Article

Augmented Reality to Augmented Humanity

Welcome Speech by Dr R.A. Mashelkar,
FRS Chairman, Council of Advisors, Bajaj Foundation,

43rd Jamnalal Bajaj Awards Ceremony


 

My very warm welcome to you all to our coveted 43rd Jamnalal Bajaj Awards function, indeed to this great evening of celebration.

Today’s function is unique. There are many firsts to today’s function.  

After establishing Jamnalal Bajaj Awards, the award ceremony was held without a single break for around four decades.

2020 saw an unprecedented break in our awards due to an unprecedented pandemic. This was a first ever.

We are resuming the awards in 2021 in a virtual mode due to the pandemic. Yet another first for us. 

There is another first. Our beloved Rahul bhai could not personally make it to the function today. His charismatic presence as also his ever so thoughtful, ever so effervescent speech were always the highlight of each of our functions. Rahul bhai, thank you for your inspiring message. But we sorely missed you today. I am sure you will be back with us in 2022 with full vigour and energy that we always associate with you

I want to extend a very warm welcome to our Chief Guest Kailash Satyarthi ji. He was our chief guest in the year 2014, When Kailash ji became the first India born Indian to win the Nobel Peace Prize. They say, all good things have to be repeated. So we requested him again to be our chief guest and he graciously accepted.

It will take me hours to describe Kailash Ji’s amazing life and work. I won’t do that.

It is most aptly summarised in just few powerful words in his inspiring Nobel prize citation, that his Nobel prize is for “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” Again, a very warm welcome and our most grateful thanks Kailash ji for gracing the awards function today.

Our awards carry a great prestige, great value, not just the monetary one, but the value that is associated with the very name of Jamnalal Bajaj, a great humanitarian, a valiant freedom fighter, a compassionate philanthropist and a passionate social reformer.

 Jamnalal ji was an ardent Mahatma Gandhi follower. He practiced Gandhian ethics in every sphere of his life – political, social, business and personal. Therefore, the awards are given to those exceptional individuals, who are committed to inclusive development in line with Gandhian constructive work program.

 The Gandhian principles continue to remain important today. Why do I say this? Because more the things change in India, more they remain the same at least in some cases, where human dignity is at stake.

Mahatma Gandhi had said ‘removal of untouchability is one of the highest expressions of ahimsa’. But what is the grim reality today?

 Take what Chandrashekhar and his family belonging to Chennadasar community had to go through very recently in Miyapur village in Karnataka. Chandrashekhar had gone with his family to seek blessings for the birthday of his two year old son. His family was standing outside the Hanuman temple. His two-year-old son left his mother’s hand and just ran inside the temple. His Dalit family was fined Rs. 25,000 and for what? For the purification of the temple!

 Mahatma Gandhi had said “down with the monster of caste that masquerades in the guise of varna”

 The caste based discrimination still continues. As per the Oxfam report, just 37.2 per cent of SC households and 25.9 per cent of ST households had access to non-shared sanitation facilities, compared to 65.7 per cent for the general population.

More significantly, the Gandhian principles have become even more important now in the post-pandemic era than they were before the pandemic. Let’s see why.

The coronavirus pandemic hit the humanity very hard. We witnessed painful loss of millions of lives and livelihoods. The entire world got into a reset mode. The rapidity and scale of change was phenomenal. The poor and the vulnerable were worst hit, and India was no exception.

 The Oxfam report shows that India’s large informal workforce was the worst hit as it made up 75 per cent of the 122 million jobs lost. There were devastating consequences for 40-50 million seasonal migrant workers that we were all witness to. With the sharp rise of inequalities, pursuit of Gandhian engineering, that creates the magic of access equality despite income inequality, is essential, not just optional.

As we know, as a global leader in social reforms, our Chief Guest Kailash ji campaigned against child labour in India and advocated the universal right of children to education.

What the pandemic has done is to reverse several years of work in just few months in the area of child labour and children’s education.

For instance, I saw the UNICEF report on the impact of COVID-19 crisis on the lives of children in India that came out just after the World Children’s day on 20 November 2020. It said that COVID-19 is a Child Rights Crisis.

The report says that over 290 million children are out of school, and sending their children into labour is a way of coping for many families. Overall, the community -based monitoring, meaning the CBM findings, show that overall, about one in every four mothers reported that they were not sure about their child going back to school after pandemic. It is very unfortunate that families are resorting to negative coping mechanisms, including child labour and early marriage.

Another report published a couple of months ago says that pandemic-induced school closures have resulted in “catastrophic consequences” for students, especially for those in rural areas, with a mere 8% studying regularly online and 37% not studying at all. 

In this background, we recall the 2019 Jamnalal Bajaj awardee for application of science and technology for rural development, Mr. Mohammad Imran Khan. A decade before the pandemic hit us, he had strongly believed that e-learning, digital learning is a platform for learning without discrimination; and it will be a boon for the rural students to access and explore new horizons in educational and learning content.

He created over eighty educational `Apps’ to provide quality content for learning, access to education, to engage school children, to reduce school dropout rate and bridge the digital gap. These Apps have been huge help during the pandemic for the rural poor. We are so proud to have chosen an awardee, who has made a big difference.

Now I turn to our distinguished awardees for 2021 and warmly congratulate them. 

Dr Lal Singh has shown how application of science and technology, one can create community oriented environment friendly technology with models that would give high returns to rural mountain communities.

Sister Lucy Kurien has given our society’s most vulnerable a new lease of life, be they the unfortunate traumatised women or children or older people. 

Dharampal Saini has shown how a radical social transformation can be achieved in a far flung tribal region and how antyodaya can lead to sarvodaya. 

Mr David Albert has shown how the powerful instrument of social technology can be used to revive communities, if only one identifies and practices the basic elements of Gandhian philosophy.

Distinguished awardees, you are four exemplars, four role models, who have made a huge difference. We offer our warmest congratulations and grateful thanks to you all.

Finally, in this new digital world, a new term has been coined. It is called ‘augmented humanity’. The idea is to empower individuals with new breakthrough digital technologies, like wearables, for instance, so that they can perform to their limit in many walks of life.

I am convinced that the crux of ‘real augmented humanity’ lies in imparting Gandhian values, these are embedded internal wearables, not just digital external wearables. And I am happy and proud that our Jamnalal Bajaj awards are doing precisely this by honouring those, who preserve, propagate, and practice Gandhian values.  

So finally, once again, we salute and applaud our 2021 awardees, for their magnificent contribution to the creation of the much needed ‘real augmented humanity’, indeed ‘augmented humanism’ as well as help us create a better world for not just some, but for all, and that too with the timeless Gandhian values.

ASSURED  Framework for an Assured Success in Innovation


  1. Introduction

 For successful innovation,  one has to move from idea to impact. The journey from mind to marketplace is an arduous process. But after entering marketplace, to remain successful in business over a long period  is also challenging. 

First consider the success rate of  any idea into a success. An interesting analysis has been done by Stephen and Burley in 1997 for Industrial Research Institute. It lists out the significant odds that face the would be innovators by analysing consistent data from new product development, potential activity and venture capital experience. 

 They show that there is a universal curve, which illustrates the number of substantial new product ideas surviving between each stage of the new product development process. It shows that out of 3000 raw ideas (hand written), 300 are submitted, which lead to around 125 small projects, further leading to 9 significant developments, 4 major developments, 1.7 launches and 1 success. 

 But how long will the small percentage, who enter the marketplace finally  remain  successful? A study by McKinsey shows  that the average life span of companies listed in Standard & Poor’s 500 was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. Only 10.4% of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 have remained on the list during the 64 years since in 2019.

I propose in this paper a new framework, which, if used proactively, can potentially increase, first,  the chance of converting an idea into a business, and then remaining a successful business for a prolonged period.

  1. ASSURED Innovation Framework

 I along with my coauthor Ravi Pandit wrote a book, ‘From Leapfrogging to Pole-vaulting: Creating the Magic of Radical yet Sustainable Transformation’ in 2019, which won the Tata Literature Live! Business Book Award in the same year.

In the book, we emphasised  the shift from reactive leapfrogging to proactive pole-vaulting through radical and sustainable transformation of an enterprise. In order to assure success, we proposed using the ASSURED Innovation framework.

 ASSURED comprises 7 important attributes, namely,  being affordable, scalable, sustainable, universal , rapid , excellent and distinctive.

Affordable

An  affordable solution creates access for everyone across the economic pyramid. Affordability is achieved by implementing extremely efficient operation, production and distribution systems.Cost of customer acquisition has to be low. Lowest cost of fixed and operating are as important as business model innovations such as ‘pay per use’, or work flow, or system delivery innovations.
Scalable

Scaling the solution to largest number of addressable beneficiaries makes the largest impact. In depth understanding of the market addressability is as important  as identification of Blue Ocean ( unexplored and vast market place for the offering with the entry barriers).
Sustainable 

The solutions have to be environmentally sustainable, economically feasible (with robust business and revenue models), socially acceptable and also adaptable to sudden or radical policy changes.  Proactive  planning for  obsolescence of skills, capabilities and processes by being agile and nimble is  important. Good governance is essential for sustainability. PESTEL analysis, which focuses on Political, Economic, Social, Technological factors and also includes additional assessment of the Environmental and Legal factors that can impact a business, is fundamentally important.

Universal

Universal means user-friendly, simple and maintenance free products and services. Standardisation of design, supplies, inputs, processes, customer needs, quality of supplies and resources contribute towards universality . All the principles of universal design such as flexibility, simplicity, minimal inconvenience, tolerance for error and equitable use are as important as the design thinking.
Rapid

The journey from mind to marketplace has to be rapid , and so is the rapid adaptability to changing market conditions after entry into market. This speed to market, speed of competitive response to a competitor, decision making speed, flexible organisational processes that impact decision-making speed, all these are  important.
Excellent

The endeavour has to be to use the state of the art technological or novel non-technological solutions. But that is not enough. We need business excellence, which is about developing and strengthening the management systems for achieving excellence in everything that an organisation does, including leadership, strategy, customer focus, information management, people and processes.
Distinctive
Innovation and not imitation is the key. There is  no use creating  ‘me too’ products

and services. Solutions must be protected by robust intellectual property portfolio. Raising entry barriers for the competitors, primarily through self-destruction , distinctive brand creation, clear differentiation, creating products with low replicability are the keys to success. 

