If it weren't for the study of thermodynamics, the steam engine would never have developed into the internal combustion engine, and the era of the automobile would have been unimaginable. If it weren't for the theories of aerodynamics, the Wright Brothers would never have invented the airplane, there would have not been spacecraft, and humanity would still be at the mercy of time and space, locked to the surface of the earth by the force of gravity.
Technology is the motive force driving the development of human civilization. A breakthrough in science and technology usually benefits everyone in society. Throughout the history of exploration by humanity, foundational science has acted as a lighthouse, lighting the way forward for human progress.
How have the lighthouses that guide scientific exploration been built?
Which discoveries in the history of science and technology have acted as lighthouses?
In ancient civilizations from the East such as China and India, why did modern science not arise organically? The ancient Greeks, adept at induction and deduction, brought experience up to the level of systematic theory and science. In ancient Greece, the geometry of Pythagoras and Euclid, the physics of Aristotle and Archimedes, and the astronomy of Ptolemy laid the foundations for the modern natural sciences. Their work became the earliest lighthouses for human exploration.
In the following more than a thousand years, the light from those lighthouses dimmed, and was almost extinguished. Only with the advent of the Renaissance did the light of exploration of the natural sciences reignite. This put Europe squarely at the forefront of modern science.
The heliocentric theories of Galileo and Copernicus erected new lighthouses for humanity to learn about the universe. The sacrifices of great men such as Galileo and Copernicus acted as torches in the darkness, lighting the way forward.
By the middle of the 17th century, Isaac Newton led Europe into the age of reason. Newton discovered the law of universal gravitation and three laws of motion. He also invented calculus, proposed the particle theory of light, and founded the study of classical physics and astronomy. If not for Newton, today we wouldn't have engines, rockets, or optical instruments. In the history of science, the lighthouses erected by Newton were the most brilliant. The 18th century English poet Alexander Pope wrote a very fitting epitaph for Isaac Newton that reads: "Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: God said, 'Let Newton be!' and all was light."
It was with the guidance of Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy that James Watt studied mechanics and mathematics, and eventually created a steam engine with a separate condenser that ushered in the industrial revolution and automation of labor by machines.
There are at least thousands of years of records attesting to humanity's dream of flying in the sky. The Chinese Mohist work Mozi has a record noting that the ancient Chinese carpenter, engineer, and inventor Lu Ban created a wooden bird that could fly up into the air by leveraging the force of wind and reportedly remain aloft for three days before falling back to earth. The internal combustion engine was invented based on similar principles to the steam engine. The concepts of aerodynamics evolved out of Newton's three laws of motion. In 1903, the Wright Brothers successfully developed the first aircraft powered by an internal combustion engine, finally turning this dream into reality.
The theories of classical electromagnetism developed by French physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère provided a theoretical foundation for power generation through the electromagnetic effect, and enabled humanity to enter the age of electricity. This work made Thomas Edison's invention of the light bulb possible, and is the reason we now have the high-speed railway systems of today that are driven by electric motors.
The Theory of Relativity of Albert Einstein stands as a far-reaching and bright lighthouse, leading humanity into the indiscernible and imperceptible details of time and space.
Einstein predicted the existence of the world's greatest source of energy, which is when mass is converted to energy. The energy converted by a single gram of uranium is equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT.
Austrian-Swedish physicist Lise Meitner was able to prove the reality of nuclear fission and propel humanity into the age of atomic energy because of the guidance provided by Einstein's famous equation E=mc² that was developed based on the Special Theory of Relativity showing the correlation between mass and energy (namely that mass m is a measurement of the energy E it contains).
The Cell Theory developed by Dutch businessman and scientist Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek and German physician and scientist Rudolf Ludwig Carl Virchow laid the foundations for Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and also illuminated the way forward for modern medicine.
It was the development of Morse code that propelled humanity into the era of instant communications.
Foundational scientific theories and inventions stand as countless lighthouses, each emitting their own illuminating light. Combined, their brilliance propels civilization forward. Take Edison's invention of the light bulb as an example. The physical discovery of electricity was undoubtedly very important. However, without the discovery of oxygen by French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier that inspired Edison to think outside the box and create a vacuum within the light bulb, it's an open question when the light bulb would have been developed.
Enterprises are an indispensable force of scientific progress
The course of foundational scientific discovery isn't a solo act on the part of individual scientists. Rather, it is a symphony of joint effort, with collaboration between universities, national science institutes, and enterprises.
The light shone from the academies of ancient Greece continues to be revered by people thousands of years later. The famous fresco titled The School of Athens by Raphael, one of the "Three Masters of the Renaissance", imaginatively brings the painter himself through time and space to join the likes of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Archimedes at the School of Athens founded by Plato. The brilliance of thought and art shines through the work, and gives it an eternal life.
Behind Newton stood the Royal Society of England and the University of Cambridge.
The Manhattan Project that focused on atomic bomb research was a top-secret project that brought together the most Nobel Prize winners from leading American universities.
