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As long-term readers will be aware, I am working on two big projects: A book on myths about Russia, and a website specializing in translating articles from the Russian press into English.

(The idea being that even if it does nothing else, Western institutions will no longer be able to credibly say Russia’s level of media freedoms are on par with Zimbabwe’s).

While the preliminary name I’m going with before the site is unveiled is “Russia Voices”, this is far from set in stone. First, it would sound better as “Russia n Voices.” Second, a Voice of Russia already exists. Maybe there is a better alternative? I would appreciate it if you could vote on and provide feedback on other possible names for this site.

Update: Guess there’s no longer a need to keep the poll running. It’s already clear that Russia Voices is the only one of the original suggestions with any support. The majority of you think that it needs to be something else.

Russia Voices (russiavoices.com) 4
Russian Points of View (russpovs.com) 2
Press of Russian Federation (pressrf.com) 1
Other 12

Please feel free to make your own suggestions. Note that the .com hyperlink has to be available for a name to be seriously considered. Thanks.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In the Japanese TV series Dennō Coil, people wear Internet-connected augmented reality glasses and interact with a world that is now split between the real and the virtual. Citizens and netizens become one. The story is set in 2026, some eleven years after the introduction of this technology.

Considering that this series was first conceived of in 1997, the dates are remarkable accurate. Recently it was revealed that Google is working on a “Project Glass” that will become available to consumers for a cool $1,500 from late 2013 or early 2014.

Needless to say the usual cynics and technophobes have been making fun of the idea, going on about the ethical problems of facial recognition, announcing they will boycott the technology (yeah right), etc. I am unconcerned with all this. As with other mega-trends like global demography or climate change, contrary opinions are like a flimsy shack against an advancing tide, in other words, irrelevant. Fortunately, for the most part, technological revolutions increase wellbeing and are useful anyway.

In my opinion, the decisive technological development of the 2000′s was the mass proliferation of cell phones. In the late 1990′s, only a small percentage of people in developed countries had access to them, as well as a handful of businesspeople and high officials in the developing world. Today they are ubiquitous with global penetration at over 70%. Apart from making people much more connected – I can barely remember the days when one actually had to make strict appointments in advance – the sector also powered a mini-economic boom for both designers (Nokia, Samsung, etc), their manufacturing contractors in China, and the ecosystem of app developers they spawned in places like the Silicon Valley.

The augmented reality eyeglass revolution will be of similar or even greater scope. What is now almost unheard of outside the techosphere will begin to break out into the public consciousness by the mid-2010′s; substantial numbers of the global middle class will start wearing them by the late 2010′s; and by the mid-2020′s, this will be a thriving global industry with tons of spinoffs and applications. So much so that a proper name will surely have to be found for these glasses. Intelligent glasses? AReyes? Thinking goggles? Denno glasses? I like the sound of the last one so I’ll be using it until the term catches on or another replaces it.

The historical penetration of cell phones. I suspect denno glasses will follow the same trajectory, plus two decades.

Anyway why exactly do I think they will be so revolutionary? Simply because of the absolutely seamless and compact way they will integrate with and augment everyday life and the other aspects of Internet features (Google Search, Wikipedia, social networks, etc) that already enrich it. Here is a list of how different activities will change:

(1) Facial recognition. Have you ever had this awkward situation where you meet some person (or worse romantic prospect) whose name you can’t quite recall? No more problems as long as they are plugged into Facebook, Google+, etc. Facebook already has fairly good face recognition technologies as per when you tag photos so integrating this with denno glasses will be a breeze.

(2) Social networking. Which leads us to the next big revolution – meeting someone, and having a list of relevant information appear beside his or her name. This will be highly useful as it will enable one to better optimize their social interaction. Privacy concerns are irrelevant; the technology doesn’t cardinally change anything in this regard, it only makes the process of recognition and information gathering far quicker and more efficient.

