In a knee-jerk reaction of sorts, last Thursday, the federal government announced funds to the tune of a few billion dollars for the Pacific nations – apparently to safeguard us all from the Chinese threats.
But the government would do wiser to take a closer and much deeper look at China’s game plan for its cities, and its intentions in the sphere of urban planning. Not to say, how China is harnessing technology, from artificial technology to data mapping and beyond, to transform goals into reality. Analysts, seasoned China observers and armchair strategists alike, warn of threats on multiple fronts.
In the beginning it was ABC with its Q & A sessions, where wisdom is scattered like it’s soon going to go out of fashion. The show on Monday was a typical episode. Initially, it starts of an innocuous enough note. Something like technology is beneficial, in the beginning. Then it virtually ends up into a free for all. Good intentions gone haywire or ending up with the wrong guys, call it whatever you will.
A motley crowd of sexologists, tech experts and future spin doctors take centerstage on the show to discuss case scenarios that are no longer the stuff of distant dreams. It’s all about the possibility of artificial intelligence powering wacky attempts to fool around with home-made 3D printed, atomic bombs.
The discussion began with sex robots and the like, and then moved on to China. Pointing out that with a system dubbed Skynet, China can easily scan faces in the billions in a second’s span, the tech expert on the show, shuddered at the advances taking place behind the Bamboo Curtain.
The real danger however lurks somewhere far beyond this scenario. Imagine for a second that Peter Dutton has the technology, and the impact of this technological sophistication when applied to urban planning. Well aware that cities are the hub of economic activity, China is going all out to harness technology for spatial planning, assured that the gambit will yield fantastic results. Compare this with Australia, where diligently hand-coloured maps are still the norm.
In his most recent observations on the transport sector, Mick Daley philosophises that any political announcement about infrastructure can only mean trouble. This is because such announcements are usually delivered by battle-hardened bureaucrats who know their job.
Urban designer Adrian McGregor says that it’s time Australia woke up from its slumber. He should know because two years back, his design studio McGregor Coxall set up shop in China, to design Shenzen city. He feels that world over, the best firms are competing for work in China because of the prevailing competitive atmosphere, and the amazing speed with which urbanization matches the speed of infrastructure delivery.
While the Chinese central government is prioritizing on rail and metro infrastructure, and thrusting focus on their cities, Australia is least bothered about a policy for its cities. Here, the federal government puts the onus on the states, which is not good from the long-term perspective. China takes up regions like the Pearl River Delta, and connects cities there with the help of a fast rail network. This is because they realise that synergy between such cities will give rise to vibrant economic zones, unlike Australia. Infrastructure helps China connect its cities to transport people easily and also to exchange their resources smoothly.
Even as it maintains its leading role in production and manufacture, China is aiming for advanced tech sectors too. They recognize the critical role that cities play in this transition plan. As a result, you’ll see that knowledge industry workers are accommodated in a nearby city with suitable atmosphere and amenities, but with easy access between the two city zones. They’re making it possible by investing heavily in rail infrastructure.
Apart from that, China is also betting big on artificial intelligence (AI). McGregor points out that while the US is pursuing this technology with all its energy, China is giving a good fight in the race to harness AI. Compared to the US and China, Australia looks like it’s dozing away at the wheel, is how McGregor summarises the situation.
According to research conducted by New South Wales University academic, and presented at a Fifth Estate event in Brisbane, this year, Australian professionals are very risk-averse. Christian Criado-Perez explained that despite evidence that innovation will give better results, such people stick to the established norms and practices. But that isn’t the case in China. They enjoy the upper hand.
According to McGregor, the long stint of single-party government at the helm of affairs, absence of democracy, and centralized decision-making, are the factors responsible for the speed with which things happen in China. However, as democracies like India and other south-east Asian countries are proving that they are also capable of demonstrating the ability for quantum leaps.
Among all this debate, how do the Chinese perceive Australia? Well, they consider Australia a safe haven for their hard-earned riches, and live their dreams in later years.
So, how come we didn’t come up with that thought?