Milestones are usually an occasion to look back and reflect on the past. They are often viewed as opportunities to take stock of the path taken and to evaluate the journey that had been. The third-year milestone of the Narendra Modi led NDA government however marks a different kind of milestone with the government looking to the road ahead with new confidence and renewed focus.
Prime Minister’s vision of a New India can only be realized when we set our aspirations high and aim to be a Technology Leader across the globe rather than limit our ambitions to being merely the world’s largest consumer of technology.
The Prime Minister set the tone for this milestone with his articulation of a New India. Much has already been written on what the New India ought to be all about from the social sector to the economy. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on a more digital and less cash society has set a high bar for the kind of technology savvy society a new India must aspire to create. In his recent speech at the Supreme Court on the occasion of a digital platform for case management the Prime Minister further highlighted how Artificial Intelligence was set to transform society. He rightly pointed out that the biggest challenge to technology adoption was the “current mindset”.
The “current mindset” that the Prime Minister referred to in his speech extends not merely to the barriers to technology adoption within society but also the barriers to technology development in India.
We must create a culture of technology in New India that is willing to experiment with leading edge technologies, that is not shy of taking bold risks and that is willing to be a pioneer rather than a mere follower.
Let it be said that the Prime Minister’s vision of a New India can only be realized when we set our aspirations high and aim to be a Technology Leader across the globe rather than limit our ambitions to being merely the world’s largest consumer of technology.
To achieve global Technology Leadership, we must create a culture of technology in new India that is willing to experiment with leading edge technologies, that is not shy of taking bold risks and that is willing to be a pioneer rather than a mere follower.
To further elucidate on this let us look at two areas to better appreciate how a New India could be a Global Technology Leader. The first area is what the Prime Minister touched upon in his speech– Artificial Intelligence. The second area has to do with the emerging technology convergence between Broadcast and Broadband.
On Artificial Intelligence
While India may be lagging behind the United States and China in the race to develop Artificial Intelligence based technology, solutions and systems, the challenges within India present a unique opportunity. A recent paper on India and the Artificial Intelligence revolution takes an in-depth look at what it would take for India to participate in this global race.
The moment calls for India to open up these data sets to AI researchers in India and world over to develop technology and solutions under the auspices of a New India Grand Challenge to address a slew of India specific problems with global relevance.
From natural language processing technology to deal with the vast linguistic diversity in India to the many challenges of governance (tax evasion, subsidy leakages, targeting interventions) the vast reams of structured and unstructured public data within our billion-people democracy make for the ideal sandbox for AI research and development.
The moment calls for India to open up these data sets to AI researchers in India and world over to develop technology and solutions under the auspices of a New India Grand Challenge to address a slew of India specific problems with global relevance. This will not only provide a much needed publicly funding boost to AI research and development in India for India but it would also give India momentum to catch up with China and perhaps get ahead of it in taking “Made in India” AI based technology solutions to global markets.
On Broadcast Broadband Convergence
India is the world’s largest digital consumer market with an open Internet and a democratic society. Our commitment to an open internet and our democratic values present a unique opportunity for us to take a global leadership position in the development of technology heralding the convergence between Digital Broadcasting over the airwaves and the Internet based Digital Economy powered by Mobile Phones and High Speed Mobile Networks.
We in India have the world’s largest broadcasting network in Prasar Bharati combining both television and radio with the widest demographic reach without a parallel in the planet. But as the Prime Minister rightly pointed out we have a “mindset problem” that is preventing us from being a global pioneer in the development of new generation of digital broadcasting technologies aimed at our billion plus base of mobile consumers.
The emerging convergence of broadcasting and broadband also has the potential to deliver the last mile of internet connectivity to rural India through the creative use of TV White space thus making the Prime Minister’s dream of a Digital India a reality.
The moment calls for India’s public broadcaster in collaboration with the broader industry ecosystem, to discard the ostrich-like “head in the sand” attitude that has India hostage to legacy technology decisions in digital terrestrial broadcasting made in the 1990s, before the advent of the Internet based Digital Economy as we know it today. The moment calls for asking tough questions on the relevance of making continued public investments based on archaic broadcasting technology decisions of the 1990s that were made before the advent of smartphones and internet streaming on YouTube, Facebook and video sharing on Whats App.
At a time when the next largest democracy with a commitment to the open Internet, the United States, is looking to mandate digital broadcasting chips in mobile phones with an eye on emergency alerts when a disaster strikes, it is imperative that India takes the lead in ensuring the future of broadcasting innovation is “Made in India” through the technology start-up ecosystem in India. The emerging convergence of broadcasting and broadband also has the potential to deliver the last mile of internet connectivity to rural India through the creative use of TV White space thus making the Prime Minister’s dream of a Digital India a reality.
This will ensure the trinity of Prime Minister’s vision of “Make in India”, “Startup India” and “Digital India” being realized through the convergence of digital broadcasting and digital broadband.
The moment calls for the creation of an open environment for broadcasting innovation in India by India’s public broadcaster to nurture the start-up ecosystem in India and by collaborating with global broadcasters who share the vision of both an open internet and a convergence with digital broadcasting through smartphones and connected devices. This will ensure the trinity of Prime Minister’s vision of “Make in India”, “Startup India” and “Digital India” being realized through the convergence of digital broadcasting and digital broadband.
New India and Global Technology Leadership
The opportunities in Artificial Intelligence and Broadcasting-Broadband convergence are but two illustrative examples of how a New India may aspire for technology leadership across the globe. From electric vehicles to smart cities, from solar power to LED lights, from a universal identity to digital cashless transactions, the possibilities are immense for India to take a leadership position in technology through solutions and systems that have wider relevance across the planet. We must be bold in our ambitions and set a high bar for our aspirations in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call for building a New India.
(A Technocrat, Innovator and Commentator, Shashi currently serves as a Member of the Board of Prasar Bharati – India’s Public Broadcaster. He also recently authored a policy paper on “India and the Artificial Intelligence Revolution”. )
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