India’s Technology Transition: The Present and the Possible

31 December 2018
India’s Technology Transition: The Present and the Possible

Watch the full video of the panel discussion on ‘India’s Technology Transition: The Present and the Possible’, organised as part of CPR Dialogues, featuring Shweta Rajpal Kohli, Anu Acharya, Shyam Divan, Sanjeev Bikhchandani, chaired by Ananth Padmanabhan.  

CPR is proud to announce the launch of its new initiative Technology and Society Initiative (TechSoc). The initiative to strengthen CPR’s efforts towards research-driven conversations and policy thinking on emerging technologies, building an indigenous innovation ecosystem in India, and regulating the same. 

Technology transitions have been a defining feature of the 21st century. The first important transition was the shift towards the semantic, machine-readable web from the read-write web of the late 90s and early 2000s. This shift has been instrumental in unlocking the power of data to facilitate advances such as neural nets, deep learning techniques, and broader artificial intelligence solutions. It has also spawned the growth of the sharing economy, which monetises the predictive possibilities of such data. Parallel developments in autonomous systems and hardware miniaturisation have opened possibilities for human skills augmentation through robotics, internet-of-things, drones, and augmented and virtual reality. A third strand of innovation seeks to decentralise data storage and eliminate or diminish the presence of intermediaries, with blockchain and distributed ledger technologies being on the vanguard of this transition to greater trust and transparency. Fourth, and possibly with the highest transformative potential, is the convergence of the digital with the biological, leading to an array of nascent technologies dealing with the human body such as sophisticated gene editing, neuromorphic computing, and brain-chip interfaces. These transitions are poised to reshape healthcare, mobility, education, agriculture, and various other domains. And to provide strong consumer uptake and market base for these technologies, engineering has transitioned from its heavy technical focus to a more fluid understanding of human-machine interfaces and user-friendly design.

In an emerging economy like India, the most prominent marker of this techno-transition so far has been the smartphone – the ordinary Indian’s window to the world. In this pocket-sized gadget converge many of the advances highlighted above, with more to be integrated soon. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the promise of Digital India has largely been constructed around the smartphone. But clearly, nationalistic and policy aspirations only begin, and do not end, here. In the past couple of years, governments both at the Centre and the States have engaged with several new advances including artificial intelligence, drones, crypto-currencies, and DNA fingerprinting. The often-erratic nature of such interventions, however, compel us to take a step back and critically explore the background conditions required for India to leverage innovation-led growth effects, while sufficiently safeguarding against the negatives of such innovation on individual, collective, and national interests.

In this regard, there are three broad questions one is confronted with. The first relates to the innovation ecosystem needed to motivate the development of emerging technologies in the country. Even with India’s recent startup boom, criticism is rife that Indian innovation remains functional and valuation-driven rather than elemental and frontier-breaking. How can the right set of policies and incentives be structured to ensure R&D in sunrise technologies, creation of a requisite talent pool, and successful business models around such technologies? The second relates to the regulation of such technologies. The refrain that regulation often stands in the way of innovation is amplified in the Indian context simply due to weak regulatory capacity and slow-paced responses to understanding the technology at hand. How can the regulatory framework in India be redesigned to adapt to technology transitions in a manner that broadly supports innovation while guaranteeing a set of responsible practices? The third relates to the conflict between innovation on the one hand and individual and community rights on the other. While big data-driven solutions can inform better policies and products, they can also invade upon individual and group privacy, result in exclusionary policies through reliance on biased datasets, and even lead to more sophisticated State surveillance. Can existing constitutional and legal safeguards assure responsible and inclusive innovation, and if not, what are the new conceptual and procedural interventions needed?

Our panel of experts from business, entrepreneurship, policy, and law explored these questions deeper, and deliberated upon ways to contend with them.

Ananth Padmanabhan is a Fellow at CPR.

Shweta Rajpal Kohli is Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at Salesforce India & South Asia.

Anu Acharya is the Chief Executive Officer, Mapmygenome India.

Shyam Divan is a Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India.

Sanjeev Bikhchandani is Founder and Executive Vice-Chairman of Info Edge (India) Limited. 

The question and answer session that followed can be accessed here

The launch of CPR’S Technology & Society (TechSoc) Initiative featuring Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and Venktesh Shukla, General Partner, Monta Vista Capital and Ex-Chair TiE Global, can be accessed here. The question and session session that followed this discussion can be accessed here

Ananth Padmanabhan’s article in the Hindustan Times (print partner for CPR Dialogues) can be accessed here

Coverage of the launch of CPR’s TechSoc Initiative by ThePrint (digital partner for CPR Dialogues) can be accessed here

Access the key takeaways about the Dialogues by Venktesh Shukla and Sanjeev Bikhchandani.

Watch all other sessions of the Dialogues below:

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.