China Wins As We Lose Our Competitive Spirit

Don Tennant

If the world was a playground and all the countries were kids choosing sides for a game of sandlot techno-ball, the United States would be one of those kids standing in awkward hope of not being the last one chosen.


It didn't used to be that way. In fact, in the world where we adults grew up, the United States was invariably one of the captains choosing the teams. Now the team captains are more likely to be China and India, because we've lost interest in maintaining that leadership role.


In fact, we're increasingly losing interest in even playing the game, and there's some irony in that. We adults lament the fact that our kids don't play anymore. We remember the days when we'd be outside until it got dark, choosing sides and playing everything from baseball to basketball to games we made up along the way. We're concerned that now, many of our kids hardly even make it out of the house. And yet we adults are doing exactly the same thing in the world of technological competitiveness.


We find excuses not to play outside, like an overweight child who spends all of his downtime in front of a computer or video game monitor. We blame "cheap labor" from overseas for stealing our jobs and tilting the playing field, and rather than adjusting our game plan to accommodate the reality of a global workforce, we simply take our ball and go home. We abandon the technology profession in droves, and we encourage our kids to steer clear of it lest they suffer the indignity of losing a game to a team we always saw as being in the minor league.


The ramifications of that mind-set are becoming increasingly difficult for us to miss, despite our earnest attempts to ignore them. We've managed to convince ourselves that we needn't care, for example, that China already has thousands of miles of high-speed rail service, while we have absolutely nothing that's comparable. The best we can cite is California's plan for such a service, the first phase of which won't be operational until sometime around 2017.


Now our computer prowess is being trumped, as well. TOP500.org, the organization that tracks the fastest supercomputers in the world, announced last week that China has dethroned the United States to take the No.1 spot:

The 36th edition of the closely watched TOP500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers confirms the rumored takeover of the top spot by the Chinese Tianhe-1A system at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, achieving a performance level of 2.57 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second).


News of the Chinese system's performance emerged in late October. As a result, the former number one system - the Cray XT5 "Jaguar" system at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee - is now ranked in second place. Jaguar achieved 1.75 petaflop/s running Linpack, the TOP500 benchmark application.


Third place is now held by a Chinese system called Nebulae, which was also knocked down one spot from the June 2010 TOP500 list with the appearance of Tianhe-1A. Located at the National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen, Nebulae performed at 1.27 petaflop/s.

So now, we have a choice. We can continue to dissuade our kids from pursuing careers in technology and watch while the rest of the world continues to overtake us, or we can summon the courage and resolve to compete. If we choose the former course, we shouldn't be surprised when the time comes that the world's dominant technology powers are reluctant to choose us to be on their technology teams.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 17, 2010 11:32 AM mataj mataj  says: in response to Don Tennant

Ummm, yeah, well... guess I was overreacting, sorry. Irritating as it is, the issue about kids & technical careers is still pretty much marginal.

The essence of the problem is elsewhere. Basically, it's about human rights and civil liberties. Workforce consisting of people exercising their civil liberties is a bit more expensive, because it's able to negotiate a bit better wages, yet, it's expected to compete in the global market with the workforce without civil liberties. Do I need to say more?

Nov 17, 2010 4:11 PM mataj mataj  says:

Your playground analogy is childish and offensive, to say the least. Making a living is not not a child's play. It shouldn't be too much of a competition either, unless for a top-ranking athletes, of course. Speaking of competition... from the employee's perspective, the only competition that goes on right now is the world's "Who's gonna work for less" championship, aka "The race to the bottom". Excoriate my lack of competitive spirit as much as you will, but this is really not the game I'd want to win. It's just stupid.

"Adjusting the game plan to accommodate the reality of a global workforce", you say. How fancy. Well, OK, follow the rules of globalistic reality all the way then. Be like China, put the Communist Party in charge. USA, China, who cares! There are no teams here. We are all members of one happy global community.


Dissuading the kids from pursuing careers in technology.

Directing kids into specific careers is typical for central planned economies. How Chinese of you!

Nov 17, 2010 7:10 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to mataj

You're equating my stance that we should not dissuade our kids from pursuing a career in technology with a position that advocates steering our kids into a career in technology. That, of course, is nonsensical. And your "How Chinese of you" comment is terribly tasteless. I would suggest to you that there is nothing wrong with being Chinese, and I would encourage you to try to be more constructive in expressing your views.


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