As i write this piece, I can’t help but think of the ubiquitous ‘sliced bread,’ which has been around for over nine decades and continues to be a part of our daily lives. It leads me to believe that when independent India marks its centennial in 25 years, there will most likely be a few technological breakthroughs that qualify as the “best thing since sliced bread”.
When pioneering technologies from a previous era become old or obsolete, they do not simply disappear. They linger in our minds for a long time and become signposts in our lives. People of my generation will remember how much of a difference Walkman players made to our lives in the 1980s when we could take our music with us wherever we went. Whenever I think of that device, I am reminded of my growing up years in Mumbai.
Technology, in my opinion, improves the lives of people and strengthens communities. As the helmsman of a large purpose-led business organisation, I believe scientific progress will catalyse our efforts to rise for a more equal world. The advances made by our country give me hope for a bright future for our people. Aside from that, it is encouraging to observe how easily Indians have adapted to emerging technologies.
Some researchers say India is the second-largest smartphone market in the world with nearly 800 million users. In terms of internet penetration, nearly 50 per cent of our population—about 660 million people—have already logged in. There are various studies that state that roughly 96 per cent of our population could be hooked to the internet by 2040. These data points lead me to believe that the internet and smartphones will be the primary ‘carriers’ or ‘distributors’ of new technologies in our country. Non-web-based fields, such as healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, power, etc., will also adopt newer ways of doing things. However, new technologies would only gain traction if they solve the big problems of our times.
Among all the issues confronting us today, social and economic inequality is the most crippling. While social equity may take time and higher thinking to achieve, a semblance of economic equity is a more attainable goal. Financial inclusion, easy access to credit and low-cost savings products are important pathways to haul our many millions out of poverty. The banking and financial services sector has already started using the power of technology to reach out to India’s unbanked communities. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) to profile prospective finserv customers would only increase in the years to come. A higher degree of internet penetration would enable financial product manufacturers to bring their costs down. This will mark the beginning of customised financial products for low-income earners living in rural India.
Our healthcare sector is also undergoing a transformative change thanks to emerging tech. Apart from being the world’s pharmacy, India is developing novel treatment and disease management methods at a much lower cost than the western world. Hence, India’s tech-driven healthcare and pharma sector would benefit not just India, but the entire world.
India’s manufacturing sector is passing through digital transformation, with many large manufacturers moving on from simple digitisation to convergence. Large manufacturers, such as Mahindra, have already started initiating a crossover to ‘Industry 4.0’, which simply means the linking up of products with means of production. By doing so, manufacturers can optimise their production schedules and create more value for the business.
By 2047, the automotive industry, of which we are a major part, may have made a significant shift to electric vehicles (EVs). Our future wheels could be far more advanced versions of the ‘connected cars’ that automakers are unveiling now. Future cars could have AI-powered safety standards as well as cutting-edge battery packs for longer driving ranges and faster recharge times.
Similar technological advancements are seen across critical sectors such as education, agriculture, power generation and real estate. AI and ML (machine learning) would revolutionise our classrooms in the years to come—making education more democratic and accessible to all sections of our society. In the coming decades, the agriculture sector is projected to experience a significant increase in tech-based inputs. FaaS (farming-as-a-service) would take off in a big way with ‘smart technologies’ predicting weather, crop, yield, market, disease and price. On the hardware side, we will see a lot more farm mechanisation happening over the next few years.
India’s power and real estate sectors would evolve to become more planet-friendly in the coming decades. Our country may have added a lot more renewable energy (RE) to its power mix by 2047. This will bring down the cost of electricity at the consumer end by a significant measure.
The most important technological advances would revolve around combating climate change and ensuring sustainability. Climate tech is a sunrise sector now. But over the next 25 years, it will emerge as the most significant one for the survival of the human race. Technology will make significant inroads into every industry we know today.
Business groups with strong balance sheets have the moral obligation to invest in newer technologies that will make the world a better place for all.
Lastly, we should be conscious of the fact that India’s demographic dividend is expected to peak around 2041, when our share of the working-age population is expected to reach nearly 60 per cent. We should support young students, who are particularly inclined to science and technology. A large number of our future technocrats and scientists would emerge from this cluster.
When I look ahead 25 years, I see a green hilltop of technological breakthroughs—and not an abyss of impossibility. I am reasonably confident that we will see a number of groundbreaking inventions and innovations, some of which will be the best since the beginning of ‘sliced bread’.
The writer is MD and CEO of Mahindra Group
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