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India and Industry 4.0: Smart Thinking and Smart Politics

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The neologism -Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 is not uncommon for policymakers and technocrats. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), published a book titled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” and coined the term at the Davos meeting in 2016. Since then, “Industry 4.0” has been a buzzword in all major economic and business summits.

In a paper titled – The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond, Klaus Schwab, said “this revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a fourth and distinct one: Velocity, scope, and systems impact.” The world is at the cusp of an unrivalled revolution. The first revolution captivated water and steam to mechanise production, the second exploited electric power and the third relied on electronics and IT. The fourth one is a conglomeration of various automation technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), blockchain, fintech, autonomous vehicles, 5G telephony, nanotechnology, biotech, machine learning, robotics, quantum computing and the like.

Nicholas Davis, head of Society and Innovation at WEF in this WEF paper, describes this revolution as the emergence of cyber-physical systems which, while being “reliant on the technologies and infrastructure of the third industrial revolution…, represent entirely new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even our human bodies”.

Industry 4.0 is shaped by advanced technologies from different spheres like the physical and digital worlds that combine to create innovations at a speed and scale unparalleled in human history. The fourth industrial revolution demands ubiquitous digitization, automatic machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and is constantly transforming how individuals, governments and companies relate to each other and the world at large. With such sudden disruption, it will radically change macroeconomics and the way the industry responds to the needs of civil society.

Great and sudden change by its very nature is painful to accommodate. Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a subjective task. Developed economies like the United States, Russia, China, etc. will have to frame policies according to their economic and technological demands. For a growing economy like India with its under utilised population, young age and cultural diversity, a more people-intensive approach should be adopted. This will require policymakers to harness the industrial change instead of being a reactive agent. In democracies like India, it is effective law-making which plays a major role to deliver regulatory frameworks that change often and respond to the stimulus.

The speed of change is unexcelled. It is disrupting almost every industry in every country, and it presages the transformation of production and governance. The gap between the 1st and 2nd industrial revolution was around 100 years, 2nd and 3rd was approximately 70 years, 3rd and 4th is 25 years. Analysing this trend, it cannot be ruled out that the next industrial revolution may take place within 10-15 years. So, it is very important that economies pool their resources, take risks, make new investments and come together for better agility to adapt quickly to make the best use of this global change. 

Going into the history of industrial revolutions, it is apparent from a layman analysis that whichever country early participated in the industrial process turned out to become world leaders right after that industrial revolution. India is a young nation aiming to be the third largest with a10 trillion-dollar economy by 2030, India has no option but to not only participate but also be the frontrunner in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In 1750 AD, India’s share of global industrial output was roughly above 25%. India missed the bus of first industrialisation due to the devious British Raj and by 1900, this had plummeted to 2%. While India’s contribution to the world GDP was 2.6 per cent in 2014, it has increased to 3.3 per cent in 2017. Addressing the joint sitting of the Parliament, the President of India said the country’s GDP has been growing at a rate of 7.3 per cent on an average, making India the sixth largest economy in the world. India is playing a vital role in international trade in the Asia Pacific region. The President also noted that this is an opportune moment for the country to play a decisive role in the fourth industrial revolution considering its economic position. 

Proper channelling of resources towards Industry 4.0 can help India leapfrog traditional phases of development and accelerate its metamorphosis to a developed nation. Being the fastest growing economy, deploying these technologies optimally and strategically can create more sustainable growth. A culturally accommodative nation with more than 70% of its population under the age of 32, India’s role is also going to be crucial in shaping the global Fourth Industrial Revolution agenda in a millennial and inclusive manner. India has the potential to be the global hub for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Governments, entrepreneurs, business houses and start-ups are rapidly adopting technologies involving AI, the Internet of Things, 3D-printing, advanced robotics and blockchain. Artificial intelligence can be used effectively to reduce poverty, improve the lives of farmers and make the lives of the differently abled simpler. The application of AI in sectors from health to law, from manufacturing to finance, from elections to governance, is not an impossible reality. Blockchain can facilitate cross-border data and technology transfers to support government services and natural resource management. India recently came up with its unmanned aircraft systems policy, commonly referred to as drones, having the ability to strengthen defence and security, make dangerous jobs safe, and act as a lifeline for remote populations.

