India as Knowledge Superpower

[via World Changing] New Scientist has a special issue on India as the next knowledge superpower.

Many features of the country stand out. First, its scale and diversity. With a population of more than a billion, the country presents some curious contrasts. It has the world’s 11th largest economy, yet it is home to more than a quarter of the world’s poorest people. It is the sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide, yet hundreds of millions of its people have no steady electricity supply. It has more than 250 universities which catered last year for more than 3.2 million science students, yet 39 per cent of adult Indians cannot read or write.

These contrasts take tangible form on the outskirts of cities from Chennai to Delhi, Mumbai to Bangalore. Here, often next to poor areas, great gleaming towers of glass are growing in which knowledge workers do their thinking. These images of modernity are a far cry from stereotypical India – a place bedevilled alternately by drought and flood, of poor farmers and slum-dwellers. Yet both sets of images are real – and many others besides.

High-tech is not the sole preserve of the rich. Fishermen have begun using mobile phones to price their catch before they make port, and autorickshaw drivers carry a phone so that customers can call for a ride. Technology companies are extending internet connections to the remotest locations. Small, renewable electricity generators are appearing in villages, and the government is using home-grown space technology to improve literacy skills and education in far-flung areas.

The knowledge revolution is already swelling the ranks of India’s middle class – already estimated to number somewhere between 130 million and 286 million. And the gulf in spending power between the poor and the comfortably off has never been more apparent. Take cars. Sales are rising at more than 20 per cent a year. Before India opened up its economy in the early 1990s, only a few models were available, almost all home-built. Today, top-end imported cars have become real status symbols. Another consequence of the knowledge revolution is that the extreme wealth of a new breed of young, high-tech yuppies is challenging traditional gender roles and social values.

Whether the new-found prosperity and excitement of present-day India can be sustained will depend crucially on how the government guides the country over the next few years. Cheap labour and the widespread use of English do not guarantee success, and there are major obstacles that the country will need to tackle to ensure continued growth. Take infrastructure. Where China has pumped billions into water, road and rail projects, India has let them drift. Likewise, companies complain that bureaucracy and corruption make doing business far more difficult than it ought to be.

One of the critical issues facing India is the gulf between the academic world and industry.

Links to the stories in the issue are here.

Private Syndication Feeds

Tim Bray points to an article by David Berlind:

For example, what if eBay had to contact only some of its customers. Why not have a separate feed for every customer? This is the same thinking that went into another idea I had — overnight shippers setting up separate RSS feeds for every package they handle. This way, I can subscribe to packages I’m sending or receiving, and my RSS aggregator (Newsgator, etc.) alerts me to changes in each package’s status. To keep a lid on the number of RSS feeds a shipper must run, the RSS feed for each package would expire a few days after the package arrives.

Use of RSS in such a one-to-one fashion does raise other questions, however. For example, can existing RSS-enabled systems reasonably scale to this level of service, and what would it mean for networks including the Internet? Also, what happens if malware finds its way onto users’ systems? Could it, unbeknownst to the user, change the settings of an RSS subscription to poll a malicious feed — and what can be done (such as securing the RSS client) to prevent that from happening? Finally, could widespread use of this approach be the backdoor towards flipping all existing e-mail solutions on their ear, turning them from SMTP-based store-and-forward systems to RSS-based alert-poll-and-retrieve systems (alert my mail server of an RSS feed that has something for me, poll that feed, and retrieve the message)? Running e-mail this way would make it very difficult for spammers to cover their tracks.

Transparency for ISVs

Eric Sink suggests that “if ISVs are unwilling to trust their customers, then they won’t have any.” [ISVs = Independent Software Vendors]

Among his suggestions:
1. Have a Weblog
2. Offer Web-based Discussion Forums
3. Don’t Hide Your Product’s Problems
4. Don’t Annoy Honest People
5. Offer a Painless Demo Download
6. Offer a Money-Back Guarantee
7. Share a Little About Your Financial Standing
8. Talk About Your Future Plans


Smart Mobs points to a post by Michael Gartenberg about , which “will fulfill one of the original promises of the Internet – The ability to freely interact with your friends and family to chat, share information, photos and files. Doing this over the Internet can be a complex task, imeem makes it easy.”

