India has an opportunity to lead the fourth industrial revolution

 India is a fertile ground for entrepreneurship and has emerged as one of the fastest-growing startup bases worldwide.
India is a fertile ground for entrepreneurship and has emerged as one of the fastest-growing startup bases worldwide.

Summary

  • We must invest in technology and education so that we do not miss a rare chance to leap ahead

India, a country steeped in history and rich in culture, has always been a land of immense potential. However, during the first three industrial revolutions, the country found itself largely on the periphery of change. The first two revolutions, powered by coal and steam, and then by electricity and oil, saw India largely as a bystander. Even the computer-driven third industrial revolution saw India playing catch-up. But as we stand on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, the country is poised to not just participate, but also lead the change.

The fourth industrial revolution, characterized by a fusion of the physical, digital and biological worlds, is set to fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. It is a revolution that will be led by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and biotechnology, among others. For India, a country that is resource-crunched, the role technology will play will be very significant.

India’s potential to lead the fourth industrial revolution is underpinned by several factors.

First, India has a well developed ecosystem of financial data through the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) as well as the Aadhaar platform. There are upcoming platforms as well, such as the one on logistics announced in the latest Union budget. These platforms have the potential to revolutionize sectors from finance to logistics, helping create digital infrastructure that is capable of driving forward the fourth industrial revolution.

Second, India has a substantial young population and an education system capable of producing the required skill sets. Our higher education institutions are brimming with young as well as bright minds eager to make their mark in the world. However, to harness this potential, India needs to invest heavily in cutting-edge technology research and education.

Moreover, India is a fertile ground for entrepreneurship and has emerged as one of the fastest-growing startup bases worldwide. By investing in new technology innovation, we can ensure that these startups lead the way in the fourth industrial revolution, creating solutions that not only benefit India, but also the world at large.

However, leading the fourth industrial revolution is not without its challenges. One of the key challenges is low public and private investment in research. Currently, India’s spending on research and development (R&D) is below 0.7% of its gross domestic product (GDP), while even countries like Egypt and Brazil spend more. The United States, China, Israel, Japan and South Korea spend anywhere between 2% and 5% of their respective GDP on scientific research. Insufficient funding has directly affected the quality and quantity of research being carried out in India.

To address this, the government recently introduced the Anusandhan National Research Foundation Bill, 2023, in Parliament. The National Research Foundation (NRF) aims to involve colleges and universities in scientific research, as less than 1% of the nearly 40,000 institutions of higher learning in India are currently engaged in research. Investment in higher education is crucial. Our universities need to be equipped with the latest technology and research facilities to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. We need to shift from a system of time-bound education to a mode of continuous learning. This will not only equip students with the skills needed for the fourth industrial revolution, but also create employment opportunities.

Improving the ease of doing business is crucial. Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the fourth industrial revolution, driving innovation and creating new industries. However, they need a conducive environment to thrive. This includes access to capital, a favourable regulatory environment, and robust digital infrastructure. India has made significant strides in this regard, but there is still much to be done.

The fourth industrial revolution is not just about technology. It’s as much about people. It’s about how we use technology to improve lives, create opportunities and build a better future. And with its young population, entrepreneurial spirit and growing digital economy, India has all that is required to blaze new trails.

Deregulation and support for private higher education is another important step. Our universities need support to innovate, adapt to the changing needs of industry and equip Indian students with skills of the future. Universities in turn need to foster a culture of research and innovation, promote collaboration with industry, and embrace new technologies and teaching methods.

The urgency of this mission cannot be overstated. India stands at a critical juncture in history. The fourth industrial revolution presents a unique opportunity for the country to leapfrog its development and establish itself as a global leader in technology and innovation. But to seize this opportunity, India needs to act now. The pace of technological advancement waits for no one, and if India does not take decisive action at this point in history, it risks missing the bus yet again.

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