Summer in Shanghai

Andrei Marks · March 14, 2009

After the semester is over I will be spending at least a month in Shanghai, at the East China University of Politics and Law. I’m attending a study abroad program run by the Willamette University College of Law. It runs for a month, and it will be a neat six-seven hours of class a day, five days a week. Ouch. But I did that in high-school, so maybe I can do it again for four weeks. The curriculum covers various aspects of Chinese law, probably an equivalent to any Intro to American Law that foreign LLMs are required to take in law schools here in the States. It’s in English, but I’m sure there will still be plenty of opportunities to practice Chinese. During and afterwards, I’ll probably be networking and begging for some unpaid position. Yay?

I’m starting to realize that I would most like to end up practicing patent law. It simply intersects with what I’m interested in (life sciences, biotech, etc.) and will also allow me to spend a significant amount of time doing non-law reading and study. At the moment this is especially exciting because I’ve been going on a binge of technology and H+ reading lately. Which I can afford to do, since it’s spring break this week. Another habit I’ve picked up is downing one TED talk after another. And these are so good that I thought I’d write up reactions to some of them over the next couple days. They’re on the whole very moving and thought-provoking, but some just moreso than the others.

First up is a TED talk by Juan Enriquez, “Beyond the crisis, mindboggling science and the arrival of Homo evolutis”:

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Mr. Enriquez sounds like quite a guy, with some very interesting ideas, and according to the Biotechonomy website (he’s the CEO of that company, an investment firm which funds new genomics companies) he “is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences.”

This particular talk focuses on two “waves” facing America, which he visualizes with Hokusai’s the Great Wave.


He describes the smaller capswell at the bottom of the picture as the current financial crisis, and the giant looming wave as the upcoming technological developments that we have in store.

He begins with a discussion of the economy, and finishes by describing how advancements in cellular, tissue, and robotic engineering will converge and prove a larger problem (or opportunity) in the long term, despite the financial crisis.

On the Economy:

Basically, the story goes: speculative leveraging by banks is followed by government bailouts. Mandatory spending by the government (e.g. entitlements for the American people, interest on the national debt, and so forth) increases every year, and because of additional spending now, it is projected that mandatory spending will take up 100% of our budget in 2017, many years earlier than predicted. He brings up the ominous points of several key Chinese figures who have recently expressed worry about the stability of their investment in the US, and emphasizes that if the deficit isn’t taken care of the dollar will become worthless.

He goes through various budget options that could save the country money. Pushing social security benefits back. Capping medical spending. Lowering military spending. He brings up the example of what happened to Japan, whose companies are now worth one quarter of what they were worth 18 years ago, when they went through a similar financial crisis and did not address the problem adequately.

On Technology:

He segues into technology, saying that while some things must be cut, others must be allowed to grow. For instance, small technology start up companies. He provides an astounding statistic, that such companies receive 0.02% of the investment in the US yet account for 17.8% of output. His pitch is that these companies are the future of our economy.

He goes through recent advances in microbe engineering, advances in tissue engineering, and in robotics. Then he describes applications of these advances to humans, for example the improvements in the field of hearing implants, which will eventually allow for better than normal hearing. He finishes up with a discussion of human-centrism, which he dismisses as a “mildly arrogant viewpoint,” and believes we are already seeing the emergence of homo evolutis, a hominid which takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of the species. Something that will be even more clear for the next generations.

Now, he’s not the first to talk about this future, but it was nice seeing recent developments across the sciences put together. The average person often doesn’t dwell on how fast technology advances, and how it will change societies. They can accept the astounding advances of the last half-century, but think that the next half-century and onwards will be only a souped up version of faster, stronger, smaller, when it really has the potential to far outstrip our imaginations. Mr. Enriquez, I think, does a good job of making that vision of the future more accessible to the layperson.

One of the nice things about studying patent law, or at least this is what I imagine will be nice about it (I’ll have to get some verification of this), is that I’ll be able to keep abreast of technological developments in whatever field I’m focusing on.

So that’s Juan Enriquez. He has another interesting talk that I’ll review next, mostly about a book he’s written called the “Untied States of America.” It concerns the possibility of the break-up of the United States. Not in any doomsaying sense, he just compares trends that have occurred in other countries and trends that are present in this country now, and talks about how they should be addressed. He also tries to disabuse us of the notion that America will last forever simply because it’s America. Right up my alley, in any case, because I can’t stand assumptions about historical entitlements.

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