The tech arms race shaping your future

Ban: Trump (left) has added Huawei to a blacklist. Xi Jinping (right) is fighting back.

Google has restricted Huawei’s use of Android this morning — a huge ramping up of the tech arms race between China and America. The eventual winner could dominate our lives for decades.

“We must make persistent efforts, [and] press ahead with indomitable will,” declared Xi Jinping on becoming president of China. He had a grand vision: economic prosperity, national glory and scientific advances combining to install China as the world’s dominant superpower. He called it the “China Dream”.

Big data, robotics, artificial intelligence: digital tech will shape society for decades to come. As Vladimir Putin once mused, “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

The most recent flashpoint in this technology arms race has come in America’s showdown with Chinese electronics giant Huawei.

The second-largest seller of smartphones in the world, Huawei is one of several companies trying to dominate the roll-out of new 5G networks.

Providing near-instant internet speeds — which could fuel the rise of machine learning, quantum computers, smart cities and self-driving cars — 5G is set to have a revolutionary impact.

“In an age when the most powerful weapons […] are cyber-controlled, whichever country dominates 5G will gain an economic, intelligence and military edge for much of this century,” claims The New York Times.

Therefore, as far as the American government is concerned, Huawei must not dominate.

It has pressured several European allies to bar Huawei’s networks and accused the company of spying for the Chinese government.

Sleeping Dragon

One big question this story begs: can Chinese technology be trusted? Within its borders, a one-party system rules — censoring and monitoring its population in ways supposedly unthinkable in Western nations.

And what of our broader relationship with technology? Artificial intelligence, quantum computers, self-driving cars: they all promise huge advances in living standards. But what are the risks?

You Decide

  1. How worried should we be about technology?

Activities

  1. In one minute, write down all of the words that you associate with China. Share your ideas with the class. What impression do all these words give of the country? Do you think these impressions are correct?

Some People Say...

“My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I almost never lose.”

President Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Huawei will no longer get Google’s security updates and technical support, and any new devices will no longer have apps such as YouTube and Maps. Existing Huawei smartphone users will be able to update apps and push through security fixes, as well as update Google Play services. But if Google releases a new version of Android, Huawei won’t be able to offer the update on its phones.
What do we not know?
How Huawei will respond. In the short term, this could be very damaging for Huawei in Western countries. Huawei is concerned and appears to have prepared for the eventuality of being cut off from American technical support. Earlier this, year it said: “We have prepared our own operating systems — that’s our plan B.”

Word Watch

Xi Jinping
President of China since 2012. As a teenager, he lived in a cave before rising through the ranks of the Communist Party.
Second-largest
Samsung sells the most smartphones. Huawei recently overtook Apple to move into second place.
Quantum computers
A computer which uses quantum mechanics to operate. They are still broadly in their development phase, but they have the potential to be countless times quicker and smarter than current computers.
Smart cities
Computerised cities which respond to data in real time.

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