Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sunday Morning with Technology Vision 2035 Report

                           An interactive session on Technology Vision 2035

On 22nd May, 2016, hosts Artificial Intelligence Mumbai (AIM), and co-hosts Book Exchange Club of Mumbai, Bluenest Ventures, TechXpla and Smartify Health organized an interactive session on TIFAC’s Technology Vision 2035, titled “Sunday Morning with Technology Vision 2035”, at Nehru Planetarium, Worli.

Ms. Rajashree Rajadhyax, Director, Bluenest Ventures Private Limited, welcomed the audience to the event, and to the opening session. Mr. Deepak Gupta, founder, Book Exchange Club of Mumbai, spoke about the activities of co-host, Book Exchange Club of Mumbai, and thanked everyone for having taking time out on a Sunday morning to attend. Mr. Sandeep Sukhtankar, Founder, Calibre Personnel Services, and Director, Bluenest Ventures Private Limited, spoke about the ‘adventures’ of Bluenest Ventures and their ground-breaking work in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Mobility. Mr. Ajit Joshi, Founder, TechXpla spoke about the activities of co-host TechXpla, and how they have been actively involved in tech influencing, blogging and organizing webinars.

In the first session of the event, Mr. Devesh Rajadhyax, Founder & CEO of Cere Labs, began his Introduction to Technology Vision 2035 by speaking of why the Technology Vision 2035 document was created and why the audience, and the general public at large, should pay attention to it. He clarified at the outset a probable misconception – which technology referred only to IT or ICT – by pointing out that all technology, even the kind used in agriculture and had no remote relation to IT, was still Technology. Speaking of stakeholders who would be benefited by knowing what’s in store for technological change, he elaborated that entrepreneurs could improve their competitiveness in an industry revolutionized by technological paradigm shifts or drive those shifts themselves and take the lead, professionals could remove obstacles that would have otherwise be considered dead ends in their career paths by being aware of technological shifts, academicians could upgrade their knowledge base and better prepare the classroom generation for the world they would grow up to live in, and students could be the true drivers who generate the technological change that has been envisioned for the comparative long-term. 

Devesh Rajadhyax showing Document Report
Mr. Rajadhyax made the pertinent observation that most information available about future technologies and research has been formulated with the interests and issues  of developed countries in mind, and developing countries are at best only graciously mentioned in such reports as places where these technologies ‘could find application’. Introducing TIFAC and the Vision exercise to the audience, he informed that the India Vision 2020 document popularized by Hon’ble Former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was framed during his tenure as TIFAC chairman, a mantle which has since passed to the illustrious Dr. Anil Kakodkar, who has been the Chairman, National Apex Committee & Mentor, Technology Vision 2035. Mr. Rajadhyax then related how the exercise, which began in 2011, incorporated inputs directly from 5000 technology experts nationwide and indirectly, such as through surveys and suggestions, from 20,000 domain experts over a span of 4 years, to create a good prescription for what India should achieve technologically by 2035. Looking back on Vision 2020’s achievements in that context, he commented that sectors such as Space and Nuclear Power had exceeded expectations, Services (especially ITES) and Roads had lived up to them, while sectors like Healthcare and Education had not grown to the extent envisioned. This segued into the next section of his session – what the document actually was. Mr. Rajadhyax enthused that it is a prescription for India’s technological future that starts from the right point – us, Indians, and not the technology itself, and that all guidelines in the document stemmed from the differing but essential Security, Prosperity and Identity needs of the evolving Indian population in 2035. Thus, he explained, these ‘segments’ of the Indian population were matched to varying categories of needs, evoking a complex matrix, which was then simplified down to 12 technological prerogatives for Technology Vision 2035: some obvious, others not. As an example, he cited the prerogative Safe and Speedy Transport, which had been specified and made measurable as every place in India being not more than 1 km from availability of public transport, 3 hours of travel from district headquarters, 5 hours from the state capital and 8 hours from Delhi. He clarified that each prerogative, being technological in nature, would be connected to 4 stages of technological research – Scale, or the technology that is ready to deploy and only needs scaling up; Lab to Field, or technologies that have been proven in the lab but need to reach maturity so they may be deployed; In Research, or technologies that show promise but need more research into how they may be developed; and Blue Sky Research, which are still only probabilities and need to be figured out as to what  research may be done to make them possibilities. In conclusion and continuing with his earlier example, Mr. Rajadhyax reminded the audience that achieving simply the prerogative of Safe and Speedy Transport would face challenges of the magnitude of building the highest railway in the world to connect Leh, the capital of Ladakh, possibly the most remote but the second largest district in the country, and Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, with the rest of India. 

