Thareendra Kalpage on technological progress, new inventions, and the competition between the US and China

Thareendra Kalpage is a well-accomplished corporate business leader, seed investor, and astute
observer of the world economy and political situation. Mr. Kalpage, based in Colombo, Sri
Lanka, is involved in several business, intellectual, and cultural endeavors. He is a staunch
advocate for free enterprise, free market, and private enterprise economies. 
Q: “Back to the Future” movies promised us a flying car by 2020. There are only four
months left till the end of 2022. We don’t have flying cars and aren’t getting any closer to
having them. Is humankind’s technological advancement slowing? How do you think we
can break out of this rut?
A: I feel there is a slowing, and the rate at which we progress is most likely insufficient to push
our civilization to the next level. Also, we need to understand that for any giant leap to take
place; there is a need for a powerful incentive to achieve it. Most of the technological progress
made in the 20th century can be attributed to the world wars or the cold war. Now that we have
had no such conflict since the 90s, one can say that’s why. 
 In the same time, the thing is, there has been momentous progress in information technology
domain. We may not have flying cars, but we have made incredible progress in hardware,
software, the Internet, and mobile. But here is the problem; this is not the case in subatomic
particles, hypersonic flight, interplanetary travel, alternative energy sources, cutting-edge
medical treatments and gadgets, etc. Basically the foundations of physics have not progressed
for 40 years.
Q: What did cause it? 
A: For me. It’s the regulators, and I have no intention of criticizing their work as their work is
already challenging. I am just throwing out some ideas to get regulators thinking about how they
may conduct things differently without slowing the momentum of human innovation and the rate
of progress
Consider the approval cycles for cryptocurrency and biotech for operational levels. Compared to
the expense of launching a new product in the information technology industry, obtaining
operational approval for a Crypto and Biotech can cost anywhere from a million to several
million dollars. There must be a method to maintain all essential protocols at a far lesser cost.
Otherwise, attempts at innovation are limited to a few large corporations that can afford it,
limiting growth.
Because of its track record of success and low entry hurdles, the information technology sector
has seen a lot of innovation, unlike other industries, which have had the reverse effect.
Q: You hear about crypto currency in finance, AI in ICT and Biotech in medical sciences.
Could you make a prediction and rate breakthrough in a particular area that will get us
out of the stagnation?

A: I will not pretend to be an expert on actual money, let alone cryptocurrency, and I am indeed
not an expert on AI or Biotech.
But here’s the thing: sometimes things are plain common sense. Serving people who are
dissatisfied with the world today will be the backbone of the next generation of big businesses.
In this regard, I believe the crypto and biotech industries will undoubtedly offer outstanding
growth opportunities, so their rate of progress will be naturally higher. I’ve recently come to
believe that A.I is little overrated; however, this could be because I haven’t seen enough of that
world because I don’t have access to what’s going on in privately funded labs related to A.I
research. Anyway, I must admit that I was bit frightened of the prospects of AI two or three years
ago, but not anymore.
Someone constructing an AI that becomes sentient would be a breakthrough in AI that would
outweigh the contributions of the other two. Yes, I considered current speculations of Google’s
LaMDA becoming a self-aware being. I trust Google and their explanation of LaMDA, therefore
I don’t believe we’ve reached that point yet.
Q: Who is contributing more to the advancement of human civilization, America or China?
Who would put an end to this so-called slowness in the rate of growth of human
A: Whatever is said and done about the United States, they were the global hub for invention.
They contributed the most to the progress we accomplished as a species in the last century. I feel
the time has come for this country base development conversation to cease. It is now more
borderless and dependent on people than at any other moment in human history. It is no longer
about state-funded research but about private-sector-funded research.
A shift has occurred for the state, and it now matters greatly whether people want to end this
great stagnation or not. If you seek work-life balance in a way such as three-day work weeks,
and if you encourage everyone else to think along the same lines, the great stagnation will never
end, regardless matter whether you are in America or China.
By the way, During the last 150 years, I do not think China has done anything even remotely
close to what the United States has done for the technological growth of the human race. I do not
think China still has the machine or structure to overtake the United States and keep their
position as number one.

