Predicting the future can be a risky business. Especially so in technology. Things that the pundits predicted in a decade’s time haven’t happened after fifty years. And things they said are still far away did arrive in a few years. But when it comes to technological future of a nation, someone has to take this risk. Someone has to give us a vision of the future. Because the vision itself will drive the future.
Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC for short) is a national think-tank that has done this job admirably, not once but twice over. A part of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) of the government of India, TIFAC has been led by visionaries such as Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in the past. It is currently headed by yet another legendary scientist - Dr. Anil Kakodkar.
TIFAC released its first vision document in 1996 under the able leadership of Dr. Kalam. It was called Vision 2020. As that year started approaching, TIFAC decided that it is the time for setting new targets on the technology roadmap. The result is Technology Vision 2035. The apex document of the vision was released by prime minister Narendra Modi in the Science Congress at Mysore in January 2016.
The vision document Technology Vision 2035 (I will now call it TV2035) is a work that anyone interested in technology in India must study. To begin with, it is a eminently readable report. Despite being created by some of the best scientists in the country, it is a complete contrast to an abstruse scientific paper. Full of infographics, the report is written in an elegant and simple language that you and I can easily read.
Let me now show you some glimpses of the report:
First, we can see that the makers of the vision had their hearts in the right place. Even though this is about technology, they begin with the Indian people. The Indian is at the centre, and technology is placed at the service of the citizen. The vision statement is:
‘Technology in the service of India: ensuring the security, enhancing the prosperity and strengthening the identity of every Indian’The report first presents an analysis of how the population of India is going to look like in year 2035. There will be 1.5 billion Indians, but they will be divided into diverse segments. This is one of the most valuable research in the report. It gives us concrete profiles to work with, rather than an abstraction of 1.5 billion.
Then the document tries to explore the complexity of needs. Every segment will have a different composition of needs. The needs of a segment like ‘Left Out or Left Behind’ are easy to imagine, though difficult to fulfil. But the needs of a segment like ‘Global Diaspora’ are not easy to figure out, because they are mostly of identity rather than security. If we take a segment like the production people that is going to be most numerous, we have to pay attention to the prosperity needs as well as the basic security needs.
TV2035 has come up with a brilliant way to handle this complex matrix of population and needs. It defines the terms ‘Prerogatives’. The prerogatives are like rights that every Indian citizen must have in 2035. The prerogatives make an interesting reading – clean air and potable water, nutritious food, 24*7 energy are all there, but there are also the likes of cultural diversity and vibrancy, effective governance and conservation of ecosystem. In all 12 prerogatives are defined, that cover the entire spectrum of needs of the population.
Technology enters the picture here for the first time in the report. The role of technology is helping in the attainment of the prerogatives. For each prerogative, the technologies that can contribute to its attainment are listed.
Take for example the prerogative ‘Quality Education and Creative Opportunities’.
For example, for the prerogative ‘24*7 Energy’, see the technologies in various stages:
The section on Prerogatives is the longest in the report and forms the core body of the vision. A most notable feature of the discussion on prerogatives are the clear targets given for each prerogative. For instance, in the discussion on prerogative ‘Universal Healthcare and Public Hygiene’, the target is:
‘A primary health centre would have to established in every gram panchayat with telemedicine access to specialists and super-specialists. Every district would have a multi-speciality hospital with air ambulance and trauma centre.’
After exploring the prerogatives and related technologies, the vision document identifies three ‘transversal’ technologies. These are technologies that form the foundation of all other technologies. They are – Materials, Manufacturing and ICT. It is the lament of the makers of the document that manufacturing and in general working with hand has been a traditional weak point of India. The report calls for a change in the mindset to become proficient in manufacturing . This is only way to implement the technologies on the ground.
After touching upon the various categories of technologies such as where we can attain a global leadership and those where we have to depend on others in near future, the report turns to aspects of implementation. It identifies the ‘Who’ and ‘What’ of technology implementation. The actors such as government, private sector, research institutes and technology institutes are given due mention. A repeated note in the report, beginning with Dr. Kakodkar’s Preamble, is to encourage fundamental research. TV2035 is also keen on setting up an ecosystem to make the progression possible. In this action oriented part of the vision, the report suggests a Mission approach to achieve the milestones.
The makers of the vision have devised ten grand challenges that will give a push to the development of various technologies. The grand challenges combine different technologies for a very important purpose. A grand challenge such as taking the Indian Railway to Leh and Tawang will trigger a technology revolution in so many areas. The ten grand challenges really make an interesting reading.
The Technology Vision 2035 document concludes with the observation that a leadership in technology lends power to our nation, and a fundamental change in education will lead to technological competitiveness.
The making of the report was a massive exercise spread over three years, with a direct involvement of about 5000 experts and indirect participation of more than 20,000 people. The national apex committee was headed by Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of TIFAC. The TV2035 team in TIFAC was headed by Dr. Gautam Goswami, with the strong support from Dr. Prabhat Ranjan, Executive Director of TIFAC. The TIFAC team of scientists – Dr. Neeraj Saxena, Ms. Jancy A., Dr. T. Chakradhar, Ms. Mukti Prasad, Mr. Manish Kumar and Ms. Swati Sharma worked with diligence and infinite care in putting together the facts and figures. The elegant authorship was provided by Prof. Varun Sahni of JNU, Dr. G. P. (Bal) Phondke and Dr. Harit Santhanam. The members of 12 advisory committees provided the valuable inputs for each area.
The apex report will be supplemented by 12 sectoral reports, which are going to be published in the next few months. All the reports will be available from the TIFAC website. The Technology Vision 2035 document can be downloaded from this web page:
Most of the material for this article was taken from the Technology Vision 2035 document. I had the privilege to meet the TIFAC team – Dr. Ranjan, Dr. Goswami and Dr. Chakradhar during the conference on TV2035 at Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai. As a speaker on ICT at the conference, I had the rare honour of presenting in front of Dr. Kakodkar. Some of the information is based on my interaction with the team. Some images are taken from the TV 2035 report with permission from TIFAC. Some images are from my presentation at NSC.
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Devesh Rajadhyax is the Founder and CEO of Cere Labs Pvt. Ltd. He can be reached on email@example.com