Futurist Update: Curbing the Decline of Chinese Manufacturing

Jay Owen Trendspotting




August 2013 • Volume 14, No. 8

In this issue:

·        Curbing the Decline of Chinese Manufacturing

·        Smart Glasses for Teachers Can “See” Students’ Questions

·        Even Regulated Pesticide Use Is Deadly to Aquatic Ecosystems

·        WorldFuture 2013 Recaps

·        Set of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Is Threatened by Sand Dunes

·        What’s Hot in THE FUTURIST Magazine?

Curbing the Decline of Chinese Manufacturing

China’s manufacturing sector has grown to become the world’s largest, but it is now beginning to show signs of decline. GDP in China, while still growing, is doing so at a much slower rate than in it was earlier in the decade. A recent McKinsey Quarterlyarticle highlights hurdles that Chinese manufacturers face, as well as possible solutions.

Rising production costs are partly to blame for the sector’s downturn. As wages increase and packaging become more expensive, multinational companies are looking to relocate their manufacturing activity beyond China in order to maximize profits.

Manufacturers are unable to keep up with the demands of a booming upper-middle class, which is expected to comprise the majority of urban households in China by 2020. As Chinese companies struggle to produce sufficiently high-tech and high-quality products, wealthier Chinese consumers largely view Chinese brands as inferior to their foreign competitors.

The article makes several recommendations to overcome these setbacks. For one, manufacturers should shift their focus from technological to human capital. Managers are often inexperienced and tend to focus on treating problems’ symptoms rather than their causes. Furthermore, multinational companies must take cultural differences into account instead of adopting “one-size-fits-all” approaches that, while suitable for other parts of the world, are not quickly embraced by Chinese workers.

Additionally, both domestic and foreign companies must concentrate on innovation rather than simple output, according to the authors. Domestic companies would benefit from investing in new research and development rather than racing to produce cheaper versions of the same products marketed by competitors. Similarly, multinationals should approach their Chinese groups as a potential source of R&D innovation, instead of a source of cheap labor with low production costs.

Finally, the authors urge Chinese manufacturers adapt to new consumer demand patterns and improve demand forecasts. —Keturah Hetrick

Source: “A new era for manufacturing in China” by Karel Eloot, Alan Huang, and Martin Lehnich, McKinsey Quarterly (June 2013).

Smart Glasses for Teachers Can “See” Students’ Questions

A teacher can’t always expect students to raise their hands and admit that they don’t understand something—many keep their questions to themselves out of shyness or embarrassment. Stumped pupils won’t have to say a word, however, if the teacher is wearing the new set of “smart glasses” recently developed at the University of Carlos III in Madrid. The glasses utilize augmented reality to notify the teacher through visual cues of students’ questions and concerns.

Any student can send a cell-phone text message that the glasses will interpret and present to the teacher as a thought bubble over the student’s head. The bubble will symbolically convey if he or she is confused, has a question, or wants the teacher to slow down, and other such feedback. Students can also convey that they do understand the lesson, or if they know the answer to a question that the teacher has just asked. The teacher can also program the glasses to show notes and talking points to share with the class at key moments in the day’s lesson.

Wearing the smart glasses, teachers will know clearly how well their students are grasping the material, where they are having trouble, and whether to skip over a certain part of the lesson because the students already know it.

Affordable new models could come out in the next few years, and the technology could be adapted to Google’s new Glass, as well, according to Ignacio Aedo, professor of computer science and project participant.—Rick Docksai

Source: University of Carlos III

Even Regulated Pesticide Use Is Deadly to Aquatic Ecosystems

There might not be any “safe” level of pesticide use, as far as aquatic life is concerned. A new study, co-authored by researchers from the German research institutions Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and Institute for Environmental Sciences Landau, finds that deploying pesticides within the legal limits still reduces the regional diversity of invertebrates considerably compared to non-contaminated regions.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the US Academy of Sciences,incorporated tests of water samples from Germany, France, and Australia. The researchers compared pesticide-contaminated ecosystems with similar ecosystems that pesticides had not yet reached. The differences in the numbers of species in the different regions were striking: In the Australian sites, species diversity in contaminated areas was 27% less than in the uncontaminated areas, while among the European sites, the disparity was as much as 42%.

Small invertebrates such as insects—especially mayflies, the stoneflies, caddis flies, and dragonflies—were the most vulnerable. But the number of birds, fish, and other larger species in these areas would also decline, since they feed on these smaller forms of life.

The world community has evidently “underestimated” the harms that pesticides pose to natural ecosystems, according to the researchers, who added that, even if such updates take place, pesticide use will always have unwanted environmental impacts to some degree, no matter what protections are in place.—Rick Docksai

Source: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research

WorldFuture 2013 Recaps

Hundreds of futurists from around the world gathered in Chicago for Worldfuture 2013, the annual conference of the World Future Society. Below is a small sampling of the write ups and reviews we’ve already received.

