Redefining Asian Science

As the world’s economic and scientific epicenters shift to Asia, the impact of the region’s rich cultural heritage on research and development is becoming more apparent.

AsianScientist (Jul. 7, 2021) – A few clear trends emerge from the Five Years of the Asian Scientist 100 report’s assessment of Asia’s top scientists.

First, as the world’s economic and scientific epicenters shift to Asia, the region is increasingly independent in terms of innovation and commercialization. There appears to be a great appetite among governments and consumers around Asia for modern technologies, including those such as AI that are emblematic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This embrace has occurred in tandem with a growing sophistication of consumer technology firms in Asia, some of whom, as evidenced by DJI, can rival the world’s best on everything from R&D to marketing and customer service.

No longer should Asian firms be viewed simply as back-offices, workshops or OEM suppliers in a global supply chain. The maturity of Asia’s technological ecosystem suggests that Asian scientists and their firms have less of a need to rely on external markets for innovation or commercialization.

Second, in keeping with the maturing of Asia’s technology sector, brain drain of top scientific talent has slowed, and in some cases even reversed. Not only are Asia’s best minds eager to work in the region—perhaps after a short stint in the West—but scientists from all over the world are increasingly drawn to Asia. Western multinationals no longer view their Asian labs as low-cost cousins, but as fully-fledged siblings.

Third, geopolitical competition, trade wars and the more contemporary COVID-19-related supply chain shocks may all point to a future in which the progress of science in Asia is even more self-contained. Geopolitical competition between China and the US is the backdrop for other possible shifts in technology development in the region.

To be sure, international collaborations will never be stopped altogether; the scientific world can certainly still expect ingenious inventions like the lithium-ion battery—that draw on the expertise of researchers working remotely far from each other. Yet these broader socio-political factors nonetheless impact the growth of such exchanges and collaborations.

Fourth, even as there is much general enthusiasm across the region for scientific and technological developments, individual societies will adapt to and absorb these in different ways.

In Asia there exists a variety of socio-political and economic systems in which the advance of science occurs. This variance affects the way science is funded, with much closer collaboration between government, academia and industry in places such as China.

It also affects, among other things, the vibrancy of the societal debates occurring now, including about the ethical use of AI and jobs displacement through automation. While this diversity across Asia might seem confusing, one benefit is that scientists in the region will be exposed to a wide variety of applications of fundamental research.

One clear example of this is with the advance of electric and fuel cell vehicles. Already across Asia one can observe a great variety of engine and transport mode mixes between cities, from Jakarta to Tokyo.

This variance will likely grow over time, partly because economies are at such different stages of growth. Across Asia, observers will get to appreciate the varying applications of alternatives to the traditional combustion engine.

Finally, from Tu Youyou to Kosuke Morita, scientists across Asia have a deep respect for culture and tradition even as they embrace the use of modern technologies.

This suggests that researchers in the region may continue to find inspiration, if not direct support and evidence, from beliefs, practices and texts that have been around for centuries—a fitting reflection of Asia’s rich scientific and cultural heritage.

Revisit the Five Years of the Asian Scientist 100 white paper here.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Oikeat Lam/Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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