India’s opportunity and role in shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sunlight beams through the dome of the solar tunnel telescope at the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory, India, February 3, 2017.

"The Fourth Industrial Revolution holds a lot of promise for India." Image: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Børge Brende
President, World Economic Forum
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The world is on the brink of a new, all-encompassing revolution moving at exponential speed. We are witnessing the emergence of innovative technological trends such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, robotics, 3D printing, nanotechnology, and others with applications as diverse as the technologies themselves. The combination of these technological breakthroughs is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Each revolution brings systemic implications and this one is no different. What is different is the extensiveness of its scope and the vitality of its impact on our existing interaction, distribution, production and consumption systems – and even on our identities.

But the impact of the technological revolution on economies and society is not preordained and can be shaped by policies at the local, national and global levels.In order to optimally leverage the Fourth Industrial Revolution for our collective progress and prosperity, we need governance frameworks, protocols and policy systems that ensure inclusive and equitable benefits. Most importantly, we need to embrace the fact that technological evolution exists in a social context and not just as a business case. In order to achieve this, we need to design normative and regulatory approaches to ensure that it is human-led and human-centred.

The Indian philosophy of blending science and spirituality for harmonious co-existence reaffirms faith in human ingenuity and adaptability. The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help India leapfrog traditional phases of development and accelerate its transition to a developed nation. Deploying these technologies optimally and strategically can create a potent mix of resources and infrastructure that can yield better quality, more sustainable growth. With more than 50% of its population under the age of 27, India’s role is also going to be pivotal in shaping the global Fourth Industrial Revolution agenda in a responsible, scalable and inclusive manner.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution holds a lot of promise for India. As Prime Minister Modi has articulated, artificial intelligence (AI) can be used effectively to reduce poverty, improve the lives of farmers and make the lives of the differently abled simpler. AI has vast applications across sectors – ranging from medicine to criminal justice, to manufacturing, to finance. Similarly, blockchain has potential applications to a wide range of issues – from cross-border data flows to the future provision of government services and natural resource management. This can help India reduce property and other disputes, increase transparency and fight corruption, among others. Additionally, unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, have the ability to increase crop yields, make dangerous jobs safe, and act as a lifeline for remote populations. Drones are an enabler in realizing Prime Minister Modi’s call to double farmer incomes by 2022.

Apart from being pervasive, rapid and non-linear, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is also transient, which reinforces the need to build flexible and dynamic models to respond to the changes and optimize their impact. Realizing the country’s potential to lead in and influence the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum has partnered with the Government of India to set up the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The Center will work to accelerate the development and implementation of governance protocols for emerging science and technology to best serve citizens, society and the public at large. By working with central and state governments, private sector actors, international organizations, and civil society groups, the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India will design and pilot practical tools for the agile governance of specific technologies.

The Indian Government is already on the right path by bringing the necessary structural reforms and promoting an entrepreneurial ecosystem through initiatives such as Startup India and the Atal Innovation Mission. Prime Minister Modi’s “Together for All, Development for All” clarion call and his emphasis on embedding technological evolution within this philosophy for broad-based development will be a key driver of inclusive growth and progress. With one of the youngest labour forces in the world, a sizeable technical aptitude, the second largest number of internet users on mobile devices and the second largest English speaking population, India is well positioned to enhance its global leadership in a post Fourth Industrial Revolution era. With the right mix of accelerators – including regulatory frameworks, educational ecosystems and government incentives – India can lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution while simultaneously enhancing the quality, equity and sustainability of its own growth and development outcomes.

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