” I guess that’s it, for now?
Well I guess you can’t have everything, especially if you live in China. I really didn’t know this myself (a little hyperbole), but when I was traveling back and forth to Vietnam over the past two months and stopped in Guangzhou, compliments of Southern China Airlines, I eagerly took my iPad to the airport lounge hoping to connect with family, friends, and colleagues to update them on the status of my travels. After a few unsuccessful tries on my own, I went to the “reception” area and learned the sad news: no Google in China!
Maybe I am not being completely fair since I only had a very small sample of government censorship in this part of the world. I’m sure that there are some clever Chinese who have found a “work around” to this internet service blockade, but I really did not spend enough time there to find out, and what if I did? Oh yeah, China is also building supercomputers, and they are the biggest and fastest in the world. They can now claim global superiority in this area after being fourth in the world only ten years ago. The United States had been the world leader for all the years before.
Now when you go to China, skip the Great Wall! I’m sure that you will be equally satisfied with seeing one of these modern wonders in action, supercomputing like nobody else can.
I think I’m still a little groggy from my air travel starting in D.C. through China and down to Hanoi. I arrived here nearly two days ago and managed to meet with some of the senior staff of the company sponsoring my trip here. Fortunately I did not have to make any formal presentations at this time, but starting tomorrow I will be meeting with Ministry officials who oversee various national educational programs including educational technology. I have prepared some more formal presentations for several meetings over the next two days. But I think you might be interested in learning how this all came to pass, I hope. I have now been retired from government service for nearly two years.
I received this travel invitation via email less than two weeks ago. During the time I was working in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Departmen of Education I was fortunate enough to become the international liaison person. This was pretty much by default since I may have been the only person who was that interested in doing it, so I eagerly assumed this role. Consequently, I had the opportunity to meet with numerous international visitors and more formal foreign delegations who were interested in learning more about the implementation of educational technology programs in American schools. One of these visitors was Mr. Kim with the Ministry of Education and Training in Vietnam. So nearly five years later, he is in a position to extend an invitation to me to visit and advise he and his staff on their work in educational technology across different educational levels. I gladly accepted his kind in invitation.
In flying over here, I also experienced some of the “politics” of international access to the Internet. As I already mentioned, I did have some lay-over time at an airport in China. I was looking forward to catching up on my emails while we were on the ground. In China, however, as you may have read in one of my recent posts, Google’s gmail and other features are currently inaccessible. I have read that Google and the Chinese authorities are currently “negotiating” how this situation can be resolved. I’ll soon find out when I fly home in three weeks.
Digital disruption strikes again! FinTech may actually result in a thirty percent reduction of the banking workforce. What exactly in FinTech after all. Sorry to make this so melodramatic, but I think the term itself, FinTech, conjures up images of sea monsters invading the mainland and seeking out victims on the streets of big and small cities around the world. Those victims may actually be the current workers in the banking industry in the U.S. FinTech has already had some great success in Asia, particularly in China, but what exactly is it?
It’s the technology, my friend. In this case, let’s call it “digital disruption.” It has been predicted that the number of employees in American banks will drop to 1.8 million people in the year 2025, down from 2.8 million last year and 2.9 million before the financial crisis. An even sharper drop of 37 percent is predicted for Europen banks. Tech start-ups will be taking the place of thes institutional giants. So far most of this activity has been in the areas of online lending and payment transactions.
So goodbye, Mr. Pennington, our family’s friendly and helpful banker at Riverside Trust. He would give us free candy when we actually walked into his bank, and we were proud to have his bank’s name emblazoned on our Little League uniforms. I guess you could still put “FinTech” on those same uniforms, but I am not sure anyone would know what it was, and we would have to find those places in America where they still play Little League baseball.
So this past week and a half I have written about government intervention in the operations of Facebook in India and Egypt. Now it looks like we have a trifecta with China’s regulators raising new questions about Microsoft’s business practices there. Of course, we do not yet know what those questions may be, but I am sure that Bill Gates and company are not looking forward to being on the answering end. Over the past several months Microsoft has appeared to have mounted a charm offensive, such as hosting a prominent meeting of Chinese and American tech leaders in Seattle in September. During that meeting, Microsoft announced several partnerships including a cooperative effort with the China Electronics Technology Group (mostly in support of the Chinese military).
Interestingly, the PC maker Dell has now begun shipping more machines to China that come with a Chinese-made operating system, NeoKylin, installed on them. Some experts have termed this Chinese strategy as “de-U.S.A” in an effort to dethrone Windows from PCs in China. In 2004 Chinese officials with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce stormed four Microsoft offices in China, questioning executives, copying contracts and records, and downloading data from the company’s servers, including email and other internal communications.
Maybe this is all about how businesses operate in two very different economic systems, capitalism vs. communism. No one can really be sure how this will all end, but clearly China is not ready to experiment with free enterprise, preferring to play by their own “rules?”
I guess the answer is obvious. Whether online or on paper, propaganda is what it is. Not a genuine exchange of ideas, but simply a reporting what is the “party line” in order to preserve the power of political leaders wherever they may be. Some online course providers in the United States, including edX and Coursera, have decided to bring these offerings to millions of users.
Take your pick. For example, among the course offerings from China, would you like to start with an “Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought,” or would you prefer “Will China Rise as a Disruptive Force? The Insiders’ Perspective.” The second course choice is really intriguing, because I think I already know the answer, but if you are really interested, please feel free.
No pun intended, but these courses are not always FREE. In true capitalistic tradition, if you would like to get a certificate of completion from some schools you will have to pay a prescribed fee. Funny, I always thought propaganda was free, but I guess you really need some renumeration if you are trying to sell “soft power.”