The New Sputnik: China’s Artificial Sun

The New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman argues (in an op-ed piece that you won’t see because it’s behind the New York Times counterproductive paywall, persuasively criticised here by Doc Searls) that what this generation needs is a new ‘Sputnik shock’ to trigger aggressive research and development to deal with the energy crisis that’s going to end life as we know it. He points out the ‘new Sputnik’ (threat) does indeed exist already, and in little pieces:

… our era doesn’t have a single Sputnik to grab our attention and crystallize the threat to our security and way of life in one little steel ball – the way our parents’ era did. But that doesn’t mean such threats don’t exist. They do, and they have a single common denominator: the way we use and consume energy today, particularly oil.

I’m a ‘Sputnik child’, so am especially attracted by such arguments.  As I posted earlier in a commentary about John F. Kennedy’s promise to reach the moon based on things “not yet invented”,

The lunar effort (indeed the post-Sputnik space race from 1957 onwards) triggered a massive investment in science, mathematics and technology in the early 60’s that led directly to the training and (I believe) correlated attitude of the generation that went on to create the Arpanet/Internet, the Mac, the PC, the iPod, Silicon Valley and… well, you can see where this is going…

But Friedman doesn’t go far enough (ignoring that his plea for energy solutions has been argued by others for as long as I can remember).  I humbly suggest that the Sputnik shock is right in front of us, in one big package, as reported here on Xinhuanet:

BEIJING, Jan. 23 —  It was learned from the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) that it will have completed the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) which aims to explore infinite and clean energy resources of nuclear fusion by this March or April. By then, Hefei will become the first institute in the world to have built an all-superconducting non-circular section nuclear fusion experiment facility, which is generally known as an artificial sun.

I have huge difficulty actually believing the Xinhua story, but hey, if it’s true, then we’re into a new era, with China, already developing faster than a speeding bullet, ramping up by several orders of magnitude. Fasten your seat belts. And re-enroll your kids in those physics and mathematics classes!

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