Universities and national scientific research institutes are the primary builders of humanity's lighthouses.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the importance of technology to markets became increasingly apparent. Enterprises including Germany's BASF and Bayer, and America's Kodak, DuPont, and Bell Telephone Company each established their own very capable industrial laboratories.
By the mid-20th century, scientific and technological development was being powerfully propelled by the three supports of enterprise R&D, national scientific research institutes, and university research institutes.
As the depth and breadth of human exploration expand, breakthroughs in science and technology are very often the result of effort on a national scale. Some projects even demand open collaboration on a global scale, such as the Human Genome Project or the construction of the International Space Station.
Looking at the history of science, enterprises have been an indispensable force of scientific progress. Breakthroughs in foundational theories and foundational science are the catalysts for explosive industry growth.
Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, and businessman Alfred Bernhard Nobel became one of the wealthiest people in the world at the time through his inventions, including from a patent filed for a new way to prepare gunpowder.
Alexander Graham Bell obtained the first patent for a working telephone, and founded the Bell Telephone Company (the predecessor to AT&T). A patent evolved into a flourishing communications industry.
Today, the invention and progression of technologies like cochlear implants and Wi-Fi are serving humanity and forming new industries, while also accruing untold wealth to their inventors.
The new industrial revolution brought about by ICT technology is just like other major technological revolutions in history. It is influencing business models and ways of thinking, and setting off a series of new business revolutions. The success of disruptors invigorates industries. Over the past decade, companies such as Google and Amazon have led the first wave of change. These companies have used cloud technology and cloud architecture to efficiently share resources, creating disruptive business models and value.
"Turning money into knowledge", Huawei is looking for new lighthouses
We are able to see things because light enters our eyes. We are able to understand truths because foundational science sheds light on the unknown.
Each lighthouse of foundational science on the axis of time illuminates a swathe of darkness, and enables the progress of humanity.
Following the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the information revolution, the great age of exploration in an intelligent world is approaching. New breakthroughs in foundational scientific theories are needed, and humanity's explorations are in search of new lighthouses.
In addition to the strong investment in scientific research being made by China at the national level, we are also seeing Chinese enterprises proactively assume this historic responsibility. For example, in 2016 Huawei spent US$11 billion on R&D. Each year, in addition to investing over US$8–9 billion on product development, Huawei also provides funding in excess of US$3 billion to foundational scientific research.
Huawei has 60,000 staff involved in product development. This is how "knowledge is turned into money". Strategic knowledge is converted into Huawei's technology and products, and gives Huawei ongoing competitiveness in the market. A total of 20,000 people at Huawei are involved in foundational scientific research. This is how "money is turned into knowledge" and propels Huawei toward breakthroughs in future-proof technology and the foundational sciences.
Huawei makes intensive investments along multiple paths and in multiple waves. This means that the company invests a large amount of manpower and money, and encourages internal competition to ensure strategic opportunities are not missed. Huawei is very much aware that innovation that lacks the support of foundational theories can't be sustained, and won't be successful. The precondition for innovation in foundational theories is to have long-term and heavy investment in foundational research.
Foundational research isn't accomplished overnight. It takes decades for a foundational theory to develop into an industry. If a company focuses on short-term gains and short-term returns on investment, it's unlikely that it will invest in foundational research. From the perspective of investment, enterprises need to have sufficient strategic patience, and be willing to sit on their investments for a decade if need be.
In terms of foundational research, Huawei is currently engaged in open collaboration on innovation with academic institutions around the world.
Major universities and scientific research institutes play a critical role in breakthrough innovations in foundational science. In 1999, Huawei launched a fund for university science and technology research, which later became known as the Huawei Innovation Research Program (HIRP). Through long-term engagement with the Call for Proposal (CFP) model of cooperation, Huawei has widely sought and absorbed outstanding ideas outside the company, and is collaboratively realizing major technological innovations and breakthroughs.
The HIRP is now being run in over 20 countries around the world, and has funded over 1,200 innovation research programs at more than 300 institutes of higher learning. Globally, there are now 2 Nobel Prize laureates and more than 100 fellows from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), as well as thousands of experts and scholars, participating in the HIRP.
Mr. Ren Zhengfei has said: "We will transcend the limits of our 'staff badge culture' and sponsor scientists worldwide who are moving in the same direction as us. We don't invest for a narrow purpose. We support scientists selflessly. We don't aim to own their papers, patents, or other achievements. We simply wish to keep abreast of their progress, including both their successes and failures. Similar to a lighthouse, scientists can illuminate us, and also others. We don't seek to own the lighthouses nor interfere in how their research results are applied."
Huawei hopes to address the issue of its own survival. At the same time, the company is looking to become a "weathervane" for the development of humanity's science and technology.
Exploring to uncover the path toward the future is a dream shared by all of humanity. Huawei is seeking out new lighthouses, while also striving to lift high its own torch as a leader. China, and even the world, needs more enterprises to participate in the construction of "lighthouses".