Indonesia at 69: preparing the nation towards Type 1 civilization

indonesia independence day


Yesterday, the country celebrated its independence, and as usual, things always get highly festive. Flag vendors, only during this occasional season, mushroom on both the street sides. Nearly every household raises it, while in neighborhoods, ceremonies, traditional games, and big feasts paint the towns red. Outside the country, oftentimes, Indonesian diaspora make way through embassies and consulates, where staff have prepared rows and rows of culinary dishes, mostly held after flag-raising ceremonies and some trivial homesick-making stuff.

But is the country getting better now? I’m obviously certain this question can split readers’ opinions. Some people have this nostalgia of ‘good ol’ days’, when strongman Suharto was in the leadership throne. Imagining back the days when food prices were under control, fuel supplies flourished with barely any necessity for imports, and stability was always the golden key. On the other hand, others believe ‘the country is moving in right direction at this moment’, despite many inherent problems still faced up to this minute. We now have freer press, a fervently-supported anti-corruption commission, and a large number of more politically literate persons. In regard to this question, I personally choose the latter.

Why this answer? This is where I always have to reiterate to my superiors, especially my parents (they missed the old regime, of course, but they didn’t want its discriminatory nature somehow). Firstly, changes always pose risks in the future. It wasn’t that university students didn’t have second thoughts about overthrowing a three-decade authoritarian potentate with no clear successor, but realizing the wrong direction this nation was heading to, doing it was Hobson’s choice. True, in post-Suharto era, things look clearly ‘disorganized’. Fuel prices increase, food prices skyrocket while government seemingly trims the data to make as though inflation were artificially low, crime rates are on the rise, and wealth gap is widening (imagine 100 million middle-class persons living side by side with another 100 million who struggle with less than 2 US$ a day). With decentralization applied en masse, new small political dynasties emerge elsewhere. However, on the other hand, thanks to social media, people are becoming increasingly aware of information flow, social mobility is more intense than ever, young, technocratic, and can-do professionals have successfully transformed their constituencies, and opportunities abound as economy continuously grows unabated. We are, for our imperfection, moving in to the ‘right direction’ at this moment.

So, where will the future leaders bring this country eons forward? What will Indonesia look like decades, or a century, later?

This Saturday, I watched a Big Think video starring Michio Kaku, a prominent Japanese-American theoretical physicist, and also one of my respected idols (I’m particularly more interested in international relations, but I never cease paying my tribute to this wonderful, ingenious thinker). In this talk about the future of mankind in a century to come, Dr.Kaku explains that human civilization, to this moment, is still undergoing transition from Type 0 (which is now) to Type 1 civilization. But, anyway, before you end up befuddled by the fuss I’m mentioning now, I’d better create a brief conception about what it actually is.


All these ‘types’ stuff I’ve written above are known as ‘Kardashev scale’. It is a form of measurement introduced in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev, a Soviet astronomer. Fascinated with possibilities of galactic, intergalactic, or any ‘larger-than-our-fantasies’ civilizations, Kardashev introduced this system, primarily on account of how much energy they have utilized in operating their machines and devices. Summing up the information from Wikipedia, Kardashev scale is normally consisted of four types:

Type 0 : that is our current civilization. We still rely on fossil fuels to mobilize our economy, scientific progress is still underway, and there remains a substantial gap between those advocating a ‘multicultural, scientific, tolerant society’ and those hardheadedly insisting on ‘monocultural, theocratic, follow-me-others-are-wrong’ traits. We have seen latest trends in smartphones, but we still hear news about primitive tribes isolated in vast jungles, instead.

Type 1: the civilization in 22nd century. They are supposed to have controlled the entire planet, and everything ‘planetary’ is becoming a normalcy. Our future great-grandsons may have already manipulated earthquakes, tsunamis, ocean waves, volcanoes, and captured the entire solar heat on our atmosphere. Interstellar travel between planets will soon become as ordinary as we are all taking planes to the other side of the world today.

Type 2: the civilization in the fourth millennium. They have had the capability to control the entire solar system, inhabiting planets and satellites other than Earth and Moon, for instance, Mars, Io, Ganymede, Europa, Titan, etc. Terraforming – or engineering the whole planet to physically appear like Earth – is intensively utilized in transforming the faces of these worlds. Human colonies have sprung up across the whole solar system, interstellar travel will have been as mundane and ordinary as we are now taking flights, and we can even withstand a hypernova, or possibly, manipulate planets’ distances to make them suit better. We have had multilateral contacts with extraterrestrial forces (suppose they’re as sophisticated as we do), and not impossibly, human-alien hybrids will form.

