I spent last week in Beijing. The primary reason for the trip was to attend the Computer Innovation 6016 conference, where I gave an invited talk. The theme of the conference, which accounts for its "6016" name, was to reflect on the most significant milestones and innovations in IT in the past 60 years as well as to discuss the trends in the next 16 years.
In my talk, titled "Innovation in the 21st Century," I discussed the major forces driving innovation in technology, business and society, touching on many of the themes that I have been writing about in my blog. I talked in particular about the increasingly open, global and collaborative nature of innovation, a strategic direction that must be embraced and followed by every business and nation that aspires to compete and thrive in our fast-changing world. I also participated in a panel with the other invited speakers where we discussed the major trends for the future and answered questions from the audience for several hours. I was especially pleased to be on a panel with people I have been working closely with over the years, people like Jack Dongarra from the University of Tennessee, Tony Hey from Microsoft and former Director of the UK eScience program, and Ian Foster and Rick Stevens from Argonne National Lab and the University of Chicago.
While in Beijing, I visited IBM's China Research Lab (CRL), one of eight worldwide labs in IBM Research. It was established in 1995 and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and moved into a brand new building to accommodate its steady growth. It currently employs over 150 research staff members, and has a number of joint projects with leading universities and research institutes in China. I was particularly interested in the work on Services Sciences, Management and Engineering (SSME) going on at CRL, because building up this area is one of our top priorities in IBM as is working with universities around the world to help establish programs in this emerging discipline. In Beijing, we are working on SSME with leading institutions, including Tsinghua and Peking universities.
I have been visiting China with increasing frequency over the last ten years, and I am really impressed by the changes in so many dimensions that I have seen over that period. Certainly, the advances in economic development are nothing short of remarkable and the university system is equally impressive. I have made it a point to visit different universities during my trips, and this time I went to the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications where I gave a talk to a large group of students and then had a Q&A session, everything in English with no translation. And, if you’ve been following this blog, you know I have also enjoyed the growing number of good films, and top directors, actors and actresses coming out of China.
Let me close this blog entry with an observation. After I got to my hotel in China last Monday, I proceeded to log on to the Internet, and then finished editing and posting my last blog entry, using my internal Typepad account where my blogs are hosted. I then tried to access my blog using the regular URL and found out that I could not get to it. I was baffled, but after trying to open a number of other blogs, I learned that many blog sites are blocked in China. My blog, and many others, cannot be accessed there. Later in the week, I tried to look something up in Wikipedia, and found that it too was blocked.
While clearly not happy, I prefer to focus on how much water has been poured into the glass, rather than on how much additional water is still needed to fill the glass. China's progress is particularly impressive when one considers what the situation was like just 25 years ago when the country started opening up to the world after the tumult of the Cultural Revolution. Huge progress has been made in the last ten years let alone the last twenty-five.
After my talk at the CI 6016 conference I was asked by an audience member about what advice I would give China so it would be a leader in innovation in the 21st century. I answered that my advice to China is the same as the advice I have been giving my own government in the US. Technical talent is more important than ever, so any country that aspires to a leadership position must invest in education and research. And, as I said in my talk, innovation in the 21st century will be increasingly open, collaborative and global, so it is also extremely important to work closely with and to share new ideas with people and institutions from around the world. In that positive spirit, I truly hope that soon everyone in China will be able to openly participate in the global blogosphere community.