By Milind Kulshreshtha
A National Technology Day held under the aegis of the Ministry of Science & Technology holds a special significance during these ongoing COVID pandemic times. Today, modern technologies have emerged as the key to saving human lives through inventing COVID-19 vaccines or instruments for artificial oxygen for patients counting their breaths. During this COVID 19 crisis going on for more than a year, health workers have been at the forefront of the battle against the pandemic with support from modern medical technologies. Even though super human efforts have been put in by the medical teams, the pandemic crisis has itself shaken the very foundation of modern technology by its ferocity and the sheer volume of those infected. Up until the end of 2019, while humankind was over optimistic in its scientific prowess to be able to explore Mars, poke an asteroid or invent nanotechnology etc. for charting new dreams in the 21st century, the COVID-19 virus changed the world scenario and has been testing the limits of human innovation.
In the last more than seven decades of independence, India has seen a stellar growth in technology fields, be it Space, Information Technology, atomic energy, pharmacy or biotech. With a projected population of more than 1.5 billion by 2050, India can only rely on modern technologies for sustenance in the 21st century. The present COVID-19 pandemic and the environmental calamities such as the Australian wildfires spurred by climate change simply showcase the challenges of the modern era and insufficiency of today’s technologies to keep human lives safe. This year’s theme of National Technology Day “Science and Technology for a Sustainable Future” aptly indicates scientific research and technology as the future of any flourishing human society in times to come.
The world still does not know what is the new normal but the leaders world over are rethinking to devise new strategies to harness modern technologies that would help drive immunity to COVID virus and make them emerge from the crisis at the earliest. With the COVID-19 cases on a rise, GoI has identified a five-step strategy of Testing, contact tracing, patient treatment, COVID appropriate behaviour and the Vaccination, which too are based on modern technology. Even the public awareness campaign on the COVID shall be technology dependent for Information sharing through various digital platforms like Twitter etc.
Why National Technology Day on 11 May?
The National Technology day was first celebrated on 11 May 1999 to commemorate India’s technological milestone of completing successful nuclear tests on 11 May 1998. These tests established India as a nuclear capable state on the world map, a breakthrough only achieved by a handful of nations. The event was highly significant for nations’ security as India had two nuclear weapon capable hostile neighbours viz. China and Pakistan. The CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) deadline for India would have forever stifled India’s chance to possess a second strike nuclear deterrence capability to safeguard itself. The nuclear explosion of 1998 rapidly changed the dynamics for India, like opening of opportunities with NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group), ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and other international groups. However, in the short term, the various sanctions imposed by the world adversely affected multiple Defence projects and other dual use technology projects. The silver lining here was that India became more and more focused on self-reliance in technology.
Indian Nuclear Doctrine of 1999 broadly outlines the no-first-use policy and defensive posture of “credible minimum nuclear deterrence”. Today, India remains out of the world treaty of CTBT. However, India has a specific facility-based safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) allowing it to participate in global civilian nuclear technology projects.
Science and Technology for a Sustainable Future
The existing advanced medical care infrastructure crumbled under the sheer burden of numbers infected within a short duration and globally, thousands of lives have been lost each single day for the last more than a year. Despite the vaccine breakthroughs, jabs to millions, many millions are yet to be protected and it is now a race against time for modern technology. The virus is doing what it is known to do best i.e. adapting and mutating to take on a more potent avatar, using a form of intelligence yet unknown to modern science. Human technology is trying to keep pace with the fast evolving threats posed by various viruses and this duel has been existence since the very first antiviral medicine was created. The sustainable future requires science and technology to evolve more rapidly and look out for solutions which are beyond human vision today. Apart from this, the climate change crisis too is looming large as a natural disaster, and technological research has to find the solutions at the earliest.
The students who are the future technology leaders for India are themselves facing a challenging time during the pandemic. Students bound within the four walls of their homes are sitting individually and interacting virtually to be educated. The large part of practical ‘look & feel’ available in a school laboratory or a college workshop is completely missing, along with the benefits of a group based learning. The subjects like engineering have always been about real-world practical problem solving skills, with theoretical knowledge helping to lay the foundation.
On this National Technology Day 2021, the science and technology education too requires a special focus. With modern concepts like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Education 4.0 and other learning software integrated within the sociotechnical configuration, interestingly, the sustenance of future education in science and technology is now highly intertwined with the development of the technology itself.
(The author is CEO of AIKairos which runs the Industry 4.0 implementation and education programme in India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)