With emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, rapid computing, big data, Internet of Things and blockchain technologies progressing at a rapid pace and becoming a part of everyday life, they are bound to play a crucial role in shaping the global order. Keeping this in mind, the New Emerging & Strategic Technologies (NEST) division of the Ministry of External Affairs in collaboration with Science Policy Forum and Office of Principal Scientific Advisor, has launched the Emerging Technology Initiative (ETI).
“The ETI initiative represents what I call ‘Next Geopolitics’. This is the new era of geopolitics defined by emerging tech like AI and robotics. The government in New Delhi realises that, for India to remain competitive in the world, it must become a leader in the geopolitics of tech,” said Abishur Prakash, geopolitical futurist at the Center for Innovating the Future, Canada.
“It really seems like they want to make the ETI one coordinated nodal body that can help in coordination with multiple government agencies and multiple government bodies, and that is very important when we do not have a robust technology foreign policy yet. Hence, this is an important stepping stone to getting there,” said Arindrajit Basu, research manager at the Centre for Internet and Society, India.
What will the initiative likely achieve?
The initiative aims ‘to understand, analyse and anticipate the impact of disruptive, futuristic, emerging, strategic, and critical technologies that underpin economies, employment, security, social equity, and global relations while identifying forward-looking opportunities.’
The ultimate goal is to identify technologies which are important and relevant to India and develop a path to indigenise them. The initiative will help in recommending appropriate policy choices, local and global, keeping India’s priorities in mind.
“The Indian government has already selected the key areas for the ETI, like global relations, social equity and national security. And, it has dialled in on the main tech it wants to prepare for, like AI, quantum computing, gene editing and blockchain.
“This means that the likely outcomes could be a new foreign policy doctrine that has tech at the centre or a new design for a society that enshrines connectivity, equality and accessibility,” said Prakash.
What does its success depend on?
While these projects are great initiatives, their outcomes mustn’t be just white papers or journal articles that are never implemented on the ground. Basu thinks that to ensure this and make sure the initiative is a success, this depends on three important factors.
“One is that, it seems as though they (ETI) have a lot of government buy-in, so how much of that government buy-in continues.
“Second, is how much they can engage stakeholders. So, if you look at India’s some of the most successful negotiations, whether it is trade or climate change, they succeeded in articulating India’s clear position because of the multi-stakeholder consultation. In that sense, they should not only consult, think tanks or institutions that work closely with the government, but also independent organisations, and they are doing that, which needs to continue.
“Third, is to not get caught up in short-term thinking. While that is important too, it is also important to create a long term vision, in terms of ensuring India is not only ready for technological innovation, but also a hub for policy-making, something where India has played a role in the past,” said Basu.
What does this mean for India?
Provided ETI takes the right approach, Basu thinks that ETI has the ability “to improve India’s soft power”, as similar initiatives have done in the past. And this “becomes important in terms of local conflict.”
For Prakash, the stakes have never been higher. He said, “At its core, the ETI is about a new vision for India. It’s New Delhi attempting to redefine India’s role in the world. And, this means, the ETI could become the new manifesto for India.
“From building a local chip industry to developing 6G to blockchain-based finance, India is entering areas where immense competition is already underway.
“If India succeeds with the ETI, it will be on a path to becoming a tech-based superpower. But, if India fails, then India’s future will be defined by the ambitions and resources of other nations. My hope is, officials in New Delhi know by launching the ETI, India has walked onto a battlefield for the future.”
The ETI is an important and timely initiative as India does not have a well-defined and robust tech foreign policy. To ensure the initiative to be a success, the government needs to keep engaging with multiple stakeholders and at the same time, consider a long-term vision as to what it wants to achieve through it.
With tech becoming such an integral part of modern-day geopolitics and the stakes so high, it is important that the government leaves no stones unturned to make sure the initiative is a success.