 Three important points about the factors in the ASSURED framework. First, all  the seven factors are dependent on each other. Better affordability can lead to bigger scalability. Second, the factors are time variant. For instance, failing to change with changing environmental regulations can affect sustainability. Third, either fully quantitative, semi quantitative or qualitative value can be attached to all the seven factors. Weightage given to each factor depends upon the type of business.

  1. Failure assured if ASSURED test fails

‘Failure is the best teacher’ is not just a maxim. To understand the efficacy of the ASSURED model, we have selected a few innovations that shook the imagination of the world. Each of the current successes, from Apple to Amazon, from Facebook to Google, from Samsung to Toyota, satisfies the requirements of the ASSURED framework. The common features among failures are common too—failure is assured in the long run if the innovation fails the ASSURED test at any point along its journey. 

Analysis within the ASSURED framework shows that their successful run lasted as long as they passed the ASSURED test, but the moment they failed in any aspect of the ASSURED framework, they failed as companies too. 

Kodak ruled the world. It did not remain ‘distinctive’ and ‘user-friendly’, when the digital camera arrived. The same was the case with Polaroid, the leaders in instant photography. 

Borders was leading international book retailer. Doesn’t exist today. It failed to adapt to the digital and online books age, ignored consumer preferences, and was soon failed the D and U test by not remaining ‘distinctive’ and ‘user-friendly’. 

Israeli EV startup, Better Place was posed as rival to Tesla at one point but failed due to non-viable business model, the S factor.

After 70 years of being in the business, Atlas Cycles was shut down. At the time of business failure Atlas Cycles failed to meet most of the ASSURED parameters. 

Zebpay, a leading cryptocurrency trading platform in India had to shut down due to regulatory non-compliance, the S factor.

These were all companies with great ‘performance’ and they failed the ASSURED test.

Let us look at a case, where a great ‘promise’ was not fulfilled because ASSURED test could not be met.

 Tata Nano was conceived as People’s car. It was Affordable, the price at the  announcement being Just equivalent to at today’s exchange rate, just USD 1500. It was Excellent  in terms of technology, since over  70 patents covered its remarkable innovations. It was Distinctive  in many ways.

 However, its marketing went awry. Tata Nano represented ‘affordable excellence’, but while marketing,  affordability was put at the front-end, which automatically translated to cheap, and the aspirational young generation did not want a cheap car. So the U  part failed. And obviously then scale and sustainability could not be achieved.           

In all these cases the  sustained success was not assured, because they did not follow the path of ASSURED innovation!

  1. Contemporary Indian ASSURED Innovation Cases

We give here three  illustrative contemporary Indian examples, first is  a growing startup, second is a startup turned into a successful company,  third, a new technology led new company that became successful rapidly and massively.

4.1 Dozee  By Shell Technologies: A Growing Startup 

It is estimated that India has only 2 million hospital beds and 0.12 million ICU beds. What’s worse, most of the ICU beds are concentrated in the private sector, with substantial variation in available resources across states. While this presented a healthcare problem even before the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become even more critical in 2020.

 The lack of ICU beds was a major concern even before the pandemic. Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Award (AMIIA) winner for 2020 – Dozee has the potential to partly address this bleak situation.

Dozee is a is continuous, contact-free vitals monitor with remote monitoring capabilities and alert system that converts any bed into a step-down ICU in less than 2 minutes. 

In COVID times, 5000 beds were enabled with health monitoring, helping patients across India in 220 hospitals so far.

Let’s view it in the ASSURED framework.

A: It is Priced at 2 USD  per day, which is about 1/10th of the cost of conventional alternatives.

S: 75000 patients have been monitored so far

S: Aims to install 50,000 ICU beds across India in the next 6 months and reach one million in the next 3 years. Currently 1400 out of 5000 beds have been supported by CSR funds  so far. The demand in public hospitals is large but the slow purchase procedures there are slowing down the scale up.  

U: User has to put device under the mattress. Vital parameters are  collected automatically. Setting up Dozee requires minimal technical expertise and it can be used in home settings.

R: Can convert any bed into step-down ICU in just 2 minutes

E: Uses sophisticated Ballistocardiograph technology. Medical-grade accuracy of 98.4%​contact-free vitals monitor with remote monitoring capabilities. The device also lets clinicians set thresholds to trigger alerts for body vitals.Incorporated AI technology brings in predictive capability.

D: Contact-free vitals monitor with remote monitoring capabilities. Dozee monitors critical parameters so reliably that one  nurse can handle 100 patients, ten folds more than the normal. 

 4.2 Jio: A Successful Enterprise 

Jio was launched in 2016 and it has become world’s 2nd largest mobile data carrier in less than 5 years. Today about 425 million Indians enjoy the benefits of free voice calling and extremely affordable highspeed 4G internet using their 4G LTE technology. Last year, Jio platform raised $ 15 Billion  from leading global investors. business in just two months, while in 2019 the entire Indian startup ecosystem raised $12.7 Billion. 

Let us view Jio in  the ASSURED framework

A: Jio offers free voice calling for life. Jio also did away with national ‘roaming charges’, marking the first time in India’s history that the length and breadth of the nation are truly connected.

S: World’s largest all-IP network. Acquired 100 million subscribers in just 170 days. Currently about 425 million subscribers

S: Jio’s network is uniquely positioned to quickly and seamlessly upgrade from 4G to 5G. Recently, Jio has received the necessary regulatory approvals as well as trial spectrum for initiating 5G field-trials. The entire 5G Standalone Network has been installed in Jio data centres across the nation and trial sites in Navi Mumbai. To develop the end-to-end 5G ecosystem , Jio is now working with leading global partners to develop a full range of 5G-capable devices. The Jio 5G technology is well positioned to create compelling applications for consumers and enterprises spanning Healthcare, Education, Entertainment, Retail and other key verticals of the economy

U: Simple, customer friendly plans – pay for one service. ‘Ecosystem of entertainment, payment and other services

R: Jio become number one player in India in less than 5 years deployed through technological, product and business model innovations. Other equally important infrastructure development included 250,000 route kilometres of fibre optic cables laid, done using high-tech machines that laid the fibre deep underground with minimal surface disturbance just by drilling two holes.

E: One of the most important innovations at Jio was its configuration- Jio’s greenfield LTE network is the first countrywide deployment of VoLTE or voice over LTE in India. It provides 15-20 MBPS speed that enables high definition voice calls. Jio deployed microcells technology for enhancing connectivity

D: Fast-tracked Aadhaar-based eKYC (Know Your Customer) which allowed SIM activation in 5 minutes instead of a few days

  1. ASSURED Use Cases in Innovation Ecosystem

 “ASSURED Total Innovation” model has been successfully implemented by various government agencies and private entities in India. Central Government’s Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation adopted it for evaluation of innovations in the drinking water sector. Ministry of skill development used it for National Entrepreneurship Awards (NEA). National laboratories in CSIR are using it for selecting, monitoring and funding projects research projects.

 JSW and The Times of India jointly leveraged it for Earth Care Awards (ECAs). Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) used the framework for the MIF awards.ISC-FICCI Sanitation Awards are being given by initial scrutiny through ASSURED framework.

 As regards the startups, the framework is being incorporated by Maharashtra State Innovation Society for selecting startup week awardees. Venture Centre in Pune, which won the inaugural best incubator award at  the hands of the President of India is using it for evaluating and monitoring some of the incubators. JioGenNext, a leading corporate accelerator is using it for selecting startups.

In the corporate world some companies, including TCS in India and Livinguard in Switzerland are using the ASSURED framework. Bombay Management Association (BMA)  has institutionalised an award BMA ‘ASSURED’ Enterprise of the Year Award, which was won by Byju’s in 2020.

 The table below provides summary of how ASSURED Total Innovation model has been leveraged by various stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem. 

  Stakeholder            Use Cases
Research Institutes • Technology evaluation

• Technology / innovation benchmarking

• Decision support matrix for projects funding 

Startups • SWOT Analysis

• Identifying probability of success

• Formulating winning strategy

SMEs • Identifying roadblocks for scaling up

• formulating winning strategy

Corporates • Identifying hot startups 

• Innovation/ tech scouting

• Innovation portfolio management

• Diagnostic tool for identifying commercialisation barriers

Investors (Angel / VCs) • Promising startups for investment

• Portfolio management

• Decision support matrix for funding decision

Innovation Accelerators • Funding decision tool

• Identifying gaps in successful commercialisation

Government / Development Agencies  • Recognizing award worthy companies

• Best practices identification

Industry Association / 

Foundations

• Innovation benchmarking

• Best practices identification

Policy Makers / Think Tanks • Public procurement policy

 

Integration, Innovation & Inclusion: Pathways to Progress


Hon’ble Chancellor, His excellency the Governor of Odisha, Hon’ble President, Hon’ble Vice Chancellor, distinguished deans and faculty, proud  graduands of the day, their equally proud parents,  ladies and gentlemen.

I feel  privileged to be the Chief Guest for the second  Convocation of

C V Raman Global University, an important milestone in the history of this young and aspirational University. 

I am most grateful to the University  for awarding me  the  Honorary Doctorate. This happens to be my 45th Honorary Doctorate,  but this is the first one that I am receiving from this great state of  Odisha. I accept this honour humbly. As a proud alumnus of our University from now on, and yes, I am using the word ‘our’ purposedly, I assure you that I will do my best to enhance our University’s  honour and prestige.

I want to congratulate the graduands of the day for a great milestone in your life. This is a very very special day in your life. I also want to congratulate your parents and teachers for giving the best gift that they could have ever given you  in life, namely education. 