Considering the pace of growth of automation technologies, it is absolutely possible that we will reach a point called “singularity” where machines become as smart as humans and then keep getting smarter.  Repetitive processes are increasingly becoming automated. Digital technologies have the potentiality to bring about the balance between green and growth, data and infrastructure, and profits and people. Technology will soon be able to edit genes to create favourable traits and new life forms. 3D Printers may become capable to produce fully functional, usable organs. Artificial blood might soon become a reality and the oceans would be harvested for food. Banks and financial sectors in India are already using chatbots and humanoid robots.  A Kannada-speaking robot in Canara Bank in Karnataka and Ira robot of the HDFC Bank which helps customers choose the right service and financial products are examples of linguistic coding of automation technologies.

It is estimated that between 2018 and 2022, as many as 75 million jobs will be displaced worldwide due to automation; however, as many as 133 million new ones would be created.  In the United States alone, it is estimated that 1.4 million workers will be displaced in the coming decade as a result of the introduction of new technologies. India’s information technology sector is already witnessing jobless growth and there are various reports showing India unemployment rate hit a 45 year high in 2017-18. The biggest concern of Industry 4.0 for every growing economy is the loss of jobs. A potential answer to this problem is – smart politics. In a country like India with 1.3 billion people, it is practically impossible for any government in the world to provide jobs to everyone, what is practical is to engage people. This engagement is not only about job creation but also about start-ups, alliances, businesses, offshoring, etc. which will sufficiently help an economy to capitalise the resource pool.

Like all revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life globally. Mitigating the relevancy of jobs is not India specific, it is a global issue. But the peculiarity of this problem is the method of tackling it. Smart policies and smart thinking can reconstruct these challenges into opportunities. When the first computer was invented, there was a worldwide outcry on its impact on jobs, but history is the evidence of the fact that computers created more jobs than it destroyed. India too faced national protests against the computerisation of railway tickets as economists predicted it would take its toll on the jobs. Today, Indian Railways is India’s largest employer and is about to conduct the world largest employment drive with around 2.37 crore applicants competing for 1.27 lakh posts.

Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change, it is important for governments and international organisations to evaluate whether to create change or follow the change.  Legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part is proving unable to frame a flexible framework. Unconventional challenges need collaborative efforts. India will have to create a long-term ecosystem with the right mix of accelerators comprising of regulatory frameworks, educational ecosystems and government incentives that train and educates professionals.

India’s philosophy “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “the world is one family”, has guided the nation since Vedic times. It is based on the blending of science and spirituality for harmonious co-existence reaffirms faith in innovation and adaptability. India can act as a coordinator to collaborate with global economies to form a joint platform or intergovernmental taskforce involving all stakeholders of the global polity for leveraging most of the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.

Adithya Anil Variath is a lawyer based in Mumbai, India. He writes frequently on issues of Law & Policy, AI and International relations

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From nanotechnology to solar power: Solutions to drought

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While the drought has intensified in Iran and the country is facing water stress, various solutions from the use of solar power plants to the expansion of watershed management and nanotechnology are offered by experts and officials.

Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid region, and Iranians have long sought to make the most of water.

In recent years, the drought has intensified making water resources fragile and it can be said that we have reached water bankruptcy in Iran.

However, water stress will continue this fall (September 23-December 21), and the season is expected to be relatively hot and short of rain, according to Ahad Vazifeh, head of the national center for drought and crisis management.

In such a situation, officials and experts propose various solutions for optimal water management.

Alireza Qazizadeh, a water and environment expert, referring to 80 percent of the arid regions in the country, said that “Iran has one percent of the earth’s area and receives only 36 percent of renewable resources.

The country receives 250 mm of rainfall annually, which is about 400 billion cubic meters, considering 70 percent evaporation, there is only 130 billion cubic meters of renewable water and 13 billion cubic meters of input from border waters.”

Referring to 800 ml of average rainfall and 700 mm of global evaporation, he noted that 70 percent of rainfall in Iran occurs in only 25 percent of the country and only 25 percent rains in irrigation seasons.