Conference Highlights Reel compiled by Cynthia Wagner.

GROKKING AT THE WORLD FUTURE CONFERENCE by Lindsea K. Wilbur,Opengovunderground.org

World Future Society Conference 2013 by Gray Scott, Seriouswonder.com

Dispatch from the Futures: Thoughts on WorldFuture 2013, Robert Moran,Futureofinsight.com

Here come the crystal balls: Futurists descend on Chicago, John Pletz, Crain’s Chicago Business

Futurists Conference comes to Chicago Niala Boodhoo, WBEZ

Missed the action this year? Make your plans now for 2014—and take advantage of the early-bird registration rate (more than 40% off the on-site fee)! Registration for WorldFuture 2014 is open.

Set of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Is Threatened by Sand Dunes

The force is strong with this one: A sand dune is poised to wipe out one of the sets where Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was filmed, located in the Tunisian desert. A recent study led by Ralph Lorenz of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University used satellite imaging to examine the dune’s migration.

The set is a popular tourist attraction that draws thousands of visitors each year. The site’s place in pop culture may make it an ideal case study for dune migration. Furthermore, Star Wars fans visiting the set, referred to in the Star Wars films as the Mos Espa spaceport, often post photos online—helping to track the dune’s movement. (In the Star Wars universe, Mos Espa was the fictional home of Anakin Skywalker.)

Barchans—large crescent-shaped dunes like the one that threatens Mos Espa—are found not only on Earth, but also on Mars and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Several factors affect a dune’s migration: Wind, atmospheric density, and gravity each play a large role. While the Earth-based barchan about to envelop Mos Espa has, at least in recent history, migrated 15 meters per year, most dunes on Mars are stationary. Those that do move are limited to about one meter annually. Barring some form of intervention, Mos Espa’s demise seems inevitable.

“Given the importance of this site to the tourism industry of Tunisia, it may be that it is a candidate for mitigation measures, not being pursued at present,” writes Lorenz.

Mos Espa will not be the only Star Wars set to be swallowed by sand. A nearby set used in filming Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was buried by dunes about a decade ago. –Keturah Hetrick

Source: Johns Hopkins University. The paper “Dunes on Tatooine: Observation of Barchan Movement at the Star Wars film set in Tunisia” is available online

What’s Hot in THE FUTURIST Magazine?

Mapping the Future with Big Data

By Patrick Tucker

A little-known California company called Esri offers a “Facebook for Maps” that promises to change the way we interact with our environment, predict behavior, and make decisions in the decades ahead.. Read more.

New Tools for War and Peace: Technology Game Changers

Rick Docksai Interviews John Watts

Militaries and civilians alike plan for technological change, says security consultant John Watts. Tools such as analytical gaming can be useful to both military and civilian planners for developing new concepts. Read more.

The Rise of Citizen Science

By Kathleen Toerpe

From tracking the migration of songbirds to discovering new celestial bodies, amateur scientists may help fill in a need for more researchers. Beyond helping “real” scientists collect data, amateurs are becoming better trained, better equipped, and better prepared to contribute to tomorrow’s breakthroughs. Read more.

Life Imitates Art: Cyborgs, Cinema, and Future Scenarios

By Ramona Pringle

From utopian ideals to dystopian nightmares, the narratives we create about ourselves color our visions of our futures. Read more.

Transition Engineering: Planning and Building the Sustainable World

By Susan Krumdieck

On the way to building the sustainable world, transition engineers respond to risks, not disasters. Transition engineering will emerge as the way by which society reduces both fossil fuel use and the detrimental social and environmental impacts of industrialization.Read more.

Anticipatory Governance: Winning the Future

By Leon S. Fuerth with Evan M. H. Faber

The Project on Forward Engagement offers a three-part strategy for enabling policy makers to cope with accelerating change and complex challenges. Rather than relying on crisis management, anticipatory governance creates a structure for information collection and analysis that is long-ranged, strategic, mission-focused, holistic, and connected to policy making that gets us ahead of events. Read more.

10 Future-Changing Inventions Ready to Launch

By Patrick Tucker

Futurists: BetaLaunch, the World Future Society’s third annual innovation competition, will allow WorldFuture 2013 attendees to get a glimpse of the companies, start-ups, and inventions that are changing the future. Here are the creators we’re honoring at F:BL this year. Read more.

World Trends & Forecasts

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FUTURIST UPDATE: News & Previews from the World Future Society is an e-mail newsletter published monthly as a supplement to THE FUTURIST magazine.
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