Universities can’t build the future of the young, but they can build the young for the future.  You are fortunate that our University has equipped you fully with skills and tools to create your future.

I am impressed by the remarkably rapid  progress made by the University. Within a short time, it has become India’s topmost skills University; it’s amazing global medal winning record, including the gold medals,  could be the envy for any University.  It’s unique education pedagogy linking knowledge and skill seamlessly is facilitating hands on joyful experiential learning. After all, students must ‘enjoy’ what they ‘do’ and ‘do’ what they ‘enjoy’.  I am confident that our university can emerge as being among the topmost skills university in the world.

Three Pathways to Progress

There are just three pathways that can lift  a university from good to great. They are integration, innovation and inclusion. Let me explain each one of them.

Integration

Integration has multiple dimensions. It is integration in the entire chain from learning to doing to delivering, it is integration across disciplines, it is integration across borders leading to internationalisation.

First, the challenge of integration from learning to delivering. In world class universities, education, research, innovation and entrepreneurship integrate seemlessly together. Education disseminates known knowledge. Research creates new knowledge. Innovation converts knowledge into wealth and social good. However, for innovation to move from mere ideas to actual impact in the society,  we need  entrepreneurship. Our  University is doing the  most remarkable job of this integration, especially with the most important partner, namely industry. The advanced skills centres established with industry partnerships are truly unique.

The second is the integration across disciplines. Breakthroughs in research take place at the interface of disciplines. Advances are generally the sum total of numerous creative ideas and interdisciplinary co- operation. Indeed moving from ideas to impact  is not a unidimensional process. It is comparable to the intermeshing gears of a clock. The challenge before us is to make this intermeshing happen.Therefore, what we require is not just chemical or mechanical or computer engineers, but ‘solution engineers’, who are experts in such integration across disciplines.

The third is the integration within and across national boundaries. Our University must be sensitive to the needs and the aspirations of the people and society of Odisha, for which I have seen a great deal of laudable evidence. The word ‘global’ University sets a  benchmark of having a global outlook, not just local; integrating diversity of thoughts and   cultures with an open mind with the inspiring motto of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam.

I understand that our university has attracted 223  students from 25 countries even during the toughest time of COVID. In addition to the exchange of knowledge and culture, there is a huge opportunity to build a brand in skill in India across the globe.Besides this achievement in education, we must build productive global partnerships in research and innovation also. 

Looking into the future, the very character of Internationalisation will not only change dramatically but will also spread rapidly due to the phenomenal advances in Information & Communication Technology.  Digitization, virtualization, mobilization and personalization are the four new megatrends.  All these will lead to game changing cocreative, self-organizing, self-correcting, asynchronous, dynamic and open systems that will be borderless and  globally distributed. 

Innovation 

Innovation is a successful exploitation of a new idea into the market, industry, society. It comprises the journey from mind to market place, from ideas to impact.

I am very passionate about innovation. I remember receiving the JRD Corporate Leadership Award on 21 February 1999 at the hands of the then Hon’ble Vice President of India. I had then tried to lay an agenda on Indian innovation movement. I had ended by expressing a hope.

”Finally, 1999 should be the year, where we should launch a powerful national innovation movement to propel us into the next millennium. It is only through the process of innovation that knowledge can be converted into wealth and social good. Through this movement, every citizen, every constituent of India must become an innovator. The I in India, should not stand for imitation and inhibition, it must stand for innovation. The I in IIT must stand for innovation. The I in industry, the I in CSIR must stand for innovation. The I in every individual Indian must stand for innovation. It is only this innovative India that will signal to the rest of the world, that we are not a hesitant nation, unsure of our place in the new global order, but a confident one, that is raring to go and be a leader in the comity of nations”.

I am happy to see a number of initiatives that have been taken by our University. In terms of scientific research I understand that 468 publications have been published and also 45 patents have been filed. The emphasis should be now on raising the bar on quality, aiming for breakthroughs in research, saying not just the first word in India but in the world.

It is very important to convert invention to innovation. Towards this purpose, I am particularly happy to see in our university not only the building of incubation centres as also the focus on entrepreneurship development but also the emergence of  start-ups and technology driven next gen entrepreneurs, who will not be seeking jobs but providing jobs.

India has rapidly moved from a ‘starting-up’ nation to the fastest growing  ‘start-up’ nation. It is setting new record of producing almost one unicorn per week. A  unicorn means one  billion dollar market cap company.

My own analysis showed that close to 50% of the unicorn  start-ups have come  from elite institutions like IITs and IIMs and the rest of them from tire 2 or tire 3 cities. This is a real democratisation of innovation. I hope that we  will see a unicorn emerging from our university, and sooner rather than later.    

Finally innovation must spread across the university as a way of life in everything we do. President Obama had said that education and innovation are the currencies of the 21st century. I would say that education in innovation and innovation in education are the currencies. The University must build on both.The classrooms will have to be reinvented to the changing times. It is the innovative combination of digital and physical learning that will create the future winners. 

Inclusion

India needs growth, but more importantly,  it needs inclusive growth, where no Indian is left behind. This means education for all, as also research and innovation that creates products and services, that are affordable to all, and not just a privileged few.

Our university has set exemplary standards in terms of inclusion in education. I was very impressed with  the Safal program, based on a strong belief that skills  can change life, and equally importantly, when you educate a girl you educate a nation.

This unique Safal program facilitates the  education of  orphan and destitute girls across the  State. During their training,  the girls  are given different levels of education and skills and the  University bears the entire expenses till their highest education is completed.To my mind, this is inclusion in education at its best.

In the same way, research and innovation at our University must be made inclusive. Let me explain by giving example of such inclusive innovation.

My mother Anjani Mashelkar brought me up against many odds that a poor, widowed  and an educated woman will face. 
She asked me never to forget our humble beginnings and do science that helps the poor. I created Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Award in her name after her passing. The award recognises and awards game changing inclusive innovations   that all characterised  by extreme affordability and high technology and can be scaled up sustainably with speed. The award honours those who create not just best  practice but next practice. Here are some examples of extreme inclusive  innovation by five of the awardees out of the total thirteen over the past 11 years.

iBreast is  high-quality but simple breast cancer screening that avoids painful mammography available for every woman, that too at the extremely affordable cost of $1 per scan?
– Sanket is  a pocket size portable high-tech ECG machine which can provide accurate reports immediately and that too at the cost of Rs 5 per test?
– SaveMom is a IoT based maternal healthcare solution that monitors pregnancies of poor rural women remotely for one rupee per day.
– OralScan is an innovative optical device that detects oral cancer rapidly and accurately at Rs 250, as against  biopsy that  costs  Rs 2500 

-Dozee is an IoT based remote monitoring system with 98.4% medical accuracy, which converts any bed into step up ICU bed in just 10 minutes, the costs being 10% of full fledged ICU system

As I always like to say science must solve, technology must transform and innovation must impact. These five are brilliant examples of extreme inclusive innovations giving transformative affordable solutions that can save millions of poor lives.

Building Engineers for our Future

In order to become topmost ranking University producing world class engineers, we  must build both  the minds as well as mindsets of the engineering graduates, who will  build our future.

Much has been written about the mind of an engineer. For an engineer, two things are important. The first deals with learning habits of mind. That includes curiosity, open-mindedness, resourcefulness, reflection, resilience, ethical approach, and cooperation and collaboration.

Then there are engineering habits of mind. They include visualising, analysing, improving, adapting, systems thinking, problem finding and finally creative problem-solving.

Our University must develop amongst our students both the learning habits of mind  and engineering habits of mind.

A leading education expert has  said that two thirds of the senior school going students today will end up in jobs that do not exist today. If that is indeed the case, then how do we impart skills for future jobs, which we don’t even know what they are going to be. However, although the nature and type of jobs will keep on changing, there are certain skills that will be fundamentally required, no matter what changes take place. What are they?

It is generally agreed that the top 10 skills include complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation, and cognitive flexibility. 

We test the students today by examining their domain knowledge, beat mechanical, electrical or metallurgical engineering. We have to devise new tools of evaluation, which are actually able to judge their competency in these top 10 skills.

Let us remind ourselves that the word “engineer” comes from the French word “ingenieur”, which literally means “an ingenious one”. To my mind, our ingenuity of exploring the new tools of knowledge from adjacent disciplines is going to be the key to our success. Finally, I would like to repeat the inspiring inscription on the Lamme Medal of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, USA, which simply says “The engineer views hope- fully the hitherto unattainable”. I firmly believe that it is in this new seamless world of the emerging engineers from our University will not only “view” the unattainable but also “attain” the unattainable.

Five Mashelkar Mantras

The beginning of your own life is not in your hands, but where you end up is.So remember, your aspirations are your possibilities, and therefore, keep your aspirations always high. You can’t predict your future, when you are beginning your journey. 

When I was studying Newton’s laws of motion in school, I did not realise that I will sign in the same book as Newton did, while getting inducted in a ceremonial process as a Fellow of Royal Society in London. 

Second, there is no substitute to hard work for becoming successful. Like instant coffee, there is no instant success.

I have myself worked 24×7, week after week, month after month, year after year and will do so till I take my last breath. 

The golden rule is the following.  Work hard in silence. Let success make all  the noise.

Third, purpose, perseverance and passion matters. Always too early to quit. Quitters are never winners and winners are never quitters. Interpret FAIL as your first attempt in learning. Your best Guru is your last mistake as long as you learn from it.

Fourth,  be  always a part of a solution, never part of a problem.If you can’t find the way, create your own new way.You will keep on knocking on the doors. Don’t get frustrated if they don’t open. Create your own doors.

Fifth, there is no limit to human endurance, no limit to human achievement and no limit to human imagination, excepting the limits you put on your mind  yourself. 

Be `limitless’ in terms of your imagination. So every day, when you wake up, no matter how old you are, say to yourself that my best is yet to come and may be today is that day.

Finally

My young friends, all my best wishes and choicest blessings will be always with you, when you keep on climbing on this limitless ladder of excellence and bring glory not only to yourself, to your family, but also to our beloved University, our beloved state of and our revered motherland.