Type 3: the civilization a million years after we all turn into soil particles. They have already gained the control of an entire galaxy. We may have had 1 trillion stars – or possibly trillions upon trillions of planets and life forms – under our grab. Type-1 and Type-2 life forms are becoming biased towards statistical numbing, thanks to a numerical quantity our imagination is too limited to conceive. Even Star Wars is no match to this civilization’s true potential, I can assume.

Kardashev simply stopped here, but science-fiction authors carry the scale forward to numbers you increasingly can’t think about it anymore:

Type 4: the civilization has controlled the entire universe. With trillions or more galaxies under their hands, the destruction of one, or a cluster, is no more than losing a pile of sands in a beach.

Type 5: the civilization is already in full control of a membrane of universes (multiverse, more or less). A universe may simply be ‘a child’s toy’ they can easily play with.

Type-Infinite (Beyond Numbers and Everything): ‘God’, ‘Holy Father’, ‘The Creator’, everything you name it, that is in charge of everything of everything of everything.

Which kinda brings me to a Von Neumann universe, but anyway, I’ll focus back to Dr.Kaku’s video.

After giving myself some thoughts about the video, I can summarize that the entire world right now is undergoing transition towards Type 1 civilization. The good news is: we’re right now a Type 0.7 (after further calculating our global energy usage in 2008). But, still, even to achieve the other 0.3 is no easy task. The underlying reason: we may have to boost our energy production by a multiplication of 100,000, to the extent we can already manipulate Mother Nature and start to operate them as we all wish. But, several features of a Type 1 civilization are already existent in 21st century, thanks to globalization, and it applies universally to all countries, including Indonesia:

1. English is already the world’s de facto lingua franca. A Chinese and a Japanese encountering each other beyond their home countries will most likely use the language other than either one of their mother tongues.

2. Internet is now accessible to more than 2 billion people worldwide. The number of Facebook users is more or less equivalent to India’s population in the second decade of this century. One billion people worldwide have watched Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ on Youtube.

3. Continental-sized trade blocs are today’s norms for international relations. European Union, NAFTA, ASEAN (by which Indonesia is a Big Brother), African Union, these all are perfect illustrations of a Type 1 economy.

4. United Nations. For all its inherent flaws (the real power-holders are only 5 countries today) and its limitations in preventing conflicts in numerous developing countries (Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, and today’s ISIS-occupied Iraqi and Syrian territories all testify to their weaknesses), this organization, altogether with its dozen subsidiaries, is already a beginning of ‘new planetary order’.

5. Everywhere we go, rock n’roll, pop music, and rap also follow suit.

Nonetheless, with new eras, there also appear new problems and challenges, all of which, Einstein had already reminded us, couldn’t be solved with strategies we once employed in solving past ones. And here they are:

1. Terrorism. Nostalgic with past glory – and again ‘good ol’ days’, some people are daring enough to disrupt world order for their own sake. See what the ISIS is now doing in Middle East.

2. Global warming. We have heated up the Earth, which takes up to 10,000 years, in only two centuries, thanks to Industrial Revolution. Thousands of exotic species have also gone extinct.

3. Some crazy madman who tries to poke with nukes. But I’m obviously certain that even Kim Jong Un may think many, many times before unleashing nuclear warheads towards either Seoul or Tokyo (somewhat, he needs their political and financial support!). Still, what we should be feared of is the control of those WMDs to the madmen.

4. International relations are gonna be a larger anarchy than ever. I mean, anarchy that is self-controlled. United States, the world’s current superpower, is becoming slightly stagnant. China is becoming bigger, richer, and more aggressive than ever (its neighbors already get its wind up, despite China’s current insistence on ‘non-interference’, up to near future). But new regional powers are also flourishing elsewhere. Japan, United Kingdom, France, and Germany remain dominant major powers, while India, Brazil, and Russia are slowly climbing up the ranks. Indonesia, despite being the world’s fourth most populous country, remains laggard in dealing with global affairs and comes up late in international branding.