Pointing to the need for 113 billion cubic meters of water in the current year (began on March 21), he stated that “of this amount, 102 billion is projected for agricultural use, 7 percent for drinking and 2 percent for industry, and at this point water stress occurs.

In 2001, 5.5 billion cubic meters of underground resources were withdrawn annually, and if we consider this amount as 20 years from that year until now, it means that we have withdrawn an equivalent of one year of water consumption from non-renewable resources, which is alarming.”

The use of unconventional water sources can be effective in controlling drought, such as rainwater or river runoff, desalinated water, municipal wastewater that can be reused by treatment, he concluded.

Rasoul Sarraf, the Faculty of Materials at Shahid Modarres University, suggests a different solution and states that “To solve ease water stress, we have no choice but to use nanotechnology and solar power plants.

Pointing to the sun as the main condition for solar power plant, and while pointing to 300 sunny days in the country, he said that at the Paris Convention, Iran was required to reduce emissions by 4 percent definitively and 8 percent conditionally, which will only be achieved by using solar power plants.

Hamidreza Zakizadeh, deputy director of watershed management at Tehran’s Department of Natural Resources and Watershed Management, believes that watershed management can at least reduce the effects of drought by managing floods and extracting water for farmers.

Amir Abbas Ahmadi, head of habitats and regional affairs of Tehran Department of Environment, also referring to the severe drought in Tehran, pointed to the need to develop a comprehensive plan for water management and said that it is necessary to cooperate with several responsible bodies and develop a comprehensive plan to control the situation.

He also emphasizes the need to control migration to the capital, construction, and the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan of Tehran city.

While various solutions are proposed by officials and experts to manage water and deal with drought, it is necessary for the related organizations to work together to manage the current situation.

Mohammad Reza Espahbod, an expert in groundwater resources, also suggested that while the country is dealing with severe drought due to improper withdrawal of groundwater and low rainfall, karst water resources can supply the whole water needed by the country, only if managed.

Iran is the fifth country in the world in terms of karst water resources, he stated.

Qanats can also come efficient to contain water scarcity due to relatively low cost, low evaporation rates, and not requiring technical knowledge, moreover, they proved sustainable being used in perpetuity without posing any damages to the environment.

According to the Ministry of Energy, about 36,300 qanats have been identified in Iran, which has been saturated with water for over 2,000 years.

In recent years, 3,800 qanats have been rehabilitated through watershed and aquifer management, and people who had migrated due to water scarcity have returned to their homes.

Water resources shrinking

Renewable water resources have decreased by 30 percent over the last four decades, while Iran’s population has increased by about 2.5 times, Qasem Taqizadeh, deputy minister of energy, said in June.

The current water year (started on September 23, 2020) has received the lowest rain in the past 52 years, so climate change and Iran’s arid region should become a common belief at all levels, he lamented.

A recent report by Nature Scientific Journal on Iran’s water crisis indicates that from 2002 to 2015, over 74 billion cubic meters have been extracted from aquifers, which is unprecedented and its revival takes thousands of years along with urgent action.

Three Iranian scientists studied 30 basins in the country and realized that the rate of aquifer depletion over a 14-year period has been about 74 billion cubic meters, which is recently published in Nature Scientific Journal.

Also, over-harvesting in 77 percent of Iran has led to more land subsidence and soil salinity. Research and statistics show that the average overdraft from the country’s aquifers was about 5.2 billion cubic meters per year.

Mohammad Darvish, head of the environment group in the UNESCO Chair on Social Health, has said that the situation of groundwater resources is worrisome.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Technology and crime: A never-ending cat-and-mouse game

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Is technology a good or bad thing? It depends on who you ask, as it is more about the way technology is used. Afterall, technology can be used by criminals but can also be used to catch criminals, creating a fascinating cat-and-mouse game.

Countless ways technology can be used for evil

The first spear was used to improve hunting and to defend from attacking beasts. However, it was also soon used against other humans; nuclear power is used to produce energy, but it was also used to annihilate whole cities. Looking at today’s news, we’ve learned that cryptocurrencies could be (and are) used as the preferred form of payments of ransomware since they provide an anonymous, reliable, and fast payment method for cybercriminals.