(3) Geolocation. So you find yourself hanging out by yourself? The world is a small place. Quite possibly some of your friends or acquaintances may be nearby; you will know if they choose to switch their locations on. This possibility already exists on smart phones but you actually have to bring up the program which is a spot of bother and the main reason I rarely use the feature. But if this feature is literally staring in your face all day…

(4) Translation. Text is a breeze: Just look at something, and Google Translate will give you the general gist of it. Same goes for Chinese Hanzi for which as I mentioned there already exists instant translation software on the iPhone. Speech recognition will create more trouble, as machines will first have to transcribe it into indigenous language text before spitting out the appropriate translation. This will require half a decade to a decade of tweaking to perfect. Nonetheless, denno glasses may well be the greatest technological aid to learning foreign languages since the invention of alphabets.

(5) Livestream your life. Not the kind of thing I would do, at least unless I’m doing something very cool like shredding snow on a double diamond or picking up an HB10, but if it floats your boat why not?

(6) Cloud memory. Have a great view that you want to take a picture of? Get an original thought that you will soon forget if you don’t jot it down in your Moleskin? Denno glasses can record both.

(7) Events. Concerts, wine tastings, friends’ birthdays… all in very close proximity.

(8) Real time performance monitoring. Get an instant heads-up display of heart rate, distance covered, calories burned, etc, etc, with just a couple of sensors attached to your body. Needless to say, this will also allow perfect performance tracking. This is extremely important because monitoring yourself improving is very inspirational when losing weight, getting big, etc.

(9) Learning. With the advent of Internet technology, cognitive patterns are changing. Older people have wonderful memories; younger people are much better at recalling how to access a piece of information, as opposed to actually committing it to memory. Neither method is superior to the other – they are products of different technological environments. Denno glasses will put the final nail in the coffin of the old, memory-intensive way of thought. But they will also be of great practical help. Learning to drive a car? Fly a helicopter? Denno glasses can actively give you hints and solutions just as happens in the tutorial modes of video games.

(10) Knowledge. If Wikipedia is a single voice command away…

(11) Gaming. This is going to be huge. Imagine what you could do if you could populate the real world with virtual objects that can be perceived with denno glasses. Create a real life Stalker simulation in the shadows of Chernobyl. Organize Western-style shootouts in the dozens of abandoned dustbowl towns of inner California. Instigate a zombie outbreak in New York or Los Angeles. (That might not be such a good idea actually what with the potential for car accidents…). This is coming soon:

So what should gamers expect from the final Oculus RIFT product? “Imagine an HMD with a massive field of view and more pixels than 1080p per eye, wireless PC link, built in absolute head and hand/weapon/wand positioning, and native integration with some (if not all) of the major game engines, all for less than $1,000 USD. That can happen in 2013!”

Still, I see the emergence of numerous “game arenas”, in the style of paintball areas: Just bring your denno glasses, pay for day access and (electronic) gun rent, and off you go! Once people (virtually) die, the HUD can start representing them as translucent “ghosts” to avoid confusion. Similar games already exist for smartphones like Zombie, Run! but with denno glasses the feeling will be much more… visceral.

(12) New ways of seeing the world. See the city in wireframe X-ray vision – much more efficient way of navigating it than using maps. Look up at the sky and see the names of all the stars and constellations just as you can with the Google Sky Map. Look at famous landmarks or natural wonders and get instant information about their history, dimensions, how many of your friends visited them, etc.

(13) And even more new ways of seeing the world. See virtual re-enactments of historical scenes. See ads while passing by corporate areas (ugh). This will take time to develop but by 2030 I suspect a lot of the visions of augmented reality in Minority Report will have been realized.

(14) Semantic Webs. In tandem with this revolution, we also have the emergence of the “semantic web.” Cell phones are a huge phenomenon. Denno glasses are more integrated with people; more integrated with the Web; and the Web itself is steadily becoming far more useful and intelligent.

(15) Economic opportunities. For most rich country citizens (those not in the 1%) the 2010′s and 2020′s will be grim because limited global resources and competition from China will mean that their share of the global economic pie will shrink not only in relative but absolute terms. Nonetheless, some niches – especially the hi-tech and dematerialized – will continue seeing very impressive growth and possibilities for vast new fortunes.

