India@75 is celebrating ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ under a strong and stable political leadership, proud of its achievements, a prominent role in the global community, renewed entrepreneurial spirit, an enabling environment, a determination to succeed and a robust demographic dividend.
To achieve the ambitious goals of ‘Vision India 2047’, technology will definitely play a defining role. This necessitates a rapid shift from a state of ‘technology-dependence’ to ‘technology-adequacy’ across all core socio-economic and strategic sectors.
Technology and applied sciences are engines of economic growth, enabling sustainable development, and ensuring national security; India has made strides in several fields of science and technology, leading to significant socio-economic impacts. However, in today's technology driven world, excessive reliance on foreign sources for critical technologies could impinge on national economy and national security including food security, water security, health security, environmental security, and our ability to respond to climate change.
To achieve the ambitious goals of ‘Vision India 2047’, technology will definitely play a defining role. This necessitates a rapid shift from a state of ‘technology-dependence’ to ‘technology-adequacy’ across all core socio-economic and strategic sectors, including capital goods, electronics components and products, computers, telecom equipment, biomedical equipment, aircraft and modern transport systems. Besides renewed emphasis on materials, engineering and manufacturing technology, a national drive should be launched to increase the technology intensity in our exports of manufactured goods. We need to set our sights on achieving technology leadership in a few selected areas.
Technology is advancing at an exponential rate and poised to drive the governance practices in the future. The word ‘transformation’ has given way to ‘disruption’! If we have to judge by the developments in the last five years, the future promises an accelerated pace that we have never seen and envisaged before. It becomes apparent that disruptive technologies are transforming the way the society lives, communicates, travels, shops, sleeps or gets entertained. An illustrative list includes precision agriculture, communication and computational technologies; microelectronics; nanotechnology; quantum technologies; artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning; cognitive systems and robotics; energy production and storage; meta materials and additive manufacturing; extended reality and so on.
It is time to contemplate at this juncture whether we should continue on a path of incremental innovation and improvement or aim for a paradigm shift and follow the path of disruptive innovation. The confluence of ‘Big Science’ and ‘Deep Tech’ is becoming increasingly relevant to solve the most formidable societal problems. Also, it is noteworthy that several Indian brains lead disruptive innovation elsewhere in the world, and many more Indian brains continue to support from the off-shore development centres located in India. Concerted efforts are essential to maximally harness this talent to generate intellectual property for India.
It is well recognised globally that the hallmark of India in the space sector is the use of technology for the betterment of humankind incorporating an effective institutional tie up with all stakeholders to evolve and sustain national systems. In this pursuit, self-reliance has been our obsession, not just an objective and that is evident from Indian strides in satellite technology and launcher technology. India has achieved mastery over complex technologies and is self-reliant in its access to outer space. All Indian satellites, except a few heavy communication satellites, are lofted by Indian launchers. Chandrayaan-1 and Mars Orbiter Mission have demonstrated India's ability for precise navigation into deep space and for the tricky capture of the orbit of these celestial bodies. Some of the technological innovations dictated by our space exploration missions have been beneficially deployed for the operation of Earth-oriented application satellites. India is on the threshold of human spaceflight and complex interplanetary exploration which will open up enormous challenges and host of opportunities to the new generation.
It is well recognised globally that the hallmark of India in the space sector is the use of technology for the betterment of humankind incorporating an effective institutional tie up with all stakeholders to evolve and sustain national systems.
What drives India's pursuit of such quantum leaps? It is a combination of factors, including belief in its capabilities, team excellence, learning from past missions, both failures and successes, a sublime combination of the wisdom of elders and innovative power of the younger generation, preparedness for all imaginable scenarios, and transformational leadership at all levels.
India's higher educational system is currently undergoing a transition, with a huge emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, aided by policy interventions to encourage innovation and start-up movement in the institutional campuses. At the higher educational institutions, the country has access to one of the world's best talent pools with its faculty, post-doctoral researchers and research scholars, enterprising post-graduate and undergraduate students. The stage is set for orchestrating core competencies, nurturing inter-disciplinary culture and mobilising institutional synergy to address impactful problem-solving for the nation and people.
The Government needs to promote and foster a society with the right skills, to harness the potential of any planned technology intervention for governance and delivery of services, with inclusivity, security and ethics. Organizations which are not ready for future disruptions or are in a ‘wait-and-watch’ mode risk falling by the wayside. At the educational level, technology is already changing everything about how universities deliver teaching, how their academic staff work and how research is delivered. A major portion of the responsibility of preparing future citizens to achieve the disruptive change, lies with the educational institutions. Fortunately, India has an excellent Educational Policy in place and thoughtful architects and visionary leadership who have geared up the nation for global prominence in a rapidly changing world, will be appreciated by posterity.
Last but not the least, we should not be oblivious of the humanitarian impacts of adopting the disruptions, especially in India with a predominantly labour-intensive and rural structure. The hype surrounding AI might lead one to assume that it is some kind of magic bullet to solve every complex problem. AI can also exacerbate social challenges through malicious use of private data and lack of transparency.
Thus, equally exponential growth is required in cybersecurity and secure platforms. The key question that any technology intervention must address is NOT “which technology should I adopt” but “how will the technology make a difference in the lives of its users". Thus it is essential to have a people-centred approach to ensure the technology meets the needs of its users.
(Exclusive to NatStrat)