India Superpower 2020

The Week has a collection of articles with a lead-in by President Kalam: “The nation can use its core competence in IT, natural resources and human resources to become a knowledge superpower by 2020…In the 21st century, knowledge is the primary production resource instead of capital or labour. There will be a shift from the molecule-centric agricultural era to the electron-centric knowledge era. The efficient utilisation of knowledge alone can create comprehensive wealth for the nation in the form of better health, education, infrastructure and other social indicators. The ability to create and maintain the knowledge infrastructure, develop knowledge workers and enhance their productivity through creation, and nurturing and exploitation of new knowledge will be the key factors in a nation becoming a knowledge superpower…As the world transforms into a knowledge society, India has the tremendous advantage due to its core competence in certain technologies including IT, vast natural resources and above all, 300 million ignited youth. This strength must be harnessed fully for the transformation of society. This will be a beautiful India, prosperous India and happy India.”

Among the other contributors for the lead articles are Ganesh Natarajan, Arun Nehru, Naveen Patnaik, Bharat Karnad, M.S. Swaminathan, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, R.K. Pachauri, P.V. Indiresan, K. Kasturirangan, Pritish Nandy and Arun Shourie.

Offshoring: Opportunity or Threat

NYTimes takes a look as seen as from the US of the new trend to outsource business processes and services to lower cost countries:

The short answer is that the trend is real, irreversible and another step in the globalization of the American economy. It does present a challenge to industry, government and individual workers. But the shifting of some technology jobs abroad fits into a well-worn historical pattern of economic change and adjustment in the United States.

In an information economy, technology services are an “input” in the same way that steel, glass and rubber are parts of a car. So reducing the cost of technology services curbs inflation while improving efficiency and productivity. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that every dollar of costs that United States companies move offshore yields a benefit of $1.12 to $1.14 to the American economy, mainly from cost savings and steering workers toward jobs that add more value than those replaced.

The difficulty of finding good jobs for workers, however, is a thorny policy issue…Research groups and academics have suggested forms of wage insurance, either publicly financed or privately financed by the companies that benefit from offshore outsourcing, to soften the blow for some transition period.

“Wage insurance is worth considering because technological change is so rapid,” said Robert B. Reich, a professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University who was secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. “It would spread the costs of economic change over a much larger pool.”

Nanotech attracts Capital

NYTimes writes about the new area: “Nanotechnology draws its name from the nanometer, which is a billionth of a meter, or 100,000 times as thin as a human hair. Individual molecules, tiny organisms like viruses and the smallest features of products like microchips operate in a nanoscale landscape.”

The industry gained new visibility on Dec. 3 when President Bush signed a law authorizing federal research and development subsidies of $3.7 billion over the four years, beginning next October.

Nanotechnology did not catch the fancy of investors until the 1990’s, when ingenious new software and computer-controlled tools expanded the possibilities for manipulating small-scale processes, designing new materials and accurately measuring their performance.

The new generation of nanomaterials is already taking commercial root. Nanoscale clay particles strengthen car bodies. Coatings made with aluminum-titanium nanoparticles add to the durability of boiler components and submarine periscopes for the Navy. Carbon nanotubes add stiffness to Babolat tennis rackets. And pants are being made with techniques that alter the structure of cotton to create nanoscale whiskers that make the fabric more stain resistant.

It might be hard, though, for investors to strike it rich in nanotechnology as it was in the dot-com gold rush. Some of nanotechnology’s most promising concepts, like computers that replace silicon transistors with single molecules, are at least a generation away from market. And for all the spectacular properties of new materials like carbon nanotubes, which are many times stronger than steel, no one has yet demonstrated how to make money from them. Many experts predict large multinationals will come to dominate markets for most nanoproducts long before investors in startups can get rich in a public offering.

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2003 Tech Lessons

WSJ (Tim Hanrahan and Jason Fry) write on the learnings from the past year:

1. Internet Time Remains a Potential Savior/Killer: In 2003, the arena where this was proven again and again was digital music.