The App Revolution meant that anybody with even fairly basic programming skills could begin making apps for the Droid or iPhone. Everything from wake up alarms to Hanzi flashcards to Angry Birds to Zombie, Run!. The mass penetration of denno glasses will recreate the same conditions and if anything on a much larger scale because they are likely to become even more central to human life than cell phones are today. I foresee a lot of millionaires and probably a few billionaires arising from this industry in the next two decades. I can think of few things more prospective today for the high-IQ and logically-minded than mastering computer programming and becoming deeply involved with the emerging world of Dennō Coil.

None of this is science fiction – indeed, I have avoided the more sci-fi like development scenarios, which are unlikely to be realized before 2030. The prototypes for denno glasses already exist, and they go into mass production very soon. The first versions will no doubt be buggy and slow, unable to process data quickly, however with time – with the further development of ubiquitous ultra-fast broadband wireless Internet, cloud computing, etc. – these issues will be ironed out and denno glasses will become an integral element of life in the early 21st century.

PS. This article was translated into Russian at Inosmi.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Just as with Russia, the Western media (beholden as it is to its power elite sponsors and anti-Rest ideology) peddles many tropes about China that cloud real understanding of this fascinating civilization-state. In the spirit of Sino Triumphalism, this is my attempt to set the record straight and overturn the lazy arguments used to dismiss, Brezhnev-like, China’s imminent rise to superpowerdom. My message to those Sinophobes: talk cooks no rice. For more on this topic see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

MYTH: The lack of IP rights curbs innovation, so the Chinese economy will remain based on producing cheap knock-offs of superior Western goods.

REALITY: China now focuses on copying products because its technologically lagging, and as such it is much easier and cost effective to reproduce already existing products than to come up with your own. Much the same can (and was!) said of Japan in the 1960′s, or Germany in the 1880′s – but look at them now!

The lack of IP rights makes this assimilation far easier – why waste money paying rent to foreign software companies when you can use their products for free so easily? You’d have to be their stooge to do this! Throughout history, many successful developers, such as Germany and Britain, flouted IP rights and funded industrial espionage to modernize their economies. They only started praising the virtues of IP rights when they got rich to protect their own new interests.

With China already taking the leading positions in sectors such as High Speed Rail and supercomputers, the time when it joins the developed world in “kicking away the ladder” can’t be far off.

MYTH: Corruption and inequality is growing rapidly, which will lead to rising social tensions, economic stagnation, revolts, and collapse.

REALITY: Corruption is largely irrelevant to economic growth, unless it is cripplingly high (which it definitely isn’t in China). For instance, only 9% of Chinese reported paying a bribe in 2010, which is actually the same as Japan.

True, inequality has risen sharply, with the Gini index reaching 47. This figure is similar to the US and lower than most Latin American countries, albeit far higher than in Europe. However, a peak in inequality is typical of countries in the middle of their industrial development, and is expected to fall in the coming years. Indeed, this seems to be already happening, with the poorer inland provinces beginning to grow faster than the wealthier coastal regions in recent years.

MYTH: The brouhaha over China today ignores its bad loans and real estate bubble, which will explode and sink its economy any day now.

REALITY: Pundits have been ranting about China’s bad loans problem for a decade, but in reality the issue is less acute now than it was then. In the meantime it is the Western financial that collapsed (and had to be bailed out at huge taxpayer expense). Chinese leaders noticed this problem early and nipped it in the bud with a series of restructurings in the 2000′s.

The real estate bubble isn’t really a bubble because, no matter how many empty apartments there are, half of China’s population is still in the countryside and will continue moving into the cities for decades to come.

MYTH: Back in the 1980′s, there was the same hysteria about Japan becoming No. 1, and look what happened to them! This Sino triumphalism is nothing but a passing fad.

REALITY: China’s population is TEN TIMES bigger than Japan’s. Realistically, Japan could have never become the world’s biggest economy because doing so would have required its GDP per capita to rise to double that of the US. In stark contrast, China’s GDP per capita needs only be a QUARTER that of America for it to become the world’s largest economy. Some economists think that’s already happened (see below).