Post the morning tea, Mr. Devesh Rajadhyax moderated the panel discussion on “How critical is technology to our future?” with eminent panellists Mr. Ajit Joshi, Founder, TechXpla, with 2 decades of experience in IT Sales and Marketing and Secretary, Computer Society of India, Mumbai Chapter; Dr. Ajit Bhobe, Deputy Director (Pharma Research), SVKM’s NMIMS with 40+ years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry; Aditya V Phatak, Senior Researcher, Gateway House and Foreign Policy Expert; and Ms. Bela Shah, Sr. Group Manager, Technology Strategy and Transformation, WNS Global Services, IT Expert with 11 years of experience in IT and ITES.

Panel Discussion

Speaking on trends in IT, Mr. Ajit Joshi observed that domestic ICT projects in the past were usually educational such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, dealt with questions such as ‘Can we educate students at the school level with ICT?’ and followed the ‘Few PCs, internet and a printer’ computer lab paradigm, which has now given way to Tablets and Interactive Content. Among other trends, he noted the advent of ‘Smart City’ concepts that basically amounted to ICT-smartened living such as intelligent temperature control in homes and notifications about whether public transport was late and by how much, and the rise of mobility and its implications for Fintech, which could eventually lead to advances such as determining credit scores based on social data, loan automation and the mainstreaming of peer-to-peer lending platforms.

Commenting on the current status of healthcare technology and challenges faced, Dr. Ajit Bhobe opined that technology needs for rural and urban populations were widely different, based on their differing economic conditions, education and circumstances – both especially with regards to nutrition, immunization and hygiene, with urban Indians more prone to lifestyle diseases than previous generations. For rural healthcare, Dr. Bhobe suggested that CSR initiatives be required to adopt villages and ensure such objectives were met as literacy, sanitation, immunization and pure water. He also pointed out research directions that could be taken up in India, for instance, portable diagnosis machines which are currently being researched by about 230 teams in 13 countries, and mentioned early successes such as the Scanadu Scout. He stressed on the need for more such Blue Sky research in biotechnology. Mr. Ajit Joshi added that technology is currently available that enables prediction of disease outbreaks if these devices can be used for real time reporting of infection, and would take a lot of the communication responsibilities off government doctors who are already stretched too thin. Dr. Bhobe pointed out that not much research had been done in the West for Tuberculosis which is estimated to be latently present in nearly 30% of the Indian population, and Malaria which causes 40,000 deaths annually. He also noted the indiscriminate use of antibiotics as another worrying trend adversely affecting health.

Mr. Aditya Phatak shared his views on India’s national power by stating that while the Defence forces are a projection of power, the technology underlying them is the precursor to national power, and that we should reduce our reliance on borrowed defence technology. He cited the example of Japan which during the Meiji Restoration ended the stranglehold of the shogunate and in 30 odd years transformed Japan from a feudal agricultural nation to a modern technological power to be reckoned with. Mr. Phatak reminded the audience that while we have the defence hardware, we still do not own the code, and ironically we code apps that run on top of that code, and commended Technology Vision 2035 for envisioning a technology ecosystem that would hopefully lead to co-production which would help us own our technology and not just assembled kits from other nations, and lead us to strategic independence.

Speaking on the ITES industry in India, Ms. Bela Shah described the evolution of IT in India, from the early days of bagging non-core processes from overseas clients based on nothing more than cost arbitrage, to taking over core processes, product management and research by the late 1990s and early 2000s, to finally being able to deliver end-to-end solutions, and an IT/ITES/hardware industry that currently stands at $150 billion. She elaborated that this evolution had helped us learn and that it was time to apply that learning into original ventures and owning our products. She described the changed market scenario as a much more diversified client portfolio that helped us mitigate risk – still 60 70% US and Europe, but a growing share of Asia Pacific clients and more importantly, a domestic market waiting to be tapped, including traditional behemoths like retail and opportunities in healthcare, education and governance. Ms. Shah admitted that with the new opportunities came new challenges such as margin dilution arising from the domestic INR business which would require different business models to ensure profitability, and a mind-set that still sees IT as an enhancer that incrementally improves processes and not an enabler that can radically change or replace existing processes with more effective ones, while adding that the Indian IT industry was more than ready to deal with the latter.

