Fourth Industrial Revolution - What it Means for India?

Fourth Industrial Revolution - What it means for India?

- Tanisha Mitra (Second Prize Winner, Indian Liberals Essay Contest 2019)

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a term which was coined by a gentleman by the name of Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. He defines the world as a place where individuals use technology to make the move between offline reality and digital domains which enables them to manage their lives. Though the previous three revolutions are considered to be separate events where the first revolution
made the shift from an agrarian and handicraft economy to an industry and machine dominated one, the second focused on mass production brought about by oil and electricity, and the third automated the production process using information technology, studying them as a part of a continuous series in the form of innovations they have led to will assist in the creation of more advanced methods of production.

Experts in the corporate, policy, and scholarly space over the past decade have reached the conclusion that when risks are mitigated, the ability of states to exploit the benefits of Big Data processing, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), 3-D printing, and automation will play a significant role in the shaping of their growth, security, and stability prospects. But the debate surrounding the fourth industrial revolution is primarily based on what kind of impact these technologies and their coordination will have.

The newspapers are flooded with lopsided headlines of the super-intelligent robots replacing humans and taking up their jobs and ultimately their dignity and political control which has created an environment of confusion and fear. The expectations often associated with technologies has been overinflated which has not only provided a conservative analysis of the perils and promises of emerging technologies in India and their adaptation but has also drawn fatalistic scenarios. Despite entering the race of producing beneficial technologies at a rather late stage, India has certain strategic advantages which can give it a distinct edge in the years to come.

The technologies that belong to the fourth industrial revolution are united by the scope of their impact, the velocity of their cross-sectoral disruption, and the exponential pace of emergence. They possess the capability of transforming entire systems of production, management, and governance on the fusion of biological, digital, and physical strata. Economic gains associated with these technologies have also seen a tremendous rise. AI funding alone has increased from $862 million in 2012 to $6.4 billion in 2016 and a study by PwC confirmed that it could contribute $15.7 trillion worldwide by 2030, mainly by enhancing the productivity of labour using automation and product improvement in the sectors of internet and communication, finance, health, agriculture, military, intelligence analysis, transportation, and manufacturing. Therefore, to maintain competitiveness in the field of economics and the military, states are fostering and capitalizing the AI culture of innovation.

Indian society has traditionally viewed technology as an enabler of economic growth and has perceived it as a vehicle to advance over modernized economies. The recent smartphone revolution and software miracle has entitled India to maintain its trademark as ‘info-nation’ and ‘IT superpower’ and is thus positioned to gain from the fourth industrial revolution and the ongoing digital transformation. Services have been extensively computerized in India since the late 1980s because of which it is the leading sourcing destination for the IT industry in the world today along with the largest IT workforce and the fastest growing startup and ecommerce market. Even though it is lagging behind China, Europe, and the USA in terms of private investment volume, India’s AI sector has grown by $150 million in the last five years and private investment has doubled from $44 million in 2016 to $73 million in 2017. Further, India has digitalized its economic, social, and political systems at an unprecedented scale and has experienced the highest growth rate of internet access. The potential benefits will only continue to multiply with the AI-enabled breakthroughs in this ecosystem.

Yet, the fourth industrial revolution has its own set of economic, political, and military risks and the one which requires immediate attention is the displacement of millions of workers and the risk of losing jobs. This could escalate social tensions in the job market and magnify inequality by segregating the market into the high and low skill/pay categories. A sense of dissatisfaction is increasing among the middle class as incomes have stagnated or decreased due to technological progress. In comparison to high-wage economies like Japan and Germany, India can create sufficient new jobs to offset automation and has a modest potential for automation of about 19 per cent, given its low wage rates, but still the fear of ‘jobless growth’ persists.

The disruption of democratic political processes and the facilitation of oppressive and authoritarian practices by the emerging technologies is another cause for major concern. Examples to consolidate authoritarian rule and subvert democracy include computational propaganda, robotic policing, social media abuse fuelling discontent, enhanced surveillance through AI-enabled group cognition, and AI-enabled election hacking. A novel system of
digital authoritarianism where social organization combines with effective state control and economic growth is emerging, China being the most prominent example. Additionally, other experts have also highlighted the hollowing of privacy rights and loss of control over data.

According to a study by the NGO Access Now, between January 2016 and May 2018, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has intentionally disrupted mobile applications and the internet more than any other state and has been keen to control content. Moreover, the risk of misusing technology for fomenting violence is exhibited in a climate of hyper-nationalism. These technologies also have the potential to compromise national and international security.

The weaponization of AI has already been begun by states which will revolutionize the military by empowering asymmetric warfare as small groups or individuals can cause mass harm, increase armed conflict escalation as ethical hurdles decrease, and instigate arms races as weaponized applications evolve and create market incentives. Despite India being a rival of China, a nation which has amassed sophisticated AI capabilities, policymakers believe that such scenarios lie only in the future and do not pose any threat today. However, a scenario which does hold relevance today is the detection of the AI-enabled attacks in November 2017 where malware used was spread by learning and adapting its methods, thus, revealing the vulnerabilities of India’s infrastructure to attacks powered by AI. National and international policy measures have been adopted by states to mitigate threats
and maximize the benefits of these emerging technologies and not undermine innovation by managing social disruptions through multi-stakeholder regulation. Numerous efforts have been initiated by the United Nations at the global level to promote dialogue on how the means of warfare and nature of work is being transformed by AI and negotiations have been held between the global arms control regimes for the regulation of AI’s research and
development. India, among other nations has published national AI strategies over the past years but overall has been struggling to keep pace with the rapid technological advances which calls for the need for coordinated policy responses that would not trigger any backlash, social disintegration, or gender exclusion.

The challenges posed by the fourth industrial revolution have received a relatively fragmented and late response by the Indian state. By doubling public investment, an allocation of $480 million was made for AI and other emerging technologies in the federal budget for the financial year of 2018-2019. NITI Aayog, a government think tank released a discussion paper in June 2018 outlining a national AI strategy which concentrated on how
IoT-based systems, data analytics, and AI can improve the quality and access to social services in the priority sectors of agriculture, education, health, smart mobility, and smart cities. The strategy acknowledges that India has experienced a delay in foundational AI resources, regulation, and research but now commits to securing a pool of talent by drawing on the vast IT and engineering workforce and expanding the startup scene in the country. By taking these nascent steps, involving all the stakeholders, and amalgamating comprehensive, integrated policy responses with strategic dialogue, India will not only be able to emerge as a
major provider of AI solutions for the developing world but will also play a focal role in creating valuable fourth industrial revolution technologies.

Profile of the author

Currently interning at the Nepal Development Research Institute (NDRI), Patan in addition to working on a research paper on USA's foreign policy after 9/11 with UNESCO, India. I graduated from the University of Nottingham, UK with a BSc (Hons) in Economics and shall graduate from SOAS, University of London this year with an MSc in Development Economics. I wish to gain practical experience in developing nations in the near future after which I am keen to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of public policy/international development. When I am not critiquing articles in The Economist or writing my next article to be published (or not!), I enjoy reading, playing music, cooking lip-smacking dishes, indulging in self-care, and spending time with my friends and family (including my dogs Hector and Coco).