Innovation, education key to India's growth

India must "evolve the right ecosystem" to unleash its potential as an innovation technology hub, says delegate at EmTech 2009 conference.

NEW DELHI--India has barely touched the tip of the iceberg as a knowledge economy, and must use "disruptive technologies" to drive markets such as healthcare and education, urged delegates at a technology summit.

"Innovation is not an idea leading to discovery. It relates to the ecological system in which it can blossom. This is something that the Silicon Valley was able to provide," Professor M. G. K. Menon, a renowned physicist and policy maker in India, said at the inaugural EmTech India 2009 held this week in New Delhi.

"Knowledge is in our DNA, however, India needs to evolve the right ecosystem that can help unleash the real potential of the nation," Menon said. Delegates at the two-day conference discussed the impact of next-generation technologies on businesses and society and also marked the launch of the India edition of Technology Review, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 109-year-old magazine.

Describing the country as a knowledge economy, Menon said what has emerged from India so far is only the tip of the iceberg.

"Much of the iceberg is submerged," he said. "We need to use disruptive technologies to focus on areas like health and education, in order to bring the masses to the forefront."

Speaking at the keynote address Monday, Neelam Dhawan, HP India's managing director, said the next billion users of IT will be low-cost users, as opposed to premium users.

"Therefore, HP is focusing on new areas like paperless business, technology for the illiterate and cloud computing," Dhawan said. "Economics and technology can work together in reducing the impact of the recession."

She explained that over the last few years, HP has redesigned its computers so that they run on lesser power, by using lesser metal and plastic. "Through [such] innovation, we have saved enough metal to build another Eiffel Tower. That kind of innovation has to go on," she said.

Build health superhighway
During a separate session on healthcare, Dr. Prathap C. Reddy, chairman of Apollo Hospitals, noted that locals living in rural India are willing to adapt and experiment with technology if it can give them access to good healthcare.

Reddy called for public-private partnerships (PPPs) to build a "health superhighway" that would connect a chain of hospitals--both government and private--through applications such as telemedicine, mobile software and wireless networks so doctors can connect up with villages in India.

He cited how telemedicine had already reached 2,000 villages and laid the foundation for platform that will eventually guarantee healthcare services to all. "We had this [telemedicine] plan in mind for at least 10 years, but we did not have the technology or applications to implement it. Now, these are available," he said.

"We want to touch every single doctor in every corner of the country, through a telemedicine network so that patients can not only get access to healthcare, but can also get a doctor of their choice," said Reddy.

Balvinder Singh Kalsi, president and CEO of DuPont India, said: "The sense of adaptability to technology among rural populace is very high." Kalsi cited DuPont's experience of connecting with farmers through the use of technology.

Top 10 emerging technologies
At this week's EmTech India conference, Technology Review listed ten technologies it thinks can change the way people live and work.

  • Liquid battery: A battery that can store enough electricity to allow cities to run on solar power at night.
  • Traveling-wave reactor: A reactor that would run on depleted uranium, making nuclear power safer and less expensive.
  • Paper diagnostic test: Paper that can create easy-to-use medical tests, making it possible to quickly and cheaply diagnose a range of diseases in the developing world.
  • Biological machines: A wirelessly controlled beetle can one day be used for surveillance or search-and-rescue missions.
  • US$100 genome: A nanofluidic chip that can dramatically lower the cost of genome analysis. Combined with the right sequencing technology, this chip can allow doctors to tailor medical treatment to a patient's unique genetic profile, map new genes linked to specific diseases, and quickly identify new viruses and outbreaks.
  • Racetrack memory: A new type of data storage that uses magnetic nanowires. This "racetrack memory" could eventually replace all other forms of computer memory.
  • HashCache: A new method for storing Web content that will provide speedier Internet access, at more affordable rates around the world.
  • Intelligent software assistant: New software that can act as a personal aide. This virtual personal-assistant software will help users interact more effectively with Web services to complete tasks such as booking travel or finding entertainment.
  • Software-defined networking: A new standard called OpenFlow allows researchers to tap into Internet switches and routers, to easily test new networking technologies with the click of a mouse--all without interrupting normal service.
  • Nanopiezotronics: Piezoelectric nanowires can generate electricity using tiny environmental vibrations.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.


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