MYTH: The Communist Party suppresses all freedom of thought, which will inevitable lead to stagnation, regional rifts, and pro-freedom uprisings.

REALITY: First, the idea that the CCP truly suppresses free thought nowadays is a bit quaint. There are plenty of think-tanks – more than in the US – that are discussing exciting new concepts such as deliberative democracy, Comprehensive National Power, and new ways of measuring economic growth.

Second, the leadership is forward-thinking and responsive. To illustrate this, in a recent speech Hu Jintao called for a “circular economy” and “sustainable development.” (Can you imagine Obama voicing similar sentiments? The Republicans would devour him alive.) This is backed by concrete policy measures. For instance, in response to its reliance on coal China invested in renewable energy manufacturing capacity and now produces half the world’s wind turbines and solar panels.

Third, not only does democracy or the lack of it have no discernible effect on the speed of development – in fact, China itself is a refutation of that theory – but its not even that oppressive compared to countries commonly called “democratic.” So it jailed Liu Xiaobo for 11 years (who claims China would be better off under colonialism). But in the meantime, the Marxist activist Binayak Sen got life imprisonment in India, and the US is waging a campaign to shut down Wikileaks and imprison Julian Assange. No talk of a Nobel Peace Prize for those two.

Fourth, it is extremely arrogant to claim that China will necessarily want to follow in the footsteps of the West. It may well take its own sovereign road to democracy, such as a democratization of the current NEPist model. Even if it does democratize aka Taiwan, then why should it collapse? Its factories and people will remain in place; so will economic growth, albeit with a blip or two during the transition. And according to our “democratists” wouldn’t such a development make China stronger anyway?

As for George Friedman’s forecasts that a widening gulf between the coast and inland regions will cause the coastal elites to identify with foreign interests such as Japan and the US and break the power of the government… well, this is the same guy who goes on about The Coming War with Japan. No more comment required.

MYTH: Outside showpieces like Shanghai and a few other coastal cities the entire country struggles on in Third World poverty, illiteracy and immiseration.

REALITY: This is belied by fairly basic statistics. A country with 67% cell phone penetration, 36% Internet penetration, and more cars sold per year than in the US as of 2009 cannot be “Third World” be definition. Nor does a literacy rate of 97% or an infant mortality rate of 16/1000 jive with this description.

As of 2010, the IMF gives China a real GDP per capita of $7,500 (which is lower-middle income by international standards). However, in reality this is probably an underestimate. For instance, Thailand with a GDP per capita of $9,000 had manufacturing wages of $250 per month in 2009, as opposed to China’s $400 per month. Its consumption stats also indicate a higher living standard (which is all the more impressive given its high savings rate). In any case, China is a decidedly middle-income country.

MYTH: The People’s Liberation Army is full of rusty Soviet-era hardware and derelict warships that will be obliterated in a conflict with the US.

REALITY: Now resting on a solid economic foundation, the Chinese military is being rapidly modernized. In recent years it has unveiled its own drones, a fifth-generation fighter prototype, and a “carrier-killing” ballistic missile. It accounts for a third of global shipbuilding capacity, enabling a rapid naval buildup (even as US capabilities degrade due to fiscal problems and cost overruns). A recent RAND study indicates that China is already be able to establish air superiority over Taiwan in the event of a hot war over the straits.

As Paul Kennedy noted in The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers (of which Chinese strategists are big fans), military power follows naturally in the wake of economic power. The Chinese economy will eventually be so much larger than everyone else’s in the Pacific basin that its neighbors will have no option but to acquiesce to its hegemony, even if it doesn’t win them over by its rapidly growing soft power.

The only military sphere in which China lags the US (and Russia) is in the size and sophistication of its strategic nuclear forces. But even there it may be stronger than it appears. It was recently revealed that it has built 5000km of tunnels in the hills of Hebei province. For all we know hundreds of ICBM’s could be hidden away there.

MYTH: The Chinese economy is dependent on exports for its economic growth, meaning that even if the US collapses it will bring the Chicoms down with it.