Q: In what ways do you mean that they (China) are already an economic superpower and
is now more influential in global trade than the US? 
A: Here’s my take: China has indeed surpassed the United States as the primary engine of global
economic growth. Since the 2008 financial crisis, one-third of all GDP growth has occurred in
just one country: China. China has established itself as the most critical link in the world’s
essential global supply chains. True, but the Dollar remains the world’s largest reserve currency,

accounting for 60% of foreign exchange reserves. While Beijing’s ambitions and progress
deserve careful consideration, the United States maintains a significant lead in several key areas.
The Dollar remains the preferred currency for cross-border transactions, and the United States
equity markets remain the world’s largest. Also, the United States maintains a significant lead in
venture capital investments.
Furthermore, the United States remains unsurpassed as the society that attracts the world’s most
gifted inventors and entrepreneurs and provides them with the freedom and opportunity to realize
their ambitions.
I firmly believe that Chinese President Xi Jinping is the most successful dictator the world has
seen. He has been able to centralize power more tightly and with the use of technology than any
previous centralizing authority in the history of humanity. But despite all that control, they are
not doing a great job at managing their challengers for a long-term fix; it’s a fact that the Chinese
population is ageing, and the economy is not growing as fast as they want. The country has one
of the most uneven sex ratios in the world because of its one-child policy. Currently, there are
116 males born for every 100 girls, which is significantly more than the global average of 107
boys per 100 girls. The freedom movements in Twain and Hong Kong have put Beijing on the
defensive. With those, I feel China will be about survival rather than growth in the next few
years. It is not impossible to reach number one only by having a survival mindset; difficult but
not impossible.  
Being number one would be easy. Being number one while keeping a machine like the United
States, which is completely powered by the Private Sector Growth mindset and innovation
engine, at number two would need China to constantly be their best version. But, in my
perspective, with all of the coming internal challenges, China’s state-powered engine simply
lacks the drive to be that.
Q: You appear to be a fan of the United States and her system. Do they require any repairs,
or do their wheels function perfectly? Pick one issue that worries you about the United
States, similar to what you said about China.
A: Many experts, I believe, would say different things depending on their area of expertise.
Energy experts may remark that the energy sector requires more attention. In contrast, health
experts may suggest something about that area in their domain.
But, as an outsider seeing and supporting a private-sector-led American system of capitalism,
student debt is the first thing that comes to mind. I believe it is already up to 1.6 trillion dollars.
Suppose you are a young student in the United States. In that case, the likelihood that you will
begin your life in debt is high, making it much more difficult to accumulate capital and,
naturally, making you less friendly to capitalism. So, the US suddenly have a generation of
young people that are hostile to capitalism and have voting rights. That is a significant issue; I do
not believe the costs should be socialized. However, the US must find a solution, such as taking
substantial steps to assure that federal student loan borrowers have access to bankruptcy relief.

Q: Is there something that the governments or the public can do to speed up the rate of
technological advancement?
A: Well, Governments absolutely can. To begin, governments should direct their regulatory
authorities to ease up on the restrictions placed on private sector businesses and their innovation
attempts. If not, consumer expectations become low, and investors hesitate to invest money into
new technologies and startups. Innovators are less likely to take calculated risks that could lead
to significant advancements. This is the first and foremost step to rediscovering a sense of
purpose and potential.
Q: You placed a lot of prominence over biotech, you actually put it even above A.I earlier.
So, someone who reads this decides to invest his retirement funds in biotech. Do you
recommend biotech as a good retirement investment?
A: Is biotechnology going to be the next big thing? Yes, it is, in my opinion. Given its broad
scope, the industry is expected to grow at a relatively high compounded annual rate, with
demand expected to rise. Not everyone should put their money into biotech.
High failure rates in the biotech industry mean investors need to spread their money among at
least five companies. Then, even if one of them runs out, you won’t be entirely out of luck.
Biotechs aren’t a good bet for retirees who can’t stand seeing even one of their stocks sink to
zero. Similarly, biotech may not be the most significant area to seek for retirement portfolio
growth if the job of balancing your portfolio and investing in several different biotechs appears
burdensome to you.
Q: Just one piece of advice for the youth of today?
A: I’d choose an Asian audit and advise against investing money in a house or a car. Invest your
capital in a business and then build your lifestyle from your profits. Do not lose your capital over
something that will not make money for you. It’s not just you that will hold the progress of an
entire country.

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