Science and technology: India will be a producer of knowledge, not just a consumer


 

From artificial intelligence to biomedical technologies, the 2020s will see India as not only a consumer but a producer of technologies. These technologies will focus on India and empower Indians. They will be driven by the 3Ds – digitalisation, decentralisation and decarbonisation. The decade will see their efficiency impact on education, healthcare, energy. Within the next 10 years, they will enable India to become a global leader in several industries and create innovative start-ups. The rise of India as a science and technology powerhouse will go hand in hand with other policy initiatives and citizen aspirations that will help our country adapt, evolve and embrace the opportunity these technologies will offer. Their production in the 2020s will see outcomes by the end of the decade and prepare India as a global technological giant in the next decade of the 2030s.

As with all knowledge that stands on the shoulders of giants, the decade ahead will take forward the work done by India in the decade behind. The 2010s saw incredible advances in science and technology. Globally, we saw a dramatic reduction in the cost of genetic sequencing, the first successful uses of gene therapy in humans, and the existence of gravitational waves. India had its own moments of glory. Gagandeep Kang became the first-ever Indian woman scientist, since 1660, to be elected as a Fellow of Royal Society, one of the topmost honours after Nobel Prize. In became the first country in the world to reach Mars in its maiden attempt spending just one-tenth of the budget that National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched a record 104 satellites on a single rocket.

Predicting the 2020s is difficult, especially in the VUCA world, full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The Coronavirus pandemic due to COVID-19 could not have been predicted as the year 2020 began. The world turned upside down within just around 100 days. We will deal with this subject at the end of this essay. 

Predictions are especially difficult in the area of science and technology, as the landscapes are changing so rapidly. Even just 10 years ago, we did not have Alexa, Siri, Snapchat, Instagram, Tesla Model S, Amazon Echo, and reusable rockets. They have become an important part of our life today. As someone has said, “wise people may develop expectations for the future, but only foolish make the predictions.” But despite this danger of unpredictability, we are confident that there are three dominant drivers – the 3Ds – that are fully predictable. These 3Ds are digitalisation, decentralisation and decarbonisation.

Digitalisation

Digitalisation is driving the creation of the new digital world and will be the transformative story of the 2020s. India is digitalising faster than many mature and emerging economies. It is already home to one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing bases of digital consumers. As of today, Facebook has more users in India than the rest of the world put together.

Reliance Jio launch helped India pole vault from 155th position to number 1 position in the world in mobile data consumption. In fact, India is growing in the digital space at 10x pace. India operates the most advanced digital payments system in the world. As per a KPMG report, per capita digital transactions rose from 2.4 million in 2014 to 22.4 million in 2019, a 10-fold rise in five years; it has the potential to grow to 220 million by 2021, another rise of 10 times in just two years. That 1.3 billion Indians will be connected through digitalisation offers a huge opportunity of radical yet sustainable transformation in diverse fields, be they education, health, agriculture, energy, industry, more precisely, industry 4.0.

 Decentralisation

Decentralisation (indeed for that matter democratisation) is a result of rapid advances in technology, digital being the most powerful. CAD files and 3D printing achieved by using additive processes will create distributed manufacturing, doing away with big assembly line dominated factories. That means, leave aside the idea of work from home, the home or even a garage can be a factory, thus democratising manufacturing. Decentralisation of education through massive online open courses, mesh networks, private block chain, rooftop solar with power storage by Tesla Powerwall like systems are going to drive decentralisation in the coming decade.

 Decarbonisation

Decarbonisation has been given the highest priority by India and in some cases with a 10x model. For instance, UJALA (Unnat Jyoti by Affordable Lighting for All) scheme cut light emitting diode (LED) bulb prices from Rs 310 in 2014 to Rs 38 apiece by 2016, a fall to one-tenth the price. India is now producing world’s cheapest solar power, with the cost of setting up solar PV (photovoltaic) projects dropping several folds in the last decade. India will see more solar lighting systems, with turbines and micro-grids in the coming decade, meaning more decentralisation and decarbonisation.

Some emerging biological technologies will also impact the 3Ds. For instance, synthetic biology will help decarbonisation by impacting carbon sequestration via virus-resistant plants and algae. Likewise, it will help in decentralisation. For instance, the cost of chemicals is very scale sensitive. But now with synthetic biology, localised production with tailored bacteria will become possible.

These 3Ds will be the drivers of the decade.

Exponential digital technologies and India’s march in the 2020s

 Artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, blockchain, big data analytics, mobile internet, cloud computing, robotics process automation (RPA), internet of things (IOT), augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality, quantum computing, advanced genomics, 3D printing and gene editing will dominate the decade of 2020s. These are exponential technologies, and since the performance rises rapidly and the costs go down rapidly, these will be an advantage to India. India will surely make forays in all these technologies. Let’s take only the much talked about just 5G and artificial intelligence (AI).

5G. 5G is the next generation of mobile internet connection. It is designed to increase speed, reduce latency, and improve flexibility of wireless services. The common belief is that for 5G, the world is going to depend either on US or China. This needs correction. In the 2020s, India will be a big player in 5G. Look at Jio, a mobile phone company developing in-house technology to replace third party equipment vendors. Its 5G technology is more scalable and is fully automated since Jio has its own cloud-native platform. Broadband and voice will be the base of this technology. While Indian telecom operators partner with outside companies, there are security concerns, especially with Chinese partners like Huawei. It is remarkable that Jio 5G doesn’t have a single Chinese component. With its own research and developments for 5G operations, Jio, and therefore India, is well placed to take global leadership during 2020s.

AI. AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. It broadly covers technologies such as machine learning (ML), deep learning (DL), and natural language processing (NLP). If data is the new oil, AI is the new electricity. India will use AI to usher in large changes and make a big difference in various services such as healthcare, agriculture, education, infrastructure, and transportation. And work is afoot on both, technology and policy level. There is no doubt that using AI, India will rekindle productivity and growth, open new economic opportunities and with the guiding principles of “people first” policies and business strategies, augment both individual and enterprise capacity.

In its recent reports, Accenture has provided a framework for evaluating the economic impact of AI for select G20 countries and estimates that AI will boost India’s annual growth rate by 1.3 percentage points by 2035. As per Stanford’s 2019 AI Index Report, the average penetration of AI skills in India in selected areas is 2.6 times the global average across the same set of occupations. India should seize such comparative advantage and pole vault to join the leaders’ club in AI, dominated by China and US today.

Technology 2020 will drive India’s grand challenges

India’s population of 1.23 billion in 2010 increased to 1.37 billion in 2020; it will rise to 1.5 billion In 2030. It will surpass China to become the most populous country in the world. Indian technology will focus on better quality of life to its 1.5 billion citizens. Let’s look at the specific cases of education, health, energy as illustrations.

 Education. Exponential technologies will disrupt Indian education sector. Institutes of learning will be virtual, meta and open in character. Ed-tech platforms like Coursera, edX and Future Learn offer more than 5,000 courses taught by educators across the world that anyone can access. There are an estimated 500,000 learning apps available for download. This will dramatically change the Indian education system.

First, information memorisation and brute force recall that have dominated the Indian education systems will be made irrelevant. From ‘brain as storage’ to ‘brain as an intelligent processor’ will become the norm. Humanity’s accumulated knowledge is now freely available on the Internet for anyone, anytime, anywhere. Second, on demand tutoring, peer-to-peer (P2P) learning, personalised and generative course structure and sequencing to meet the individual needs will be the order of the day. Third, rich formatted content and research material from the best faculty from around the world on any subject will be available for free. And fourth, growth of mobile technology within education will also enable a much more interactive, gamified learning experience, which will add creative and dynamic elements.

 Innovation, not only technological but also social and pedagogical, will transform the traditional Indian ‘classrooms’ into future ‘meeting rooms’, where cooperative learning will take place and students will prepare for their working future. Schooling will no longer consist of large classrooms, grade wise stratification, common and rigid curricula, syllabi and textbooks, and an overbearing presence of examinations. There will be the delivery of language-neutral content to all individuals, at the press of a button, 24×7. All learners would be able to study in the language of their choice, thanks to cheap real-time translation services. Customised learning modules coupled with adaptive, dynamic and agile lifelong learning will become the focus of Indian universities, which will create a workforce with long term sustainability.

Health. India has already established itself as “Pharmacy of the World”. India is one of the largest producers and exporters of vaccines. Nearly half of all vaccines delivered globally are manufactured in India. For instance, Shan5 is India’s first indigenously developed liquid pentavalent vaccine (DTP-Hep B-Hib).

CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology led a project which involved whole genome sequencing of 1,000 Indians for healthcare and biomedical applications. Information was made available in an app that is secure, privacy-protected, scalable, point-of-care and clinician-enabled. As the costs plummet, the dream of millions of Indians having their own DNA sequence will start taking shape. This will give access to a vast data base that describes risks, therapies and best practices based on the characteristics of one’s own specific genes.

Exponential technologies like AI and machine learning will play a big role. For instance, TimBre, which diagnoses tuberculosis (TB) in a patient by recording the sound of his or her cough. It uses these technologies to make the cough interpretation. It is an easy, non-invasive, affordable and an easily accessible procedure for TB diagnosis. The 2020s will see several such Indians breakthroughs.

Drug discovery and drug delivery in India will take a different shape. Open source drug discovery (OSDD) was pioneered by India as a new way of finding new drugs. OSDD was inspired by the success of open source models in information technology (web technology, Linux) and biotechnology (human genome sequencing). OSDD too worked in a virtual, distributed, co-creation mode. It provided a global platform where 7,000-plus scientists from more than 130 countries could collaborate and collectively contribute to solving the complex problems associated with discovering novel therapies for neglected tropical diseases. The decade ahead will see paradigm shifts in drug discovery with such game-changing breakthroughs created by India.