What can – and should – Indonesia achieve in realizing its potential towards becoming a Type 1 civilization, despite necessitating nearly a century of process to do so? Here, we must remind ourselves of our inherent problems:

1. Education remains a substantial problem. We remain ranked on the range of 120-130 in terms of delivering quality education. Millions of children and teenagers are not getting what they desperately need, and this, if unsolved, can emerge into a ‘youth bulge’

2. Talking about economic aspect, our mindset remains too limited on ‘fuel subsidies’. As I’ve stated in previous post before (see ‘Jokowi’s homework’), this will always prevail a poison all economists concur. Mass media never ceases reminding us of Indonesia’s depleting oil reserves (only 4 billion barrels and 12 years of constant production rate before it’s completely used up, they say), and we even overlook more the potential renewable energy promises. Researchers from University of Washington have calculated that the daily OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) our planet’s ocean surfaces receive from the Sun equals to more than 250 billion barrels of oil. For a freaking, single day. Exclude ocean wave currents (nearly similar amounts), solar energy itself, wind energy, biofuels (corn, sugarcane, palm oil, and jatropha curcas), biogas from human and animal excreta, and geothermal energy, we all end up oblivious to a bigger picture behind all this potential.

3. Our research & development budget remains too stuffily constrained. With now GDP surpassing 1 trillion US$, government merely allocates no more than 3 billion US$ (when a supposed ideal amount is one more digit this number) for scientific activities. Our best and brightest assets, now employed in world-class universities with strong, sustainable flows of federal funding, are leaving this country.

4. Primordial, religious fundamentalist, and ethnocentric worldviews still dominate much of our society. The elites running our country today remain the same ones running Indonesia in Suharto’s time. Unarguably, that should start to change.

5. We chronically lack a ‘can-do’ attitude. There’s still a high tendency for majority of our populace to ‘beg on others’ hands’. Rely on government to handle fuel subsidies, rely on the rich and nouveau riche to be sympathetic and compassionate (no wonder stampedes happen when they distribute pocket money or free meals), and rely on ‘everyone other than me’ in solving our own problems. Sooner or later, if we don’t change the mindset, we will end up being a huge, lumpy bunch on the global stage.

Again, my personal advice on how to prepare this country towards a Type 1 civilization, be it an infinitesimal, small step or a gargantuan, huge leap:

1. Reform how the teachers should teach! At the very least, we should be glad that OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) ranks Indonesia 2nd after Denmark in terms of ‘world’s most innovative education system’. Not that we have sophisticated labs or larger-than-life devices to achieve such feats, but rather on all the flaws happening in our memorization-based system. But, most importantly, we should really have a long-term set of goals for our educational quality to succeed (something our current Ministry of Education doesn’t really possess).

2. Let the best ones out. Well, that sounds ironic, but for a short term, given our limited capacity to support them, we must export these best and brightest students out, and let them maximize their real potential. Say the least, they can afford to promote Indonesia. Only after we have dramatically increased our R&D expenditure to approximately 3-4% of GDP, coupled with intensive subsidies, incentives offered by our government (I really expect Jokowi to have such courage to do so), and massive improvement in our education system, do our country’s brightest minds will return and contribute to this nation’s development. That will take two to three decades. Once they return, they could bring the expertise and experiences to build space stations, permanent human colonies on Moon and Mars, stimulate nanotechnology industry, explore the seas and the sky to harness energy, or even build powerful artificial intelligence (AI). This will take more than four or five decades to really succeed. But at least, we must start today.

3. Intensify the utilization of renewable energy. Once we’re enough with fuel subsidies, we should be really enough with it. We must put all the taxpayer’s billions of dollars in harvesting such potential, and always start from the simplest ones (say, build biogas factories, buildings and structures lit with solar panels, and open up more lands for jatropha plantation)

4. Let the best technocrats lead the government. We must appreciate that right now, elect-President Joko Widodo is getting really serious about it. Still, a relative number of politicians (as long as they shouldn’t be an absolute majority in cabinet like in the past) can be a counter-balance against the egoistic, self-minded parliament. Some local leaders have also succeeded in implementing such example, and we should applaud such lively dynamism.

