King Rao—one of the protagonists from Vauhini Vara’s novel The Immortal King Rao—is like many of the tech founders we idolize today. King comes from humble beginnings—born into a Dalit family in a coconut grove in India—moves to the U.S., and launches a company that ends up dominating the world.
In India, caste can determine power and privilege. Indian fiction captures the nature of this power and privilege in different ways. Some novels depict the characters belonging to lower castes (Dalits) as victims (for instance, Mulk Raj Anand’s The Untouchables, one of the early classics of Indian English fiction) and some as villains in the sense of anti-heroes (the 2008 Booker winner Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger).
Tens of thousands of characters. Countless homonyms. Mutually unintelligible dialects across an entire country. This is what faced the Chinese thinkers, inventors and technicians who had to figure out how to standardize, translate, and adapt the Chinese language for a new country, and for new technologies.
It is an accident of history that most information technology, from Morse Code to the Internet, was developed in and for English-speaking countries. English, with just 26 letters and no accents or diacritical marks, means that everything from keyboards to displays to internal character codings are simple, deceptively so, because almost no other language makes life that easy. As a result, developers adopted solutions which have bedeviled information technology in other languages ever since. If developers are being honest, they would probably admit that solutions for languages from French and Russian to Arabic and Thai are (to use the technical term) kludged-up versions of products first designed for English.
Should we regulate artificial intelligence? Can we? From self-driving cars and high-speed trading to algorithmic decision-making, the way we live, work, and play is increasingly dependent on AI systems that operate with diminishing human intervention. These fast, autonomous, and opaque machines offer great benefits—and pose significant risks.
“China’s new global status as a rising technology power”, as the editors of this new study put it, has increasingly engendered alarmed, if not alarmist, rhetoric by Western politicians and commentators. The combined response of Innovation and China’s Global Emergence, a new collection of academic essays that attempts a ground-up review of the issue, might be summarized as “take a breath”.
Most of our discussions about how “technology will change the world” focus on the global cities that drive the world economy. Even when we talk about China, we focus on its major cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Xiaowei Wang corrects this metronormativity in Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside, which explores how rural China is not just adapting the technology used around the world, but innovating on it.