With a meem, you will be able to:

* Create a private group that represents all of the members of your family.
* Create a page for your favorite garage band, attaching music samples, photos, video, text and web links.
* Create a group that includes your stock broker, accountant and lawyer to share private documents concerning your estate.
* Create a group of friends and/or family in order to share photos without having to upload them to a remote server.
* Create a web log to chronicle your thoughts or experiences, easily attaching documents or media to support your log.


Bob Cringely writes about small computers in general and the AMD PIC in particular:

Think of the PIC as a cheaper, dumber Mac Mini. Most of the right bits are there and the price is right. Yes, there should be a Linux model, there should be Ethernet, and that xBox (literally) hard drive is too small. But even without Linux, given a bit more effort on AMD’s part, this little guy could be used to replace fading K-12 PCs all over America at prices that schools can actually afford. The power savings alone are such that an eight watt PIC will pay for itself in under two years.

But will any company but AMD ever build PICs? I think they should, and here’s why. There is an interesting transition taking place in the ultra-low-end computer market right now as consumers are starting to use mobile phones to perform functions that might previously have been done with handheld computers like the iPaq. As a result, handheld sales are actually dropping, which in the PC market means the niche is already dead. Microsoft is trying to follow this trend by putting its software in phones, but for the hardware OEMs the course to follow is not so clear. The logical thing to do, it seems to me, is to split the niche into its two component parts — mobile communication and cheap computing. Phones get the nod for mobility, but HP and Dell could easily pick up the cheap computing segment by selling many sub-varieties of PIC. It is ideal for home automation, for becoming a car video server to end drowning in Dora the Explorer DVDs, for acting as a home Internet gateway, for hosting the inevitable VoIP home PBX — each a 100 million unit market, and each totally untapped by the big OEMs.

TECH TALK: Best of Future Tech: Part 1

My Business Standard Future Tech column celebrated its first anniversary recently. In this weeks series, I will look back at some of the ideas discussed over the first 27 columns. There will be a more succinct summary in the next issue of Business Standards ICE World on Wednesday. Note: The dates mentioned correspond to the print publication dates.

The first column (December 17, 2003) laid out the agenda for India and called for India Technology Missions. The country must rise above individual and local self-interests. It is a kind of agenda that is ideally pushed by a centrally created team which decentralises execution and is able to get the best from different elements that have specific expertise. We need a few, focused missions. The five key ideas outlined for these missions were: a Rs 5,000 computer, Indian language desktop applications, industry information and process maps, fixed-price broadband bundles and locally relevant information and services.

The next column (December 31, 2003) outlined the need to rethink three the technology platforms that form the foundation of our digital lives. The communications platform needs to be built on IP (internet protocol) and be always on The computing platform needs to focus on affordability so that a connected computer is accessible to every family in urban and rural India, and every employee in corporate India The information platform needs to become real time, event driven and multimedia-oriented.

In a way, these two columns set out the tone for Future Tech. What I said then holds as true today: India has an opportunity once again to do things right. What is needed is a generation of entrepreneurs to think beyond the curve and outside the box to create technology platforms and solutions for tomorrows world.

On the portal front, there were specific ideas advocated in my column of January 14, 2004 built around RSS, blogs and publish-subscribe concepts — NINE (New Indian News Ecosystem), PIN (PIN-code-based India Network) and STIM (SME Trade Information Marketplace). The foundation for the next-generation information platform needs to be built on the two pillars that have driven the open-source software movement user customisability and distributed collaboration.

The next column (January 28) took the publish-subscribe idea further: The PubSubWeb makes possible a new class of information that has the following four attributes: it is frequently updated (as opposed to being static), it needs to be repeatedly distributed to a continuously interested set of entities (as opposed to one-off, need-based access), it is incrementally accessed (as opposed to getting the complete chunk and figuring out what has changed), and it needs to be “pushed” in real time (as opposed to demand-driven “pull”) In essence, the PubSubWeb establishes an information stream between information producers (publishers) and consumers (subscribers), making possible a whole range of new applications and servicesJust as HTML powered the request-response web, rich site summary (RSS) will power the PubSubWeb.

SMEs were the focus of the February 11 column, with a focus on providing them with a scalable backend infrastructure which provides instant, personalised and cost-effective communications, secures the enterprise and provides simplified administration of the technology resources; a computer for every employee provides the foundation for personal productivity enhancement and creates the base for electronic capture and flow of information; and, a suite of applications that powers an information refinery and ensures an intelligent, event-driven, real-time enterprise.

Tomorrow: Part 2