World Economic Forum: India has to be cautious in its technology leap

There is no point of digitisation if it does not have an impact.

 |  3-minute read |   07-10-2016
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The World Economic Forum has picked a theme around which they are building a conversation and deliberating a world post the fourth industrial revolution.

Where will the jobs be? How will our cities change? Its impact on financial inclusion, manufacturing, essentially all aspects of our life. Throughout the world, across all its meets, this has been the underlying theme.

The just-concluded India Summit too focused on the need for India to brace up for an IT revolution which, according to the forum, will be transformational and the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

Clearly, there is an increased recognition about the need to embrace and not just shrug off what is inevitable  - technology and automation taking over. Finance minister Arun Jaitley spoke in July this year that India cannot afford to miss the fourth industrial revolution.

Suresh Prabhu, railways minister, said at the India Economic Summit: “Assimilation of technology, digitisation, data is propelling the fourth industrial revolution. India poised to benefit, grow."

However, the one thing I picked up during my conversations at the summit was the sense of caution if India were to make the so-called technology leap in the name of benefit, because "digitisation" ought not to be confused with "digital". There is no point of digitisation if it does not have an impact.

arun-embed_100716064442.jpg Finance minister Arun Jaitley said in July this year that India cannot afford to miss the fourth industrial revolution. (Photo credit: India Today)

And there have been instances in India where technology interventions have somewhat backfired, whether it has been for keeping track of teachers in schools or transferring money into bank accounts of beneficiaries.

What perhaps has become clearer through India’s experiments with digital technology is that human interface to a degree will always remain relevant in a country as diverse and large as India.

Take Digital India for instance, which has remained a non-starter in most parts of the country, except some parts of southern India. Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, is building a brand new city, Amaravati, which he hopes will set a new precedent for Indian cities in terms of digital capabilities.

For India to ride and drive the next wave of Industrial revolution - besides building the physical infrastructure, it will have to be cognisant of not adopting a cookie-cutter approach because for digital to have an impact would require greater engagement with local bodies, greater empowerment from the ground up and most importantly a robust skilling programme, which too leaves a lot to be desired.

Because as automation sets in, instead of driving greater efficiencies and competitiveness, it could also lead to a state where our high-end projects get outsourced to better skilled labour from other countries and joblessness increases in India. A World Bank report has cautioned that automation threatens 69 per cent of jobs in India.

Also read: Reliance Jio posing as face of Digital India is deeply unsettling

Writer

Shweta Punj Shweta Punj @shwetapunj

The author is Associate Editor, India Today and has been writing on policy for a decade and half.

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