2. You Never Have Enough Storage: The iPod, the successor to the Walkman of a generation ago, has the same hard-disk capacity of a fair-sized office building during the mid-1980s.

2a. You Never Have Enough Bandwidth: While more bandwidth can deliver services that are only now being cooked up in the lab, more bandwidth can also make the humdrum Web a better and more-reliable service, with fewer “Internet congestion” messages and mysterious slowdowns.

3. The Problem With the Internet Is People: The dark side of progress in 2003 was watching the Internet seem to turn into a seething soup of viruses and spam.

4. Mobile Gets a Little More Mobile: Wireless number portability was the one big victory for consumers this year.

5. Convenience Is the Killer App: Take three of 2003’s successful “digitals” — digital video recorders, digital music and digital pictures — as proof. All three have been hits because they get rid of an annoying, inefficient process.

A follow-up article summarises reader responses:

Curtis L. Russell writes: The PC is not the center of computing for a lot of the younger set. Between Web-enabled game boxes and PDAs that connect to the Internet as well, in my opinion the generation currently in their 20s will be the generation that rationalizes the use of PCs. Power users will continue to use PCs, but increasing numbers of people will downsize to their increasingly powerful and flexible PDAs. Salespeople will stay next to their customers and leave the floor only to sync to the system. Doctors will walk with their computing power in their pocket. Point and click will be the province more and more of the stylus, not the mouse. The year 2003 may be recorded as the high-water mark of the use of PCs.

Alan Colmenares writes: Comparable to the methodical migration of workers from rural to urban areas during the start of the Industrial Revolution, some processes (e.g., education, sales referrals, information search, etc.) are becoming digitized and benefiting from the low-cost, efficient Internet channel. There are some conclusions that we can draw about what the future will look like:

1) In the home and in business, the justification for broadband internet connection will only increase.

2) Just as production was concentrated in urban areas during the Industrial Revolution, the current trend is for concentration around the best minds and processes in each particular area of endeavor. The Internet allows this to happen irrespective of a person’s particular geographic location.

3) Internet security safeguards will continue to become more urgent.

4) Computing and communications power becomes ever more pervasive and integrated beyond the general purpose computer (e.g., robots, consumer electronics, etc.).

5) Industries will remain highly vertical on the production side (e.g., managing hotel rooms, steel making, etc.), but they will become highly horizontal closer to the customer (e.g., selling hotel rooms, travel, music, dating services, banking — all at once). Thus, the digital customer connection will push distribution companies into other product areas (e.g., Dell migrating from PCs to consumer electronics to music distribution, etc.).

Synthetic RSS Feeds

John Robb writes: “In order to push syndication to new levels (hundreds of sites subscribed) and make it easier for people to get to that level, we need synthetic feeds. Synthetic feeds combine the RSS feeds of multiple sites in a single stream. By subscribing to one synthetic feed, you get all of the individual feeds at once.”

John also suggests a number of ideas for implementing synthetic feeds. I see these ideas as the base for the new information platform that needs to be created, centred around the Publish-Subscribe Web.

On Longhorn

Salon (Scott Rosenberg) has a view:

Microsoft is presenting Longhorn to the world as a series of nicknamed projects with bold promises: A new presentation layer named Avalon will feast on the unused processing power of today’s hypertrophied graphics cards to give Longhorn a jazzy look-and-feel and advanced media capabilities (like video in any window). A new file system named WinFS will transform the mountains of files stored on our hard drives into a smarter, more database-like store (think of the difference between organizing your music tracks by file name or sorting them, using their “tags,” through iTunes, MusicMatch or your favorite music software). A new communications system named Indigo will enable a new generation of easy-to-build, easy-to-connect, easy-to-use e-commerce. (Microsoft has been demonstrating a revamped Amazon.com store that does instant resorting of vast product categories.) All this, plus security and reliability (no reboots!).