5. Crowdsource the government! Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, are always powerful tools in accommodating people’s voices and opinions, and definitely, it is only in this century that such invisible devices can bring authoritarian governments to an end (see Arab Spring). Joko Widodo plays the latest move by mobilizing his volunteer team to let the public recommend who are eligible enough for ministerial posts, a rare initiative in today’s world politics. Moreover, he will crowdsource his ‘blusukan‘ habit (sudden, unexpected outreach to constituents) by accommodating their voices in a single, online platform. With such measure, everyone can take initiatives in improving their neighborhood’s livelihoods.

6. Free trade is a must – albeit at a consequence. Imagine if all the world’s borders are opened up for free trade (under the terms that security guards continue to patrol them), how many times can the whole planet’s GDP multiply. Perhaps it will double, triple, quadruple, or even more. Only with such medium can we enable an unlimited exchange of ideas, products, and new ways in facing an uncertain future. Despite massive opposition by some affected groups, globalization is an enabling stimulant for such occurrence, and its existence is increasingly inevitable. Indonesia must make the best out of this opportunity, otherwise we will end up merely importing outsiders’ products while gradually crucifying our abundant natural resources abroad.

7. Balance religion with science. It’s been too long that we outweigh ourselves with religion, while we abandon scientific approaches in examining the whole universe. It’s time we seek that equilibrium.

From here onward, we must commence thinking Indonesia’s future many generations to come. At least, we must also be grateful to have witnessed, for the first time in human history, a transition phase from Type 0 to Type 1 civilization. Only with collective efforts and better mindsets, can we really achieve Kardashev’s dream. Of going to the stars, and beyond.


Bonus: watch the Michio Kaku’s video below.


International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM): exploring life’s undiscovered potential




Why you should visit this website: science doesn’t always have to be rocket-science.

What comes to your mind when ‘International Genetically Engineered Machine’, these four-word mantra, are read? Or ‘synthetic biology’, excluding the ‘standard parts’? What are you going to imagine with these highly technical words?

Well, for those who are yet to be acquainted with these terms, let me explain them in simpler vernacular wordings: synthetic biology is a hodgepodge of genetic engineering (where you manipulate an organism’s genetic materials) and engineering principle itself, with the aim of creating novel methods, or even new life forms, with better improved functions and efficiency which, as expected, can help solving contemporary problems we are being faced today. And iGEM is the main facilitator enabling such idea exchanges to flourish, which annually organizes an international competition with over hundreds of universities participating in exploring the potential of synthetic biology.

Still find it difficult to understand? Honestly, I’m still struggling with its very own definition as well. But I’ll give you some examples to have a better picture:

1. Manipulating a species of bacteria to enable them to detect if a meat product is rotting or not

2. Enhancing certain bacteria’s functions to solve oil spills

3. Inventing a new type of fat which, in complete reversal, helps reducing body weight

These are a mere handful of examples I’ve taken from some iGEM teams, but you can explore even more yourself in their wikis.

And, yes, honestly speaking, all the stuff involved inside is, indeed, honestly speaking, highly technical. When you look for every team’s project, you will be faced with an endless array of sophisticated terms, words that not even all scientific scholars will easily comprehend. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to spend your whole time looking for science dictionaries to discover their meanings, though; that’s where iGEM’s strength starts to grow. Rather than entirely focus on in-the-lab work, all iGEM teams are required to implement ‘human practice’ as well – that is, in brief, to connect with the wider public about projects they have done beforehand, using simpler and more public-friendly terms. When you are interacting with the public (say, children as young as 9, or investors), it will be highly improbable to make use of all the scientific terms to explain your project, won’t it?

That’s the raison d’etre why science doesn’t always mean rocket science, as people will always perceive. Explore it yourself, and you will (gradually, I hope) start to have deep interest in it.



Bonus: truth be told, I am actually taking part in HKUST’s iGEM team this year. No, I’m not getting paid for ‘advertising’ this post (nobody even gets paid while in the team, indeed!); I only post it out of my own personal interest. But, open up your mind a bit, take a little precious time of yours to review some of these teams’ projects (forget about the technical terms, though, and you can jump yourself off into ‘human practice’), and you will get fascinated by the unexplored potential synthetic biology will promise in the future.

And, to be more honest, I’m actually considering a new blog category here to discuss about some iGEM projects I find to be of particular interest, but I’ll figure it out later. You will see it when you see it.