In drug delivery, the coming decade will herald a paradigm shift to the role of cells as ‘drugs’ and ‘carriers.’ Unlike traditional drugs, cells are unique living entities. They can navigate through the body and reach destinations that most traditional drugs cannot. Drugs that exploit or control the immune system for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune diseases, and allergies will receive a priority. Likewise, synthetic biology is well-positioned to help advance medicine over the next decade through the development of next-generation diagnostics and gene and cell therapies. Further, major advances in assembling cells and tissues will emerge that will allow Indian researchers to print living organs for clinical use.

In the next 10 years, India will begin to realise the promised rewards of personalised medicine and personalised health, moving toward a system where we monitor individuals for key biomarkers and compare those results to their own measurements at an earlier time, rather than relying on population averages that don’t reflect the wide biological variations that exist between people. Effectively, India will be moving rapidly in the decade of 2020 in balancing preventive (vaccines), curative (antibiotics), predictive (gene therapy) and regenerative medicine (stem cell technology).

Energy. India’s energy transformation is evidenced by the fast-increasing proportion of renewable energy in its energy mix. In the 2020s, renewable energy choices (solar, wind, small hydropower and waste-to-energy) will help in boosting installed capacity and access. India will leverage its competitive advantage in nuclear energy. India has a substantial amount of easily exploitable thorium deposits along its southern coasts and relatively modest uranium deposits so the thorium fuel cycle will be the viable option for India with increased focus on research effort on developing thorium-based technologies. Aggressive push on these technologies will propel India towards becoming a self-reliant energy nation, the seeds for which will be planted in the 2020s.

 As the Indian government is pushing for increased electric vehicles (EV) adoption in the decade of 2020, Indian research and development will focus on all aspects of EV technologies. These will include hydrogen fuel-cells, new battery-chemistries (with higher specific energy and energy densities), battery materials and chemicals, batteries withstanding higher temperatures, and EV chargers.

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries are the most widely used today. However, considering the fact that India is dependent on the import of critical materials like lithium and cobalt, plans are already afoot to look at alternatives. Work in India is currently going on in systems based on liquid metal, lithium-sulphur, sodium-ion, zinc-manganese dioxide, and nano-based super capacitors. In some cases, performance levels closer to Li-ion batteries have already been reached. In the next 10 years some of these will be developed to the level of commercialisation.

India will show a major shift to hydrogen economy with fuel cells, which do away with batteries altogether. Thanks to unique programs like the New Millennium Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI), already proton exchange membrane fuel cells have been built, which are superior in performance to the state-of-the-art batteries with far lower costs. Further, with 100% indigenisation of fuel cell components, both job creation through the indigenous production by Indian vendors and national security is ensured. The prediction is that such fuel cells will be used in stationary applications (such as 600,000 telecom towers that are guzzling $2 billion to $3 billion worth of diesel through the diesel generator sets, while emitting particulates in the air) as also mobile applications in commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses. What is required now is matching these technology achievements with bold policy actions. This will happen within the next 10 years.

Post COVID 2020 Science & Technology Landscape 

COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disaster in terms of loss of lives and livelihoods, ravaging of economies and destruction of social structures. The pandemic  brought the fault lines of economic inequality into sharp focus. On the other hand it moved us, almost overnight, in a global reset. In one sweep, humanity adopted to remote work, virtual learning and online shopping. 

The pandemic has accelerated the 3 Ds that we described in the beginning of this essay.

The pace of digitalisation has accelerated to an extent, where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella  said “we have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” Look at e-commerce penetration in the USA. 10 year’s growth took place in 3 months. And India is no exception.

Work from home (WFH) became a new normal. WFH  in itself was not new. Our own Indian  IT industry created a global revolution by pioneering the concept of remote work around  three decades ago. However, the COVID driven lock-down has led to massive and rapid expansion.

Earlier we referred to digitalisation leading to virtual class rooms. That was happening gingerly. Suddenly, for 1.6 billion children, home has become the classroom. 

We referred to telemedicine. Look at the  rapid change in adapting telemedicine in Britain. “We’re basically witnessing 10 years of change in one week,” said Dr. Sam Wessely, a general practitioner in London.  

In short, the trends that we emphasised earlier vis a vis 3Ds, exponential technology, etc.  are still valid. What  has changed is the speed, scale and scope. And some of it will have an unintended consequence, which we have not discussed before. Let’s look at just one of them.

Schools have closed but learning has not stopped, thanks to online delivery of education to home. With lack of access to either devices or connectivity, the resource poor children will face enormous challenge in getting access to education. We read about the painful story of Kuldip Kumar of Himachal Pradesh selling his only cow for Rs 6000 to buy a smartphone for his two children so that they could access education. Public  policy on making digital access a basic human right and then taking the measures to implement it will have to be seriously thought about.

Returning to the pandemic, the  challenge for Indian  political leadership was to make rapid informed decisions. And rightly, they turned to scientists, to deliver science that solves, science that is actionable, and rapidly so. And the scientists delivered just that.

Look at India. When the pandemic arrived, we had negligible diagnostic capability, no point of care diagnosis, no vaccines, no therapeutics, the biology and mechanism of action of the virus was unknown. 

Our scientists delivered all this and more.Let’s just take some illustrative examples.

Take diagnostics.

Startups responded. Mylab in Pune studied the genome sequence of COVID-19 and was first to come  out with their  PathoDetect qualitative kit within just six weeks.

Educational institutions responded. IIT(Delhi) launched an affordable and highly specific real time PCR based diagnostic essay.

CSIR responded. It’s constituent laboratory, Institute of Genomics and Integrated Biology,  created their unique Feluda test,  which is a rapid diagnostic kit, with high  affordability, relative ease of use and non-dependency on expensive Q-PCR machines. It used cutting-edge CRISPR technology for detection of genomic sequence of novel coronavirus. 

Take vaccines. Indian scientists got into the act with multiple strategies  for vaccine development. Bharat Biotech is using inactivated virus.Zydus is using spiked protein. Another public private partnership supported by CSIR’s pathbreaking NMITLI program  is using monoclonal antibodies.

Take ventilators. Here is just a glimpse, which is representative of the way Indian scientists  responded.

I chaired the Rs 2.5 crore #innovate2BeatCovid  grand challenge posed by Marico Innovation Foundation. The winners created ventilators that could cover the whole range, in transit ventilation in ambulances to in- patient wards to critical care in ICUs.

Interestingly, we saw great Indovation, meaning innovations that suited  specific Indian needs. Indian ventilators  must work, even when there is no electricity, no availability of compressed medical air, no fully trained staff, extremely crowded quarantines. Besides this,  ventilators have to be affordable, but yet match world class technical specifications; in other words, affordable excellence! The winners, amazingly none of whom were in the ventilator sector before the pandemic broke, met all these criteria.

India was importing 70% of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Within a space of 3 months it has become a net exporter. 

But the Indian S &T community will have a bigger challenge in the 2020s. And that has to do with  inspiring clarion call  given by our  Prime Minister by announcing ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’. It means building self reliant India in the new context.

This idea of self-reliance is not about a return to import substitution but an active participation in post-COVID global supply chains coupled with a strategy to attract  foreign direct investment. It is not about isolationism behind “narrow domestic walls” but is about integration with the world.

Atma Nirbhar Bharat has to be crises-resilient. That means developing several tenets of resilience like adaptability, agility, resilience design thinking, end to end digitalisation, platformisation, scenario based planning,etc. Most importantly, it means reducing its vulnerability to global supply chain dependence. Let’s just focus on one of these.

India depends on Chinese imports to produce its own exports. The Foreign Value Added (FVA)  contribution of China to India’s exports as a total FVA is 34.1%. Import  component in various sectors of Indian economy is high, for instance,  Pharma API (68%),Electronics (45%), Manufactured Capital goods (32%). Such large dependence makes us vulnerable. 

Let’s take just one example. Post COVID shocks affected  our drugs and pharmaceuticals industry,  because we were so largely dependent on China for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs). Now there is a new national policy backed up by investment  for  boosting indigenous API manufacturing. And we can do that because we can leverage India’s amazing strength in process chemistry and engineering.

 Finally, our  policy can’t be suddenly China-less. We need a strategic patience leading to ‘less China’, and then ‘less and less China’ . And that too in all sectors of economy. Acceleration of this process will be a critical challenge of 2020s for Indian science and technology.

Indian science in the 2020s

India’s rank in science is rapidly rising. It is now the world’s third largest publisher of peer reviewed scientific research papers, after China and the US. Between 2008 and 2018, India had an average annual growth rate of 10.73%, as against China’s 7.81% and the US’s 0.71%. India’s growth numbers will continue as wise policy initiatives like creating new institutions such as Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) in the past decade will start paying off in the next.

Scientific discovery, which has historically been an effort of educated trial and error, will become a far more systematised, reliable, data-driven process. India is on the verge of a sea change in the pace of discovery across scientific fields that will be fuelled by effectively applying the vast potential of technologies such as AI and machine learning to probe the unexplored white space faster and more efficiently.

Going beyond the traditional science establishment of universities and national labs, the magic of ‘Startup India’ will create a big footprint in the 2020s. Start-ups will become a major source of access to talent and breakthrough technology. India today has the fastest growing start-up ecosystem in the world. In the decade of 2010 investment in Indian start-up went up by 25 times, from $555 million to $14.1 billion. More importantly, these start-ups are coming out with some incredible technology breakthroughs.

Just as an example, let’s ask some challenging questions

  • Can we make high-quality but simple breast cancer screening available to every woman, at an extremely affordable cost of $1 per scan?
  • Can we make a portable, high-tech ECG machine that can provide reports immediately and at a cost of Rs 5 a test?
  • Can we make a robust test for mosquito-borne dengue, which can detect the disease in 15 minutes at a cost of $2 per test?

The questions are rhetoric – all these have been made possible by Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Awardees, all of them being young start-ups and all of them are growing in the market today.

What the 2020s will look like: my dream

A 10-year-old boy ‘Ravi’ will spend his day learning from the best teachers over the internet in his regional language, using an affordable tablet that uses new-age battery technology charged by green energy. He will use a virtual lab to conduct fun experiments in partnership with a Swedish student, and spend his free time swimming in the village river instead of carrying heavy bags and walking back and forth for kilometres from a school.

