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View from India: Democratising technology

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India’s GDP (gross domestic product) is growing at the rate of 5-8 per cent and over 65 per cent of the population is under 35 years of age. Both factors make the country a strong hotbed for both consuming and promoting emerging technologies.

Emerging technologies will help build India’s digital economy. This can happen by opening out channels to strengthen the ecosystem. Numerous efforts have been made towards this.

“The country is home to over 7,500 tech start-ups, making it the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world. These startups have created solutions which have not existed before. India has a talent pool of one million engineers. Many tech companies are re-skilling their engineers,” said Dheemanth Nagaraj, Intel Fellow (and the first Indian technologist to win the Intel Fellow Award).

The digital economy can thrive only when it’s inclusive in nature with a pan-India reach. Business models should be conceptualised for last-mile connectivity. Affordability and accessibility, its twin parameters, will help drive economics of scale. A case in point is healthcare. Unless healthcare services are made affordable and accessible, the doctor-patient ratio is unlikely to improve.

"Democratisation of technology is essential in a digital economy. Platforms for public good need to come up. That could be an open API-based (application program interface), nationally scalable digital platform, which can be used to build a database. The aim is to create open, scalable and deployable data exchange platforms for rendering public services," pointed out Nagaraj. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be leveraged to join the dots in the digital roadmap of the country.

We already have open platforms that are deployed at scale. These include UPI (Unified Payment Interface) and digi-lockers. The latter is a personal storage space linked to each resident’s Aadhaar number, which is a unique identification 12-digit number for all residents of India. Startups, innovators, researchers and mobility solutions can tailor their offerings to build the database by tapping platforms such as UPI and digi-lockers.

Besides that, cloud is a growth driver for the digital economy. The cloud network extends to silicon providers, telcos and data analytics.

Against this background, the Government of India (GoI) has brought out a 'National Policy on Electronics' to promote electronics and manufacturing on a large scale. “Electronics - especially semiconductors and VLSI (very large-scale integration) - are responsible for several transformation-led initiatives in the fourth industrial wave, which we know as Industry 4.0. Skilled manpower needs to be built,” highlighted Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, deputy chief minister of Karnataka.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, has initiated the “Visvesvaraya PhD Scheme for Electronics and IT.” Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, an engineering statesman, designed a flood protection system for Hyderabad.

The Visvesvaraya PhD Scheme is to enhance the number of doctorates in Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) and IT/IT Enabled Services. Researchers are encouraged to specialise in areas like cyber security, e-governance, embedded systems and geospatial systems among others.

Each state is doing its bit to build a research-oriented workforce and encourage them to delve into less explored arenas. The effort is towards capacity building. It also hopes to address the hurdles faced during the lab-to-field production stage of many products through research.

“Our aim is to encourage research and enrich the industry, by building a community of 3,000 doctorates in Karnataka. This can happen by bringing the industry and academia together to nurture a job-ready skilled workforce,” added Dr CN Ashwath Narayan. 

For its part, the Government of Karnataka has rolled out its flagship initiatives to boost semiconductors, electronics, information technology, biotechnology, design and manufacturing. An Internet of Things  Centre of Excellence is up and operational. A venture capital fund to the tune of Rs 100 crore (one billion rupees, £760m) has been allocated for the semiconductor industry. More thrust for VLSI and semiconductors and incubation hubs comes from innovation centres.

These insights were shared at the 33rd Edition of the International Conference of VLSI Design and 19th International Conference on Embedded Design conducted by VLSID. “Connecting Intelligent Systems to New Age Transistors” is the theme of the 2020 conference.

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