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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man: Engineering solutions

This is from a 2007 blog, listing the Chinese politburo: Hu Jintao, 62, President of the People’s Republic of China, graduate of Tsinghua University, Beijing, Department of Water Conservancy Engineering.

18 June 2011

12:00 AM

18 June 2011

12:00 AM

This is from a 2007 blog, listing the Chinese politburo:

Hu Jintao, 62, President of the People’s Republic of China, graduate of Tsinghua University, Beijing, Department of Water Conservancy Engineering.

This is from a 2007 blog, listing the Chinese politburo:

Hu Jintao, 62, President of the People’s Republic of China, graduate of Tsinghua University, Beijing, Department of Water Conservancy Engineering.

Huang Ju, 66, graduate of Tsinghua University, Department of Electrical Engineering.

Jia Qinglin, 65, graduate of Hebei Engineering College, Department of Electric Power.


Li Changchun, 61, graduate of Harbin Institute of Technology, Department of Electric Machinery.

Luo Gan, 69, graduate of Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, Germany.

Wen Jiabao, 62, premier of State Council, graduate of Beijing Institute of Geology, Department of Geology and Minerals.

Wu Bangguo, 63, graduate of Tsinghua University, Department of Radio Engineering.

Wu Guanzheng, 66, graduate of Tsinghua University, Power Department.

Zeng Qinghong, 65, graduate of Beijing Institute of Technology, Automatic Control Department.

I just checked to find out if anything had changed since 2007; perhaps they had recently decided to embrace diversity, appointing two female poets and someone with a background in contemporary dance. And so they have. Of the four new appointments since 2007, one is only in his late 50s and only three are engineers. Li Keqiang, the lone non-engineer of the nine, has a PhD in economics. This preponderance of engineers is not quite so exceptional as it first seems, since it reflects the communist fetish for heavy industry 45 years ago. And it is not all good — left unchecked, engineers are prone to devise grandstanding infrastructure projects that deliver little human value. But it is still revealing.

How many scientists are there in the House of Commons? Rather few, it seems. To me, one of the most depressing aspects of the MPs’ expenses affair was how few claims seemed to be for any form of technology other than widescreen TVs. On the Guardian’s tag-cloud of all MPs’ expenses, words such as ‘patio’, ‘tampons’ and even ‘rattan’ appear but ‘laptop’ and ‘software’ do not. Odd. If my own employer had a similarly lax policy on expenses, I’d have a Hadron Collider in my garden.

George Osborne’s speech at the Google Zeitgeist conference did at least show a refreshing level of interest and intelligence about the possibilities of technology for reforming government (you can watch it here — http://snipurl.com/vjk). My only regret was that George couldn’t stay long enough to see a later talk by Google’s Chris Urmson describing his work on self-driving cars. I was astounded to see how far advanced this work is. So advanced, indeed, that we should begin to ask ourselves what government could do to create an environment sympathetic to this technology. Potential benefits from this revolution are far larger than those of high-speed rail — where we plan to spend billions merely importing a technology, rather than creating one.

Clearly, self-driving cars cannot be introduced overnight. Or could they? Would a first step be to reserve one lane of the M1 between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. for convoys of driverless vehicles travelling at no more than 40 mph, with their occupants asleep? Or should the first implementation come in the shape of driverless delivery vehicles? Lacking human occupants, these could be smaller, lighter and slower than cars. And how drunk should people be allowed to be when their car collects them from the pub?

It is of course a terrifying prospect. But as you wince in horror, remember there is probably a 747 on autopilot 30,000 feet above your head. No, I don’t want to be ruled by engineers. But you can’t deny that over the past 150 years they have solved more problems than politicians have.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.


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