Similarly, secure phones are providing criminal rings with a fast and easy way to coordinate their rogue activities. The list could go on. Ultimately, all technological advancements can be used for good or evil. Indeed, technology is not inherently bad or good, it is its usage that makes the difference. After all, spears served well in preventing the extinction of humankind, nuclear power is used to generate energy, cryptocurrency is a promise to democratize finance, and mobile phones are the device of choice of billions of people daily (you too are probably reading this piece on a mobile).

However, what is new with respect to the past (recent and distant) is that technology is nowadays much more widespread, pervasive, and easier to manipulate than it was some time ago. Indeed, not all of us are experts in nuclear material, or willing and capable of effectively throwing a spear at someone else. But each of us is surrounded by, and uses, technology, with a sizeable part of users also capable of modifying that technology to better serve their purposes (think of computer scientists, programmers, coding kids – technology democratization).

This huge reservoir of people that are capable of using technology in a way that is different from what it was devised for, is not made of just ethical hackers: there can be black hats as well (that is, technology experts supporting evil usages of such technology). In technical terms, the attack vector and the security perimeter have dramatically expanded, leading to a scenario where technology can be easily exploited for rogue purposes by large cohorts of people that can attack some of the many assets that are nowadays vulnerable – the cybersecurity domain provides the best example for the depicted scenario. 

Fast-paced innovation and unprecedented threats

What is more, is that technology developments will not stop. On the contrary, we are experiencing an exponentially fast pace in technology innovation, that resolves in less time between technology innovations cycles that, while improving our way of living, also pave the way for novel, unprecedented threats to materialize. For instance, the advent of quantum computers will make the majority of current encryption and digital signature methods useless and what was encrypted and signed in the past, exposed.

The tension between legitimate and illegitimate usages of technology is also heating up. For instance, there are discussions in the US and the EU about the need for the provider of ICT services to grant the decryption keys of future novel secure applications to law enforcement agencies should the need arise –a debatable measure.

However, technology is the very weapon we need to fight crime. Think of the use of Terahertz technology to discover the smuggling of drugs and explosives – the very same technology Qatar      has successfully employed. Or the infiltration of mobile phone crime rings by law enforcement operators via high tech, ethical hacking (as it was the case for the EncroChat operation). And even if crime has shown the capability to infiltrate any sector of society, such as sports, where money can be laundered over digital networks and matches can be rigged and coordinated via chats, technology can help spot the anomalies of money transfer, and data science can spot anomalies in matches, and can therefore thwart such a crime – a recent United Nations-sponsored event, participated by the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) Qatar and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) discussed      the cited topic. In the end, the very same technology that is used by criminals is also used to fight crime itself.

Don’t get left behind

In the above-depicted cybersecurity cat-and-mouse game, the loser is the party that does not update its tools, does not plan, and does not evolve.

In particular, cybersecurity can help a country such as Qatar over two strategic dimensions: to better prevent/detect/react to the criminal usage of technology, as well as to advance robustly toward a knowledge-based economy and reinforce the country’s presence in the segment of high value-added services and products to fight crime.

In this context, a safe bet is to invest in education, for both governments and private citizens. On the one hand, only an educated workforce would be able to conceptualize/design/implement advanced cybersecurity tools and frameworks, as well as strategically frame the fight against crime. On the other hand, the same well-educated workforce will be able to spur innovation, create start-ups, produce novel high-skill products, and diversify the economy. 

In this context, Qatar enjoys a head start, thanks to its huge investment in education over the last 20 years. In particular, at HBKU – part of Qatar Foundation – where we have been educating future generations. 

CSE engages and leads in research disciplines of national and global importance. The college’s speciality divisions are firmly committed to excellence in graduate teaching and training of highly qualified students with entrepreneurial  capacity.

For instance, the MS in Cybersecurity offered by CSE touches on the foundations of cryptocurrencies, while the PhD in Computer Science and Engineering, offering several majors (including cybersecurity), prepares future high-level decision-makers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in the ICT domain  – the leaders who will be driving the digitalization of the economy and leading the techno-fight against crime. 