And finally, as we enter this new decade, as an optimist, I envision India will be a leader in delivering technologies that work for all, not just privileged few. I am also confident that our intellectual prowess augmented with technological advancements and policy support has the potential to solve India’s grand challenges. My dream for the 2020 will not be achieved by using data or by technology alone. Our collective ability to adapt, evolve our approaches and embrace the opportunity before us will be play a critical role.

Science and Spirituality and Pandemics


I am grateful to Spiritual Applications Research Center for inviting me to share my thoughts in this wonderful session on ‘Inner Tranquillity Leading Research for a Perfect World’.

 It is a special privilege and honour indeed.

The topic that I have chosen for my talk today is Science and Spirituality and Pandemics.

When the famous Time magazine chose the person of the 20th century, it was Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the greatest scientists ever. 

And he had the following to say:

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a Spirit is manifest in the Laws of the Universe—a Spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we, with our modest powers, must feel humble.”

But Einstein himself revered  Mahatma Gandhi and had said about him ‘Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth “.

And Mahatma Gandhi himself had said “  if both science and spirituality go hand in hand then one can create heaven on the holy earth “

So both Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi believed that science and spirituality must go together.

So what is science? What is spirituality?

Science comprises  systematic study/ inquiry/ knowledge of the world gained through observation and experimentation. Therefore concepts, theories and principles given by science are universally acceptable.

 

Through scientific research and experiments scientists have gained such a mastery over nature that they are able to put satellites in earth’s orbit, send unmanned as well as manned spacecrafts to Moon and Mars, generate nuclear power and do many more such things to a very high level of precision.

What is spirituality? 

Let’s look at the meaning of the word ‘spirit’ first. 

The Latin spiritus means ‘breath’, which is also true for the related Latin word anima, the Greek psyche, and the Sanskrit atman. 

The common meaning of spirit is that it is the breath of life.

Breath nourishes us and keeps us alive. 

Spiritual experience is an experience of the aliveness of mind and body as a unity. 

This  experience of unity transcends not only the separation of mind and body but also the separation of self and world. 

 Spirituality deals with the nature of soul. A soul that is absolute and the ultimate truth.  

Spirituality is an inner journey to discover inner peace & is all about expanding our capability to live, love and learn.

We have to realise that knowledge of the inner world and spiritual constitution of man will give him more mastery over his own life. Spirituality helps man to discover inner strength and vitality to face his own challenges in life.

Many people think that science and spirituality are antagonistic. But that is not true. 

On the contrary, they are complimentary, co-operative, concomitant, collateral and co-operative. 

Both provide important pieces to form the jigsaw puzzle called life.

The scientists take the outer world as their field of investigation, and the spiritual seekers take their own inner world of experiences as the field of their search for truth. 

Science seeks to understand ‘what is the world’ while spirituality seeks to discover ‘who or what is man’.

 

It is evident that this notion of spirituality is very consistent with the notion of the embodied mind that is now being developed in cognitive science.

I wish to talk about the role of science and spirituality in the 

current Coronavirus pandemic, a pandemic that  has caused a devastation through both loss of lives as also livelihoods, sparing no nation, no society…

What does the virus do? At an individual person’s level, it causes damage to body, mind and soul. 

I will show as to how science and spirituality together can heal body, mind as well as soul.

The healing of  body is delivered through science. 

It was science that provided the diagnostic testing kits to detect the disease. 

Drugs and therapeutics to cure the disease. 

Vaccines to prevent the disease. 

Masks to protect the ingress of virus into the human body. 

And then this was coupled with social behavioural changes, like self-isolation, social distancing, etc.

Along with body, the second healing required is  that of  mind. 

The virus made  the need for a positive psychological response that will reduce stress and trauma as need of the hour. Many turned to meditation.

Meditation is being alone in silence with yourself and letting your awareness go to the place, where peace and joy are eternal. Meditation is good for anti-stress.

Anti-stress in turn  helps create  a strong immune response. This in turn helps fight Covid-19 better.

In fact research has shown that  there is a significant improvement in  immune functions in response to spiritual care practices.

Along with body and mind, there is damage to the soul as  millions of people experienced  a sick soul. Why does that happen?

In a time of crisis, there is this  impulse to go into emergency mode, fear, concern and panic. Giving in to those impulses results  in soul sickness.

Damage to soul results in weariness of heart, existential dread, a sinking feeling that nothing really matters.

One can achieve healing of the soul in many ways.

Having a sense of meaning and purpose. Loving and being loved. Tapping into inner peace and joy. Being of service to others. Bringing comfort to someone feeling lonely and anxious.

Spirituality can play a big role during the Coronavirus pandemic,  because it promotes coping strategies for stress, promotes recovery and resilience and prevents burnout, it can be a life-enhancing factor and a coping resource, which allows patients to deal with adversity in a better way. It may also increase their hopes for the future.

Spiritual care can form a part of the holistic approach to deal with the body–mind–spirit aspect of the population affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, the big picture. Spiritual  values are “creative and constructive mechanisms working to stabilise the society, to prevent its destruction.  Compassionkindnesssympathy, and caring are some of those spiritual values that drive humanity in its basic form. 

COVID-19 has aroused the spirit of unity and interconnectedness in the health systems of several countries leading to global cooperation, collective decisions and actions at national, state/provincial, and local levels..

COVID-19 has removed barriers of ‘we and they’, ‘here and there’, and has stirred  up the value of belongingness amongst us. 

It has demonstrated that it sees our globe as one single interdependent community, as strong as the weakest link. We have realised COVID-19 is the problem of all and not some. 

However, it faces huge counteracting forces which push in a ‘non-spiritual’ direction too.

For instance, there is  stigmatization, blaming, and scapegoating, capitalised on by populist politicians (and also sometimes linked to geopolitics, see for example the current US-China controversy). 

Society must avoid such damaging non-spiritual acts at all costs.

COVID-19 pandemic reminds us we are—deep down—spiritual beings, whether we realise it or not, and makes us recognise that the problem of coronavirus is a challenge that requires a component of compassion to alleviate suffering, and a greater responsibility to exercise our faith to witness divine intervention. 

In a way, COVID-19 is also a battle for our souls, a “spiritual battle for the 21st century”.  It’s a battle we have to win.

Although I have talked here about the power of coordination of science and spirituality helping us deal with the pandemic, that power is all pervasive in all walks of life. For instance, such coordination can help us achieve sustainable  Chipko movement,  or Appiko movement,  which was driven  by the spirituality that saved the trees. It showed that sustainable  development is possible only with the coordination of science and spirituality.

Finally, it is the force multiplier of science and spirituality alone that will enable the creation of a world of prosperity,  not for some privileged few but for all, and peace and tranquillity, again not for some privileged few, but for all. And this is my dream of a perfect world.

Scientific Temper and Human Survival 


Here is a report that appeared on 15 January 2021.

“The situation here is dire. Every minute, 10 people test positive for Covid-19. Every eight minutes, someone dies. Ambulances circle for hours, unable to find ERs that can accept patients. Hospitals are running out of oxygen. ICU capacity is at zero. Patients lie in hallways and tents. Emergency room nurses have more patients than they can handle — sometimes six at a time.”

One would immediately hazard a guess that this news is from a local newspaper from a resource-starved region or a poor developing country.

No. This is a report from Stat News in Los Angeles, in resource-rich California in USA!

And the reason is simple. Despite some of the highest advancement in science coming from the region, the message of science in time of pandemic was not followed. No face masks, no social distancing…

In four simple words, it was complete lack of scientific temper. Lack of rational thinking. This challenge is worldwide, but let’s focus on our own nation.

Scientific Attitudes in India

India launched the Mars Orbiter Mission, becoming the first ever nation to succeed in the first attempt. Mangalyaan started orbiting Mangal, meaning Mars in Hindi, and the whole nation cheered it on. However, potential marriages still fall apart if a person’s horoscope shows ‘Mangal’! 

Many would argue that India has seen a steady degeneration of scientific attitudes.

Consider ancient India. 

 Aksapada Gautama wrote about the ‘Nyana Sutras’ between 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE. The Sutras suggested that to establish something as a fact, one has to go through the following stages: Pratyaksha (Perception); Anumana (Inference); Upamana (Comparison); and Shabda or Aptavakya (Testimony). This is in line with the modern scientific method. 

In fact, the text went over and above to also cover ‘tarka-vidya’ or debate and ‘vada-vidya’ or discussion. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s 2005 book ‘The Argumentative Indian’ dives deeper into the ancient Indian traditions of public debate and intellectual pluralism – calling them a core part of the nation’s identity.

Vedas advocate three khands. Upasana (discipline), Aranyakas (process) and Upanishads (knowledge). This is the epitome of scientific temper.Going further, it is a well-known fact that India contributed not only philosophical knowledge, but also algebra, arithmetic, the zero numerical, the decimal system and traditional medicine. 

It is no wonder then that over the last 100 years scientists, social reformers, anti-superstitionists and rationalists were revered. While we had the amazing Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Neils Bohr in the west; the contributions of Srinivas Ramanujan, C.V.Raman, and J. C. Bose were equally spectacular. 

The recent Covid-19 crisis has exposed a chink in this global scientific armour. The directions issued by the respective governments in the context of the current pandemic to observe social distancing and wearing masks along with constant analysis of the disease and research regarding its vaccine is in line with scientific temper. The benefits of science and the scientific method are to be seen in the extraordinary speed with which vaccines have been developed (including in India). At the same time, vaccine hesitancy is preventing the benefits of science being denied to humanity. Strangely, this hesitancy in USA has depended on which party one belongs to. 49% of the republicans showed reluctance to get vaccinated as against 13% or less of democrats!

When we are coping with a pandemic that requires social behaviour at the individual’s level to protect the collective, these duties have become ever more important to practice. From the initial days of the pandemic to the present, there have been umpteen examples reflecting the hold of outdated tradition, superstition and irrational beliefs spread through fake news and propagated by means of the social media.