REALITY: This is a complete myth. Whereas gross exports are at 40% of GDP, what matters are NET EXPORTS – which are at just 7% of GDP. (In fact this past quarter it even reported a trade deficit). Or if we look at it regionally, those Chinese regions which export a lot are all located on the southern and south-eastern coasts, and account for less than 25% of the population; the rest of the country is far more autarkic.

Now true, a collapse in export demand will lead to a temporary rise in unemployment in those export-dependent regions. But the Chinese can do without the “heroic” American consumer. They’ll just consume more of their own production (as it increasingly the case anyway).

MYTH: China will grow old before it grows rich.

REALITY: No, it won’t. According to UN projections, its share of the population aged 15-65 will have dropped from 72.4% now to 68.9% by 2030 (by which time it will be a developed country by its current trajectory). For comparison, Japan’s working age population today is just 64.0% – that’s less than China two decades later!

Furthermore, there are still massive productivity gains to be collected from urbanizing another 20%-30% of the population. As peasants continue moving into the cities, the urban workforce which is the source of most added value production will continue growing well past the time China the total labor force begins shrinking. The decline in the numbers of children will enable each one to get a better education.

MYTH: Even if it grows at 10% a year, it will take China’s $5.9 trillion GDP decades to catch up to America’s $14.7 trillion GDP growing at 3% a year. That will come no sooner than 2025. And that’s assuming that Chinese GDP figures are accurate (they’re not, of course, given the Communist penchant for lying).

REALITY: This is a very common argument, even in respected venues, but one that shows fundamental economic illiteracy. The $5.9 trillion GDP is China’s NOMINAL GDP, which reflects a very weak yuan. If the yuan were to appreciate against the dollar, growth in nominal GDP will be much faster than real growth – and in fact IT IS, growing at nearly 25% for the past five years.

Its REAL GDP, which accounts for differences in international prices, is far bigger at $10.1 trillion and not far from America’s $14.7 trillion. But even this may be an underestimate. Back in 2008, the IMF and World Bank both reduced their estimates of China’s real GDP by around 40%; these revisions are considered questionable. Using those old figures, China would already be at America’s size. This is supported by comparisons of Chinese consumption (e.g. Internet access; manufacturing wages; etc) to other middle-income countries, which in my approximations give it a real GDP per capita of perhaps $12,000 and implying a total real GDP of $15-16 trillion.

The case for Chinese manipulation of statistics is unproven. One of the primary arguments here used to be that economic growth didn’t track electricity consumption. But that’s not too convincing in light of China overtaking the US in electricity consumption in 2011.

China’s economic growth has tracked South Korea’s very closely but with a 20 year lag (or 15 years using the old, bigger GDP estimates). Its real GDP per capita in 2000 was equivalent to Korea’s in 1980; as of 2010, it was equivalent to Korea’s in 1990. (The story for nominal GDP growth is remarkably similar: China’s number for 2010 is equivalent to Korea’s in 1988). Now if China continues following Korea’s historical per capita trajectory, it should have a real GDP of $22-$30 trillion by 2020 and $40-$55 trillion by 2030 (former figure based off current GDP estimates; latter off the bigger estimates). This means the US should be overtaken by 2020 at the latest and left in the dust soon after. Assuming a steady rate of convergence to international prices, China’s nominal GDP too should become the world’s biggest by the 2020′s.

The groundwork is secure. Human capital is the foremost determinant of economic growth rates, and China’s today is far higher than South Korea’s two decades ago (recent international standardized tests show that performance even in China’s poorest provinces is close to the OECD average, while Shanghai won global gold prize).

Now consider that China’s foremost obstacle to global superpowerdom is highly unlikely to grow quickly, is overburdened by fiscal deficits, and may yet default on its obligations – and that by then, China’s currency will likely be free floating. In that case, the yuan will be the most likely contender for the title of world’s reserve currency. Upon assuming it, its nominal GDP – and weight in the global economy – will become every bit as dominant as its real economy of steel mills and factories.

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.Ru (10 главных мифов китаефобии).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.