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Enhancing poverty measurement through big data

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Authors: Jasmina Ernst and Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah*

Ending poverty in all its forms is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While significant progress to reduce poverty had been made at the global and regional levels by 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic has partly reversed this trend. A significant share of the population in South-East Asia still lacks access to basic needs such as health services, proper nutrition and housing, causing many children to suffer from malnutrition and treatable illnesses. 

Delivering on the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no one behind requires monitoring of the SDG implementation trends. At the country level, national statistics offices (NSOs) are generally responsible for SDG data collection and reporting, using traditional data sources such as surveys, census and administrative data. However, as the availability of data for almost half of the SDG indicators (105 of 231) in South-East Asia is insufficient, NSOs are exploring alternative sources and methods, such as big data and machine learning, to address the data gaps. Currently, earth observation and mobile phone data receive most attention in the domain of poverty reporting. Both data sources can significantly reduce the cost of reporting, as the data collection is less time and resource intensive than for conventional data.

The NSOs of Thailand and the Philippines, with support from the Asian Development Bank, conducted a feasibility study on the use of earth observation data to predict poverty levels. In the study, an algorithm, convolutional neural nets, was pretrained on an ImageNet database to detect simple low-level features in images such as lines or curves. Following a transfer learning technique, the algorithm was then trained to predict the intensity of night lights from features in corresponding daytime satellite images. Afterwards income-based poverty levels were estimated using the same features that were found to predict night light intensity combined with nationwide survey data, register-based data, and geospatial information. The resulting machine learning models yielded an accuracy of up to 94 per cent in predicting the poverty categories of satellite images. Despite promising study results, scaling up the models and integrating big data and machine learning for poverty statistics and SDG reporting still face many challenges. Thus, NSOs need support to train their staff, gain continuous access to new datasets and expand their digital infrastructure.

Some support is available to NSOs for big data integration. The UN Committee of Experts on Big Data and Data Science for Official Statistics (UN-CEBD) oversees several task teams, including the UN Global Platform which has launched a cloud-service ecosystem to facilitate international collaboration with respect to big data. Two additional task teams focus on Big Data for the SDGs and Earth Observation data, providing technical guidance and trainings to NSOs. At the regional level, the weekly ESCAP Stats Café series provides a knowledge sharing platform for experiences related to the impact of COVID-19 on national statistical systems. The Stats Café includes multiple sessions dedicated to the use of alternative data sources for official statistics and the SDGs. Additionally, ESCAP has published policy briefs on the region’s practices in using non-traditional data sources for official statistics.

Mobile phone data can also be used to understand socioeconomic conditions in the absence of traditional statistics and to provide greater granularity and frequency for existing estimates. Call detail records coupled with airtime credit purchases, for instance, could be used to infer economic density, wealth or poverty levels, and to measure food consumption. An example can be found in poverty estimates for Vanuatu based on education, household characteristics and expenditure. These were generated by Pulse Lab Jakarta – a joint innovation facility associated with UN Global Pulse and the government of Indonesia.

Access to mobile phone data, however, remains a challenge. It requires long negotiations with mobile network operators, finding the most suitable data access model, ensuring data privacy and security, training the NSO staff and securing dedicated resources. The UN-CEBD – through the Task Team on Mobile Phone Data and ESCAP – supports NSOs in accessing and using mobile phone data through workshops, guides and the sharing of country experiences. BPS Statistics Indonesia, the Indonesian NSO, is exploring this data source for reporting on four SDG indicators and has been leading the regional efforts in South-East Asia. While several other NSOs in Asia and the Pacific can access mobile phone data or are negotiating access with mobile network operators, none of them have integrated it into poverty reporting.

As the interest and experience in the use of mobile phone data, satellite imagery and other alternative data sources for SDGs is growing among many South-East Asian NSOs, so is the need for training and capacity-building. Continuous knowledge exchange and collaboration is the best long-term strategy for NSOs and government agencies to track and alleviate poverty, and to measure the other 16 SDGs.

*Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah, Head, Sub-Regional Office for South-East Asia

UNESCAP

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