Three decades ago, the mobile revolution helped India overcome its communication challenges. Today, mobile phones have become a commodity in India. At least feature phones have, even if smartphones haven’t. But if you are old enough to remember India during the mid-1990s, you will know that India’s fixed line telephone density was very low at that time. Getting new telephone connections was tough, and involved waiting periods that often extended to several months. Due to ageing cables, making telephone calls was a challenge, and even when calls were connected, the quality was poor.
Mobile communication technologies unleashed a powerful revolution that changed all this. Even far-off locations where laying fixed-line cables was a challenge got access to mobile towers and signals. So huge has been the transformative power of mobile technologies that an entire generation of regulatory reforms, business models and lifestyle paradigms all depend on the ubiquitous mobile phone.
Why is this relevant now?
Today, the world is on the threshold of a new breed of technologies such as AI/ML, Robotics, IIoT, Blockchain, Cloud, Analytics, Drones, Autonomous Vehicles, the Metaverse etc. Collectively and individually, these technologies have the potential to transform the world as we know it to a much greater degree. Indeed, the next decade may witness the greatest changes driven by technology in the recorded history of humankind.
The reason why it is important to be cognizant of this and take timely action. There are no established leaders in these areas because the sectors, their impact and tech are still evolving. India as a country has the technical and commercial savvy to harness these new technologies and drive innovations. What is needed is the educational and industrial framework to ensure that students get to acquire and sharpen their expertise in these new areas and start applying them to solving real-world problems. The National Education Policy is one step in this direction, but implementing it in the right way is key. Not just the curriculum, but the whole system of education must change. Internships must become more focused and integrated with the learning process, and not just a certificate-driven activity as it largely has been (and is).
It’s not just the central government that needs to act with alacrity and vision; state governments also need to formulate the right policies and rules to ensure that the country as a whole is able to take advantage of the massive disruption that is occurring all around us. Some states have woken up to this need and are putting in place plans to encourage entrepreneurs and attract investments into key sectors. The initial agreement to set up a chip-making facility in Karnataka is one example- but it’s early days yet, and many more hurdles need to be overcome.
The startup ecosystem, too, needs to readjust its approach to backing ventures in these new areas. Yes, the risk will be higher and the failure rate may be higher, but these ventures must be seen as proving grounds for technologies and ideas. Our private sector must also be ready to make the necessary investments to embrace these new technologies and lead innovation and adoption. Our large IT services industry must accelerate the shift to provide offerings built around these new areas. A lot is already happening, but the pace must pick up. India’s public sector, long regarded as a white elephant, can also play a key role by absorbing these technologies and innovatively deploying them in sectors of national importance, such as energy, agriculture, disaster recovery, infrastructure development, defence etc.
Achieving all this requires macroeconomic stability: inflation under control, relatively stable exchange rates and an adequate money supply. For a number of reasons that are outside the control of our government or individual companies, these conditions may not be met immediately. But as responsible citizens, business leaders, regulators, teachers and parents, each one of us has a role to play. Of course, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary also have their own roles to play.
To quote Brutus from Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”,
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures”.
This is very much the situation that much of the world finds itself in at this time. If we in India can rise to the occasion, our continued ascendancy as a power is assured. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and if we squander time and energy on needless and irrelevant issues, it is just as certain that we will not realise our potential. Let us make the right choice.
Today, the world is on the threshold of a new breed of technologies such as AI/ML, Robotics, IIoT, Blockchain, Cloud, Analytics, Drones and Autonomous Vehicles, the Metaverse etc. Collectively and individually, these technologies have the potential to transform the world as we know it to a much greater degree. Indeed, the next decade may witness the greatest changes driven by technologies in the recorded history of humankind. The reason why it is important to be cognizant of this and take timely action. There are no established leaders in these areas because the sectors, their impact and tech are still evolving.