21st Centurly Technologies: Challenges & Opportunities for India (GS 3, Science & Tech, The Hindu, Indian Express)

The new technologies invented over the last few decades such as Information and Communication Technology,  Nanotechnology, Space Technology, Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering, Quantum Technology, 3-D printing etc have revolutionized nearly all aspect of our lives, be it trade and commerce, transportation, communication, delivery system, Banking, insurance or governance. It has opened an ocean of opportunities of enhancing prosperity and security for almost everyone. But alongwith this many challenges have also arisen.

The joblessness due to increased automation is one the biggest challenges in the indian context. But the reality that technologies can provide solutions to almost every problem of the society, is widely accepted. The general perception is that Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises(MSMEs) or any  small businesses provide more employment opportunities as they use less automation in comparison to bigger companies. But the moment these MSMes adapt modern and innovative technologies of their scale, its productivity will increase and it will be able to produce more. More resources would be mobilised during the process of production and obviously the system will be needing more human resources as the scale of production is increased now. Hence it is not like general misconception that machine will take the jobs of human. Machines and Humans should be seen as complementing each other during the process of production, not as a kind of substitute.

The nature of the modern technologies is different from what we had there in the ancient times in the field of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, metallurgy etc. Today  the center for fundamental scientific advances and technology still remains the West, available in western languages and patented by the west.

Technologies are being used to fight against corruption and also sorting internal security issues.  Protection of personal liberty and privacy could be a challenge while sorting the matter related to corruption and internal security. 

The movement of technology across the border is limited to the bilateral or multilateral political relationship. Otherwise we witness sanction in technology sharing aswell. 

The big companies, invest billions of dollars in research and thus own the technology. They use country like India as market and also as a source of talent. Internet giants control the big data through their Artificial intelligence and thus get the knowledge of the changing behaviour of people. They exploit this knowledge for their own benefits. The Indian R&D sector mostly in public sector lacks the innovation ecosystem, which seriously hinders the development of our own high tech products.  

Coping Strategies: The challenge for policymakers include the need to: (1) keep pace with rapidly evolving technologies; (2) build capabilities for law enforcement; (3) protect critical infrastructure; (4) devise counter-radicalisation strategies; (5) resolve jurisdictional issues; (6) ensure monitoring; and (7) deal with legal challenges. All these elements have a strong technology element in them. Police reforms and modernisation have proceeded slowly. The issue of training of police and armed police requires serious attention.

The question is that what India should do to meet these challenges and also to harness the vast potential of these technologies: 

  • Become a provider of technologies rather than remain a mere consumer. This will require a fundamental shift in our thinking and behavior. Government and private sector should work together. Learn from the experience of other countries, particularly China in this regard.

  • Revise the science and technology policy of 2013. Bring it line with our national priorities. Prepare a strategy and a roadmap to make India a science and technology power ranking among top countries.

There should be talent hunt programs for  the vast sections of the underprivileged. They should have unfettered affordable access to the highest quality education.

  • Develop the eco-system of innovation in which the gap between academia, industry, and the government is bridged. Incentivize start-ups, MSMEs, and venture capital funding.

  • Spend more on R&D but in a judicious manner. Presently we spend less than a percent of GDP on R&D. This should be increased to 2 percent in a gradual manner and according to a strategy and plan. The entire R&D policy needs a relook. Link up R&D with socio-economic priorities of the country.

  • Focus on technologies that improve agriculture, food, water, clean energy, health, disasters, education, housing, environment, etc. Incentivize research in rural technologies.

  • Improve science and technology literacy in the country. Get people interested in science. This will require making science teaching interesting and joyful in schools, increasing the number of science museums, having public lectures and demonstrations on science, etc.

  • Strengthening science policy and linking it up with foreign policy and defence diplomacy closely to the acquisition of strategic technologies, materials, rare earth and strategic minerals and other technology security initiatives.

  • Private sector participation in science and technology. Useful models for creating an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship through the Atal Innovation Mission, starting tinkering labs in schools and the Start-Up India/Stand-Up India are being created. These should be scaled up in Mission mode.

  • Initiatives on Making India a maritime power need to be put in place. Technological innovations in blue economy, shipbuilding, scaling up maritime trade including regional trade, marine ecology, deep-sea mining, maritime domain awareness, etc. need to be encouraged. History has shown that no nation has become a major power without fully exploiting the maritime dimension.

India cannot go in isolation in respect of the knowledge economy. It would be difficult for a country like India to reinvent everything of its own. Today, in a globalized world global cooperation is a prerequisite for almost everything, be it developing technologies. But it is also to be understood that no country will share strategic and core technologies. Here India has to develop capacity building of its own by investing more in research and development. 

Md Layeeque Azam, Economics Faculty

plutus ias daily current affairs 23 Oct 2021