There is no telling at this early date how many of these promises will be delivered on when Longhorn finally ships, and how many of them will be tossed overboard in an effort to keep the shipping date from receding toward an infinite horizon. But however Longhorn finally shapes up, it’s clear that Microsoft intends for it to be a big sea change in the Windows world la Windows 95. If it’s not, the company will have a multibillion-dollar egg on its face. As Microsoft’s “general manager of evangelism” Vic Gundotra put it earlier this month at a Longhorn pitch for Silicon Valley developers, “This is a bet-the-company strategy. It’s the biggest bet we’ve ever made, and there’s no guarantee of success.”

One of Microsoft’s great strengths in the past has been its ability to carry customers across “platform transitions” by religiously maintaining backwards compatibility. It promises more of the same with Longhorn: Microsoft’s demos show off a 20-year-old DOS version of the Visicalc spreadsheet running inside a Longhorn window.

But if Longhorn is too radical a break with the past there’s always a chance that Microsoft’s two key constituencies — “end users” like you and me and the “ISVs” (independent software vendors) who produce the programs that run on top of Windows — will balk. The years between now and Longhorn’s due date will provide Microsoft’s only remaining competitors, at Apple and in the Linux universe, with a real chance to seize the high ground and capture more customers.

Longhorn will come sometime in 2005-6. That still seems quite some way off. This is the opportunity for Linux to come in and build out the next-generation computing platform.

TECH TALK: 2003-04: Wireless, Security

2. Wireless

WiFi got a major boost this year with Intels launch of the Centrino backed by a continuing multi-million dollar global campaign. The cost of access points has fallen rapidly and wireless technologies continue to improve. Wireless networks are also coming from the cellular providers via 2.5G and 3G, and CDMA technologies. We are entering an era of near-ubiquitous wireless Internet access. Even in India, it is possible to use the cellphone (from Reliance Infocomm) as a modem to connect to the Internet and get data speeds of between 30-100 Kbps in over 600 cities.

Wrote Business Week recently: Faster networks have turned tablet PCs and laptops into wireless devices. They’ve also allowed handset makers to roll out new gadgets such as smart phones, a cross between a phone and a personal digital assistant (PDA). Unlike today’s dumb phones, these devices include an operating system (OS) — the software that runs the basic functions of a computer — and the processing power and memory that PCs had a decade ago Surveys of chief information officers show that mobile applications and networking are at the top of many corporate tech departments’ software shopping lists. And consumers are waking up to this new opportunity as well — turning on to wireless applications such as fancy ring-tones, text messaging, and games.

2004: WiFi hotspots will proliferate, with telcos worldwide looking at get into the business. Chips that will combine access to WiFi and cellular networks will create a new class of devices. The action will also revolve around faster, better wireless networks. Smart Antennas, Mesh Networks and Agile Radios are technologies to look forward to in the future, according to Business Week. RFIDs are another area of action, as Wal-mart drives its vendors to start using chips in products to enable tracking.

3. Spam, Viruses and Security

2003 was the year in which the vulnerability of our digital lives was all too apparent. The deadly combination of spam and viruses is creating havoc with the application that defines much of our live email. It is little wonder then that the security of devices and networks has emerged as the area that is most engaging minds worldwide.

2003 saw spam skyrocket and flood our Inbox. Various viruses targeted home users vulnerable to attacks, even as enterprises secured themselves with gateway security servers. While anti-virus software screens viruses at the perimeter or the desktop and spam filters use Bayesian technologies to learn, the one thing that is clear is that a small part of our day will be dedicated to cleaning up the junk that we receive.

2004: Expect spams and viruses to target instant messaging and cellphones. The openness of the Internet will be reduced somewhat as organisations seek to plug gaps. Email protocols will need to evolve to limit unauthorised mail senders. So, even as the volume of email increases, so will the restrictions on who can communicate with us. Security appliances will proliferate into homes and small businesses along with always-on connections.

Tomorrow: Offshoring, VoIP

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