How can we claim to be a modern society if we continue to aid, abet and engage in unscientific acts? To chart out a future path, we must briefly revisit our recent past.

Scientific Temper in Independent India

The term ‘scientific temper’ was coined by Nehru in 1946. In The Discovery Of India, he writes “The scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind, all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems.”

And as Prime Minister, he ensured that his sentiments expressed in 1946 found an emphasis in India’s 1958 Science Policy Resolution and later on in not only building scientific research institutions but in institutionalising science-society linkages.

No Dearth of Assertions 

Post Nehru, India even went even further in reasserting its faith in scientific temperament, and its importance for the country. 

In 1976, Fifth Parliament by the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution inserted Article 51A(h), which said, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temperhumanism and the spirit of inquiry”. India is perhaps unique in assigning scientific temper as a duty to its citizens. 

Unlike the fundamental rights under part three of our Constitution, the fundamental duties are not enforceable through writs but are meant to be a guiding light for the growth of the nation, both at the individualistic and collective levels. The Supreme Court has emphasised the significance of fundamental duties, still being in the realms of the rules of law, also as the prescribed norm of conduct to be followed. 

The Government went the extra mile and setup a nodal agency called the National Council of Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC). But despite these efforts, scientific temper did not permeate through society and didn’t much alter the national psyche. Episodes like idols of Lord Ganesh ‘drinking milk’ became the order of the day.

The assertions about scientific temper continued to find a place in every science, technology and innovation policy. Most recently, there was a reassertion of this in the Scientific Social Responsibility Policy brought out by the present government in September 2019. It made a specific statement on scientific temperament in para 3.6 committing to “an approach to human and social existence that rejects dogma or assertion that contradicts empirical evidence or lacks a scientific basis, that habit surely questions everything, that privileges logic and rationality and is consistently self critical.”

Scientific Temper Vs Dogmas: The Reality

Here, the policy talks about ‘rejecting dogmas’ but dogmas don’t leave us. Scientific temper calls for a scientific attitude that sharply differs with theological and superstitious attitudes – especially against dogmas proclaimed in the name of religion. What Spanish painter and poet Francisco Jose de Goya said is especially relevant here – “Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”

There is an essential incompatibility of all dogmas with science. The Lord Ganesh example, which is just one of many, shows that new India with scientific temper has to be dogma-free. That calls for a radical social transformation – in fact, it calls for nothing short of a renaissance. 

What is the Essence of Scientific Temper?

Scientific temper is a way of life, in terms of both thinking and acting.  It encompasses individual, societal and political level. It consistently uses the principles embodied in scientific method. It involves the application of logic. Discussion, argument and analysis are vital parts of scientific temper. Elements of fairness, equality and democracy are integrally built into it. 

The spirit of enquiry and the acceptance of the right to question and be questioned are fundamental to scientific temper. But there are rules of the game. While exercising the right to question, it has to be done in accordance with the scientific method and cannot merely be a forced or forceful assertion of one’s belief. 

Scientific temper can play a great role in our diverse modern society, since it is intrinsically open to all contrasting views. It has humility, being always conscious of vast areas of ignorance; yet it maintains optimism about the human ability to slowly and systematically unravel the mysteries around us. It lays emphasis on verifiability and repeatability. It considers knowledge as open-ended and ever-evolving – and never absolute.

When incorporated into society, scientific temper becomes a part of culture, a philosophy and a way of life, in which every citizen is in pursuit of truth without pre-judgement. 

Scientific Temper and Escaping Old Ideas

Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman had famously said, “the difficulty with science is often not with the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones. A certain amount of irreverence is essential for creative pursuit in science.”

Dr. Mashelkar puts it well in an invited editorial in the prestigious journal Science. He titled it as ‘Irreverence and Indian Science’. Here is a quote from it:

“Irreverence is sadly missing from Indian science today. The ability to question the present in science to create the future science is the key to advancing scientific knowledge….Fundamentally, may be it arises from the Indian culture and tradition. The ancient saying ‘Babavakyam pramanam’ means ‘the words of the elders are the ultimate truth’. It advocates total intolerance against irreverence!”

Escaping the old ideas is as important for creating new science as it is for creating new society. The inculcation of scientific temper in our society will result in people becoming rational and objective. This will generate a climate favouring an egalitarian, democratic, secular and universal outlook.

It is said, “Hindsight is 20/20”: looking back at the last 50 years, we feel the challenges were certainly big, but we lived in somewhat simpler times. Alarmingly, challenges of the next 10 years are not only huge – consider climate change alone – but the world has become increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). 

On this issue, we do not think ‘transformation’ even begins to capture the scale and degree of reform we need! We need to spark off a renaissance.  We suggest a seven point agenda to achieve it.

1.From dogma to freedom of expression 

Science is able to serve humankind largely because of freedom of expression – a fundamental in any enlightened society. Science involves finding out new truths and disseminating these for the global good. Science is borderless and even more strikingly, masterless.

When in the 1600s Galileo observed that Earth and other planets revolve around the Sun, he was condemned as a heretic by the church. Hundreds of years after Galileo, how can we claim to have made any progress if we treat scientists in the 21st Century in much the same way?

Our long term goal should be to build an indigenous research culture that addresses tough problems faced by India – and free speech is essential to this. As Prof. Shyam Sunder from Yale School of Management puts it, “There is no better way of building research cultures in Asia than to develop healthy authorship, workshop, refereeing and editorial processes of the indigenous journals”.

The global science community must call upon legislators to consider – is there sufficient protection of academic open debate and contrarianism? It is not just free speech that depends on it – economic and social progress do too.

2. From Obedience to Openness

As a collectivist culture, we tend to come down rather harshly on individualist pursuits. Indian parents value unquestioning obedience and discipline over questioning and curiosity. 

At home, children are often exposed to dogma, superstition, and religious bigotry – and when they go to school, they are taught the opposite from textbooks. They carry this discord between personal beliefs and professional training straight into adulthood. 

At the same time, the traditional school follows the “hear and see, but don’t speak” dictum in the classroom, discouraging all discussion and any questions. This is contrary to real education, which entails not only answering questions, but also questioning the answers: indeed, a key element of scientific temper.

We strongly believe that the ‘Yes Sir’ culture that India is infamous for is as much a result of prevailing family values as it is of bureaucracy in the workplace. It is also a carry-forward of the feudalistic mind-set, a result of centuries of monarchs or colonial rulers. 

Yet, this is not a zero sum game – we are certain that it IS possible to inculcate a scientific temper without losing the many positive aspects of our unique culture, family values and collective identity.

We strongly advocate encouraging our children and youth to be inquisitive, ask questions, and respectfully question authority where required.

3.From Science as a Subject to Science as a Way of Life

Science is already mandatory in school education across India. Even the school textbooks carry lessons on scientific spirit. However, we need to transition from ‘science as a subject’ to ‘science as a way of life’. This does not mean that we need a disproportionate focus on STEM. In fact, it would involve having knowledge of various concepts such as logical fallacies, which are essentially a part of philosophical studies. In short, we must redesign our curriculum and pedagogies in a way that they promote curiosity, scepticism, critical thinking and reasoning as opposed to learning by rote.

An important part of this are experiments that tickle the imagination of children when they are young. It does not require large laboratories and expensive equipment – just a little imagination, and space for it in the curriculum! 

For adults, the scientific approach must become a way of life. Faced with myriad problems in daily life, as we all are, we must use the “method of science” to find solutions. A few of these will be innovations that flower into new products or practices, possibly benefiting millions. Others may merely solve the immediate issue facing an individual. In all cases, it is the scientific approach – and not ritual or dogma – that will help us to move forward.

4.From Sensationalism to Sensible Science Journalism

The responsibility of media is two-fold. The first and foremost is to monitor their content in order to discourage and limit superstition and blind belief. This is applicable not only to their main programming or content, but also to advertisements. Even though channels are regulated by the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, we see very little media accountability in action. A rational analysis from different perspectives (in other words, the method of science) of any issue, whether political or social, will contribute far more to a reasoned and interesting debate than the present dogma-based shouting matches on TV. It will also leave the viewer better informed. 

The second is to engage in more science journalism. Science communicators do the critical job of bridging the gaps between scientists and policymakers, as also between scientists and the lay public It is also important to address the other side of the equation – scientists. A vast majority of them do little to build relationships with their communities, mass media or the government. Whether it is a district school or a local channel, proactive outreach from the science community makes a world of difference. 

Another big challenge is fake news in social media – stories created to deliberately misinform or deceive viewers and readers.  It has the potential to harm not individuals, brand identities, organisations as well as governments. A scientific temper is key to rational processing of information in order to arrive at facts, as opposed to jumping at fiction based on preconceived notions and biases.

In India, scientists (and scholars in general), independent of their distinguished achievements, rarely become known to the public unless they take on administrative responsibilities or they are recognised by an organisation abroad. India does not regard its scientists as heroes.

For more of our children to dream of becoming scientists and not only Bollywood actors, those involved in science should become ‘celebrities’. This is a combined responsibility of media and the science community. Just think of the famous ISRO Mangalyaan team photograph, and how many young children it may have inspired!

5.Civil Society: From Service Delivery to Changing Mind-sets

 Civil Society Institutions (CSIs) can play an important role in helping to create and spread scientific temper across the country. We have seen a demonstration of this in the 1970s and 80s, when a whole host of organisations were active and created a big impact. 

In the South, there was the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) that went around the whole state propagating science and the method of science to young and old. It played an important role in stopping the Idduki dam, which threatened to ruin the environment. In Uttrakhand, the Chipko movement – to save trees in danger of being chopped down – brought home the scientifically-based importance of forests as part of protecting the environment. In Madhya Pradesh, some young scientists worked with schools in Hoshangabad on new ways of teaching science to school children. The Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) was set up as an umbrella body focussed on scientific temper. Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre in Ahmedabad continued its pioneering work in taking science (and Math) not only to school students, but to the community at large. More recently, it worked with DST to create and take science to children and adults in thousands of small towns through the “Science Express” train which halted at railway stations as a mobile exhibition.

