Published time: 2016-04-12 Source: Liu Ruopeng
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Liu Ruopeng: China Needs to Make Up for Original Innovation

Look around the room, and we cannot help but ask that among all epoch-making inventions, which is invented by Chinese or originates from China? The question is unavoidable.

The past 500 years witnessed numerous innovations in arts and sciences led by Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Few of them came from China or Chinese people. With efforts of the Committee of 100, we hope that Chinese people will be able to contribute once again to the progress of human civilization as an inventor and creator in the next 500 years.

I want to begin with features of new sciences in the 21st century. People used to carefully divide sciences into math, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science, etc. and added up their respective developments to determine how much science and technology developed as a whole. In the 21st century however, it is interesting to observe that due to close connections between physics, chemistry and biology, the important subject of “physics” has largely shrunk and cross-disciplinary and marginal subjects were formed which have become mainstream subjects in the new century. Metamaterials that we are working on is an example of computer science generating the science of materials. Science in the 21st century is featured by the exponential effect rather than the additive effect of combining different technologies in creating new disciplines.

Second, since human beings used to have fewer technologies available as compared to more demands, grasp of one new technology would give birth to a whole new profession or industry. This was especially the case in the US. A significant shift in 2008 was the excess supply of technologies over demand. Scientists and researchers are working hard to find out “what people really need”. When there is a change in technology supply and demand, the process of academics–research–industrial applications must be reversed accordingly. The unmet need for industrial applications should serve as a driving force for making scientific breakthroughs.

Third, China is working on a strategy for innovation-driven development. In general we do need original innovation to meet basic needs. Of course, this has a lot to do with China’s business structure. As companies grow, they will quickly return to the track of innovation-driven development to meet people’s needs. This is true for Alibaba, and for many companies that frequently hit headlines nowadays.

The last point I would like to share with you is that original innovation in China needs to be backed by a strong social consensus on it and a favorable social atmosphere. Take metamaterials for instance. Some people have voiced an opinion that metamaterials were no more than a complicated combination of materials, and doubted that there was any major progress, breakthroughs, or anything innovative coming out of this field in the past few years. What people do not understand is that artificial materials have evolved from those made by bare hands in the laboratory in the beginning, to extremely sophisticated structures that can withstand millions of volts of lightening strike. Metamaterials are sometimes regarded as pseudo-science, and even the biggest pseudo-science in today’s world, regardless of whether it is recognized by the international community or supported by the US Department of Defense. They claim that our Cloud is just a big balloon made by children, and that everyone can fly with it. It would have been an immense blessing to human beings if the Cloud were really something that any child could make. I have also noticed similar opinions towards other emerging innovations from influential experts, scholars and officials. Considering the huge negative impact of such a social atmosphere on original innovation, I would like to call on people who are truly committed to original innovation, for all of you to realize the absence of China and Chinese people in original innovation in the past 500 years, and to support and recognize the enormous efforts required in the innovation process, as it brings about not only corporate growth, but also national prosperity.

Last but not least, I wish the Committee of 100 every success with its seminars and its endeavor to turn China into a truly innovative country.