Saturday, February 24, 2007

In the technocracy frontiers: lands without land?

Aobayama after the blizzard

Last week I attended a special lecture about science & technology policy in the engineering faculty. To be honest, though the name of the seminar had the word “advanced” attached, the content was basic. In general, it was a depiction of the importance of inventions and innovation in the economic titans’ history, and a description of the tools and principal conditions that made possible their development. As an example, the situation of the digital camera market in Japan was review a little more in detail.

Most of the participants were students from developing countries – Southeast Asia, Middle East, Africa and South America –, two Europeans, and no Japanese. Through the three days of lectures I learned a lot of things, from which I would like to share you a couple:

It was evident that the problems addressed by professors were totally different from those in the minds of the participants: while developed countries wonder why they do not have more and better patents, developing countries are puzzled in how to sort out violence, exploitation and poverty by investing in a field that would not assure profits in the short term.

I understood that the struggle of colonialism has changed the strategies, although territories are the same, more concretely around the issue of brain drain. It is just natural that a skillful person unable to develop her/his capacities inside its mother land, to move a place where she/he actually can. The outer way around would be nonsense. However, in making this trend to broad instead of reverse is one of the colonialist tensions of our days. The prophets of globalization devote themselves to let us think that we are practically anywhere but, at the end, what actually happens in our territories and the people around us is what really matters. A question I made to one of our colombian classmates summarizes my point: if you find yourself compelled to work as a professional in US, for example, and after a long time it is not possible for you to go back to your country, would you still be a Colombian? Would your children be Colombian? Or did the Government of Colombia nurture Americans in its territory?

Of course, it is not to blame my dear classmate, who is only pursuing his dreams. But who mold those dreams? Someone, notably my classmates, would quickly finger fragile governments and its corrupt practices, and might them have part of the problem, but who supports their corruption? Who makes those countries failed? Do themselves support a consequent view of their territory? Do they mind the diaspora? To make them go back or to improve their dissemination?

Nonetheless, these are just early questions of a study afternoon.

Another anecdote to close. When the history of technology and economy is revised after middle ages, the most prominent star is the British Empire. Several reasons are argued for this distinction, but one of them specially caught my attention.

According to the professor, Europe was hit tougher by wars compared to China, empire that leaded the world science and technology trends for most part of its history, and, thus, more pressured to new inventions that seeded industrial revolution. But my impression from China’s history is far different: only by blood could that empire be united, many the internal fights for power and heavy the attacks from the north. So the explanation should be somewhere else.

It is a fact that by the same time the first signs of bloom started to emerge in Europe, motivated by Mongolian pressure, the Chinese decided to resume an old project to confront the menace: to build a wall. It is not hard to imagine the amount of manpower and resources that the entrepreneurs needed for such venture, while the path remain cleared two hundred years for the much more practical western slaughterers. So not the incidence of wars, but a technological bet of the Chinese politicians of those days may be the real reason around this chapter of history.

The above, again, just a lucubration. But if the great wall comes to be a monument for a defeat, in the sense above argued, I wonder if one of the coming walls, that in the middle of a dessert in the north of American continent, is not another sign. Time will tell.