 Government too played a role. Vigyan Prasar was set up to propagate science, and a National Council for S&T Communication was created. National Council for Science Museums set up a national and regional museums, attracting hundreds of students (and others) every day. District Science Centres too were set up, to widen reach. In the 1970s, ISRO produced hundreds of TV programmes for rural school children (focussed more on the method of science, rather than science per se), and a large number of eminent scientists – especially from TIFR – were deeply involved in this effort. Doordarshan had programmes like Turning Point (again, the core was method-of-science), which were very popular. Many other institutions around the country were active, and there was a flowering of activities around science and the creation of a scientific temper.

 Unfortunately, from the 1990s, we have witnessed a deceleration – possibly a decay, in many cases. It may or may not have something to do with the shift of the economic paradigm, and a change in the mind-set of both the government and the loosely-defined “middle class”. 

Science communication and the much broader agenda of scientific temper needs a greater push.It is now time to quickly revive the excitement and momentum of past decades in promoting the scientific temper. Once again, CSIs can play a big role. Today, they can go beyond local activities, and vastly expand their reach by using the hyper-connectivity that technology offers. At least a few of them need to move beyond service-delivery – improving health, education or other services – to changing mind-sets.

6.From STEM to STEAM plus SHAPE

Science is universal. Newton’s laws are universally applicable. But scientific temper needs to be deeply interwoven into specific social structures that are local. And that brings in the importance of a strong coupling of science with humanities and social sciences.  In  the humanities and social sciences, while deep principles (e.g. enlightenment values) are portable across space and time, almost all the knowledge is local. Are we creating such strong coupling?

Take the example of one of the most advanced nations in Science, Great Britain. Hetan Shah, Chief Executive of the British Academy (give reference) recently argued that the Government has  sought expert advice from the beginning of the pandemic, but that expertise tended to come from people in STEM — despite it being clear from the start that human behaviour, motivations and culture were key to an effective response. He says ‘there are more than 80 people who have sat on the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies — yet only a narrow range of social scientists, and a single person representing the humanities, are included’

He argues that  science gave us vaccines, but SHAPE (social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy) disciplines help us get to social realities, such as vaccine hesitancy. Humanity’s insight is more robust when STEM and SHAPE come together. 

So at a policy level, involvement of sociologists, greater emphasis in social-data insights with the involvement of think -tanks and civil-society organisations, review of the social impact by using SHAPE disciplines becomes an imperative.

The results are visible. In September 2020, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser asked the British Academy, to draw on SHAPE disciplines to review the pandemic’s social impacts.

7.Exclusive to Inclusive Science

In Indian science, inequitable participation with respect to gender and social diversity is clear to see. How can we achieve accelerated scientific growth if we leave one-half of our population – and then some – behind? It is heartening to see that the draft National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP 2020) released recently by Department of Science and Technology of Government of India contains provisions to foster a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable research ecosystem in the country. It is good for the scientists, it is good for science and it is good for India.

‘Inclusive Science’ also takes on an additional meaning: science that is aimed at including the excluded. Science that solves not only the problems that CAN be solved, but also those that urgently NEED to be solved. Science that lifts not just livelihoods, but also the spirits of 1.3 billion Indians!

The possibilities of inclusion will move infinitely in the hyperconnected world. Connectivity, content and context will have to go together to take the full benefits of the hyperconnected world.

Connectivity  enables people-to-people, machine-to-people and machine-to-machine exchange of voice, text, data, files, pictures and videos. 

Content, created in multiple formats and in multiple languages  and especially designed to meet local needs can bring transformative change.

Context that offers  personalisation with informal space for personal interaction can bring  empowerment of people without hierarchical structures. 

But we have a challenge of creating a perfect hyperconnected world. We have seen how 1.6 billion children, who were thrown out of school due to the pandemic, had to resort to online learning, but one third of them suffered from digital deprivation, and had no access to education.  So access to digital infrastructure has to be made an essential public service, and even more, it has to become a basic human right. 

Finally, we come back to the fundamentals. Social justice, wide spread education and unrestricted communication are absolute prerequisites for spread of scientific temper and for optimising the impact of science and technology. 

We have proposed seven tenets to bring in the Renaissance, which will lead to radical yet sustainable transformation a  society with a scientific temperament.


 1 Stat News

 2 IJAR

3 Department of Justice – Text of Article 51-A

4 Irreverence and Indian Science; R. A. Mashelkar – Science 30 Apr 2010: Vol. 328, Issue 5978

5 Sunder, Shyam. “Building Research Culture” China Journal of Accounting Research Vol. 1 Issue 1. (June 2008) Text (PDF)Chinese Translation (PDF)

 

Cultures of innovation: Past, Present and Future – Stories from Switzerland and Asia


India’s Technology journey has to be viewed in the context of the 3 Indian freedoms.

First, 1947, the political freedom.

Second, 1991, the economic freedom. The integration of Indian economy with global economy, leading to freedom to compete in an open economy.

Third, 2008, the technology freedom. India signed a key civil nuclear deal with the US, which gave it access to some nuclear materials and technology. India then became a member of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), getting access to crucial missile technologies. More technologies started following.

Let’s look at India’s technology journey.

First, after 1947, India experimented with socialism for more than four decades, which kept out foreign capital and technologies.

But it had the beneficial effect of spurring local innovation based on indigenous technology.

This manifested into several revolutions. The Green revolution, where a country that lived on ‘ship to mouth existence’ became self-sufficient in food. Then White revolution, a country that imported milk products, became the largest producer of milk and milk products. Connectivity revolution, when C-DOT broke the monopoly of multinationals, developed rural telephone exchange that could work under harsh conditions without air conditioning. This connected all Indian villages. There were many such indigenous innovations in the pre-liberalised India.

Second, the Indian economy didn’t start growing until the liberalisation in 1991, so local companies were small. Indian entrepreneurs, therefore, developed a penchant for undertaking small projects with indigenous (import substituted) technologies but with huge capital efficiency.

Third, local companies knew that while India has both rich and poor people, catering only to the rich limited their market. They were forced to create products that straddled the whole economic pyramid, from top to bottom. Thus, affordable inclusive innovation was firmly integrated in to the strategy.

And fourth, the most important driver happened to be India’s innovation mind-set. Some Indian leaders had the audacity to question the conventional wisdom. The mix of minuscule research budgets, small size, low prices, but big ambitions translated into an explosive combination of extreme scarcity and great aspiration, which ignited the Indian innovation.

For instance it became the Pharmacy of the world, supplying high quality generic drugs and vaccines to the world at affordable prices.

It was CIPLA’s HIV AIDS antiretroviral drugs priced at one dollar a day of treatment as against the thirty dollar a day that not only saved millions of patients but also led to historic Doha Declaration bringing together for the first time IPR and Public Health

It made a high quality artificial foot priced at $28, with a performance equalling a foot that was 100 times costlier. It exported it to 18 countries.

And one can give dozens of such examples of what I would term as frugal innovation with affordable excellence. It changed the dictionary of innovation, with 10 books on Indian frugal innovation appearing in last 5 years.

Besides scarcity, there was denial of technology to India.

Indian technology grew in a denial driven mode in the pre-liberalised India. Foreign technologies were denied because of lack of resource as well as a closed economy. They were also denied due to security and strategic reasons.

It was through the path of ‘technonationalism’ that India developed self-reliance through its own technologies in both civilian sectors as well as strategic sectors such as space, defence, nuclear energy, and supercomputers. Let me illustrate.

Take defense. India developed on its own diverse missiles and rocket systems, remotely piloted vehicles, light combat aircraft, etc. Brahmos, a big breakthrough in supersonic missile, world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile is a great example of Indian prowess in a strategic technology.

Take nuclear energy. The entire range of technologies, from the prospecting of raw materials to the design and construction of large nuclear reactors was developed on a self-reliant basis. India’s nuclear fast-breeder reactors emerged from its thrust towards technonationalism.

Look at space technology from indigenous development to satellites to launch vehicles, from SLV to ASLV to PSLV to GSLV.

Mars Orbiter Mission was special. India became the First Nation to succeed at the first attempt and that too at the cost of 73 million dollars, one tenth of the cost of the US equivalent Mars mission.

ISRO created a world record by simultaneous launch of 104 satellites.

Strength respects strength. It is the growing technological strength of a nation that increases its access to technology that has been denied to it. The technology denial regime itself underwent a change as technonationalism gave India a strong technological foundation.

For instance, India’s supercomputer journey began, when access to CRAY super computer was denied to India in mid-eighties. SAC-PM.

In 1998, C-DAC launched PARAM 10,000, which demonstrated India’s capacity to build 100-gigaflop machines. In response, the US relaxed its export controls.

During the same year, CRAY, which had denied the licensing of technology, itself established a subsidiary in India.

So India has survived the adversity of scarce resources and denial of technology.

The Prime Minister has asked for Atmanirbhar Bharat. That means self reliant India. But that does not mean closing the economy by creating huge tariff barriers. In fact it means integration with global economy.

And it will be Atma Nirbhar Bharat with Atma Vishwas. Self reliant India with self confidence.

And the self confidence was evident in the way India dealt with the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the start of the pandemic, India had no point of care diagnostics, no vaccine, no drugs, it imported ventilators, it imported personal protection equipment. Just look at the progress it has made in a very short time in each of these areas. India is well on its way to become self-reliant in each of these areas, whether it’s becoming from an importing to exporting nation in PPEs, or whether CIPLA producing the cheapest Remdesivir drug for COVID treatment, or whether IGIB producing the game changing world’s first paper based diagnostic test, world’s most affordable, most specific and most sensitive test that is most user friendly, or whether it is Serum Institute, which is poised to be the largest single producer of COVID vaccines in the world.

This is what it is Self-reliant India with self-confidence, showing the way to the world with affordable excellence based frugal innovation.