Came across an article tonight. The argument is actually not new — that US is now in decline and the only hard fact that no one is disagreeing, its leadership in technology, especially in computer related stuff, is shaken. The evidence, or its supporting argument, comes in two folds:

    1. that the education in American public school, in particular, its math education, is inferior to those in China.
    2. that US is losing magnetism to smart people:
      1. the US policy is becoming less and less friendly,
      2. its research funding is strained,
      3. and their home country is becoming the opposite of a and b.

    So this leads me to think just how logical this is? My question is,

    is US's leading edge based on a superior math capability, or imported talent (in many's mind, they also happen to be math wizard)?

    I'm sure math is absolutely the foundation of what we human know about this world. So is talents. Who doesn't like talent!? Any company does; any country does. Even any person wishes having some talents. Good education, of course. So if the US is losing its charm, and these smart people stop coming to the US, who can pick up the torch to continue pushing the boundary of technology?

    You know what. One thing I can be sure is that today's China is not ready. Technology is a tool, and will always be a tool. The description of a problem, is what matters.

    Question matters

    Think about how you acquire knowledge. Google search engine knows practically EVERYTHING. The quality of learning isn't about how much a knowledge database like Google knows, but how well you can form your question — garbage in, garbage out. The quality of the question really stands for how well you have understood the question/problem itself, and how detailed your work is. If you ask "Google, how much is 1+1?", you get a pin-point answer, exact, precise; if you ask "Google, what is an addition?" You get a lengthy answer that looks really complex, cool, but too general to be acted on; if you ask "Google, how is integer addition done in binary format?" There is clear definition of integer, binary, and addition. You get the picture.

    How to get clarity then? Challenge, debate, argue, fight, trial-and-error, and iterate. US is constructed to not only tolerate, but encourage such activities. Think of attorneys who is seeking every opportunity to arouse a class action; the hedge funds who prays for a company, good or bad, to make a mistake; the community townhall meetings that your neighbour complains your 2nd floor balcony invades her privacy because she enjoys walking in her house naked with curtains up for some sunshine... not to mention "what does that mean?" heard everywhere, all the time... this is a shout-out for definition, for clarity, for ruling out ambiguity, for exploring pros and cons as much as one's mind can carry, for scrapping every dark corner with an open eye and a magnifier, and this, is what can finally leads to a good question to ask, and only then it can lead to the answer.

    This, is how technology evolves; this, is why US is holding the torch. US can fail, and it probably will fail someday anyway. Country, is like a human, can't stay young and healthy 24x7 forever; it gets sick, it falls, it may even die. But whoever is 2nd in line must carry the same spirit because that is the only way — clarify your definition!

    Math matters

    So let's talk about math. What is the math? It's not about knowing 1+1=2. It is a form of definition that is clear, precise, deterministic. So the math education, or education in general, isn't about how to solve a particular function; it's a clear description of a problem, thus the question. Once the question is defined, the solution becomes possible, and useful.

    Therefore, it becomes completly irrelevant when this type of articles are comparing how complex a 3rd grade math is. It is not the knowledge that matters; it is the thinking process that matters. Knowledge in today's world is nothing but fonts printed on paper. Literally, one can find ALL what human knows about in Google and Amazon books. Period. But forming and defining the question remains to be a formidable challenge.

    So regardless how US students are poop at math, they will come out on top as long as they learned the principle of what math really is — define your question precisely.

    Corrupted language

    I have talked about China's irresponsible response. That's exactly why I think it currently stands no chance in technology frontier. Today Chinese language is corrupted. People are proud of using fuzzy terms as if they show sophistication. They even brag that this is the beauty of this language.

    False! Chinese classic literature is exactly the opposite. It was concise, precise, and accurate. It was a clear definition of the things it was describing. The best user of this language were the ones who have formed a description of the question without any ambiguity. It is hardly up for interpretation; it is the exact moment and thought that the author was meant to deliver, even hundreds later, still clear, crispy and lively.

    So, when Chinese developers, their design documents, their response to clients, their requirements stop using the terms such as 某种程度(to some degree), 或许(probably), 等等(and so on), I will say their math education is now working.

    — by Feng Xia


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