On the topic of technological challenges, Dr. Bhobe brought to attention the difficulty in building an actionable pharmacopoeia for traditional systems of medicine which lack a standardized documentation, particularly Ayurveda, as descriptions of ingredients in traditional texts are insufficient and subjective and may be better served by actual photos, the ingredients themselves are not compounds analogous to allopathy but combinations of various compounds found in nature that are sometimes synergistic and sometimes mitigate side effects, and the quality of such ingredients is highly dependent on the age, soil and weather cultivated in.

In the Q&A session, responding to the question of whether technology is being used as an escape from actual problems at the ground level and not equally accessible to the rural as it is to the urban population, Mr. Ajit Joshi said that he had observed farmers using 2 or 3 cellphones to ensure enough battery power for the entire day, and that accessibility was not as much of a problem as the cost at which it is made accessible, which could definitely be improved with further advances to technology. In response to the same question, Ms. Shah clarified that Technology should not be looked at through a narrow view of ICT, and that it is a transversal component that improved all others built upon it, including the accessibility to what is referred to as ‘technology’ in common parlance. Adding on to the answer, Aditya Phatak said that the power structures in our consciousness and our culture are built to resist any technological advance as it shifts power dynamics, and reminded the audience that technology or lack of it is why we lost independence; so, when technology challenges an existing power structure, it fights back, and technology ends up looking like the problem rather than the one that demonstrates the problem.

On being asked how far India Vision 2020 was achieved, and whether unexpected improvements were incorporated into it or it stayed a static document, Mr. Ajit Joshi replied that with regards to the industries like Space research or the IT industry, all objectives were surpassed, but there were other areas that had lagged behind.

In the next session of the day on ‘Water’, Dr. A. P. Jayaraman, Dean SICOMS, Kerala and Vice-Chairman, National Centre for Science Communicators began with the audience in giggles as he jested that he would help the audience understand the abbreviations the report used freely, and would have to talk ‘only’ about 1/24th of the prerogatives, water technically being only one half of the prerogative Clean Air and Potable Water. However, clean water being a luxury of sorts even in the cities, the irony of his jest was not lost on the audience as he guided them through the Technology Vision 2035 for Potable Water. He described how the Vision was as simple and as seemingly insurmountable as ‘Assured and Fit for Purpose Water Supply’. Pointing out the Grand Challenge ‘Ensuring Quantity and Quality of Water in All Rivers and Aquatic Bodies’ facing this Vision, he elaborated how it encompassed such varied activities as augmenting water quality, dealing with the challenges created by new contaminants such as chlorine reacting with dissolved organic matter to create carcinogens, making irrigation more efficient with more crop per drop as 70% of all usable water in India still flows into fields, waste water management, cost-effective desalination technologies to reduce the pressure on freshwater systems, and the need for future research.

Dr. Jayaraman introduced to the audience how one-atom-thick graphene membranes could be used to reduce the pressure requirements to push water across these membranes and thus reduce the energy requirements for purification, how countries such as Oman were making use of technologies like Forward Osmosis desalination, the use of biomimetic membranes, and geo-synthetic textiles. He suggested that for the fruition of Technology Vision 2035, the younger generation should perhaps be incentivized and guided to make projects that are based on the Vision, and to replace the ‘thermocol culture’ in existence among school projects. Dr. Jayaraman posed the near-existential dilemma of the vision for water to the audience – there are technologies in existence today that could achieve many of the objectives right now, so should we use them now, immature as they may be, or do we wait till 2035 to see what we can achieve then?

Dr. Jayaraman talking about water related technologies
He also wondered that while it was good to have long water supply chains, huge warehousing capabilities and efficient transportation, would it not be great to at least partially be rid of the energy requirements posed by all of them by creating local, reliable, clean sources of water for every area, thus lowering the amount of distribution and transportation needed in the first place?

Dr. Jayaraman concluded his talk by hoping and believing that technology would help us reduce both the chemical load on our water and also reduce the energy load required to reduce that chemical load, giving us not just clean water, but cost-efficient water.

The day’s events came to a close with Ms. Rajashree Rajdhyax thanking the organizers, speakers and thought leaders, and most of all the audience for having made this a pleasantly unusual Sunday morning, with Technology Vision 2035. 

About the author: 
"This nice and well-mannered conclusion of Technology Vision 2035 event is summarised and written by Mr. Hari Thambi."

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