We have to take advantage of the fast-paced technological changes and leapfrog into the future with new-age systems without transitioning through the long cycle that most of the developed countries went through
By Jai Prakash Shivahare
The fourth industrial revolution or the term ‘Industry 4.0’ was coined to describe how virtual and physical systems interact to a create wide-ranging impact in which we work, live and communicate with other people. The fourth industrial revolution is different from earlier revolutions in its velocity, breadth and depth, and its impact on systems. Fast technological changes are likely to bring wide-ranging impacts to the society. For example, we are already witnessing the impact on our daily lifestyle due to smartphones and internet connectivity.
A decade or so ago, economists and political scientists were forecasting that the 21st century will be the Asian century, mainly due to the rise of two giants, India and China, who would benefit from the demographic dividend. However, the fast pace of innovation in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics may change the narrative 180 degrees. Unless the right kind of policies are put in place, the benefit of demographic dividend may never be realised in developing countries like India. In Industry 4.0, with the increasing rate of the replacement of humans by machines and robots, manufacturing may again go back to the developed countries. This may crash the aspirations and hopes of the developing world to catch up with the developed world and help raise the incomes of their masses.
In India, can we think of taking advantage of the fast-paced technological changes and leapfrog into the future with new-age systems without transitioning through the long cycle that most of the developed countries went through? What are the social, technological and administrative changes that must be made to make India’s cities future-ready for Industry 4.0? For this, we need to identify how we work, live and communicate with other people, and how our infrastructure is being designed and implemented. Basically, we have to consider how we can increase the productivity of our people and adapt to ever-changing skill requirements.
Cities have been engines of growth all over the world. However, overly populated cities are getting crushed under the burden of an ageing infrastructure, pollution, traffic jams, natural and man-made calamities like climate change, and are unable to optimise the use of resources, thereby resulting in low productivity and poor quality of life for their residents. The amount of time that is spent by people in travelling from their homes to workplaces is taking a huge toll on human aspects, including family life and personal well-being. A person who is not happy at home will bring his problems to work, and becomes less productive. Cities can address this problem by providing good public transportation with last-mile connectivity, so that travel time is reduced, allowing more quality time for human interactions and an overall better quality of life. A well-connected information and communications (ICT) enabled ecosystem for businesses can provide them access to up-to-the-minute information so that they can make smart decisions.
Greenfield smart cities present a huge opportunity because they are starting from scratch, and have the ability to start afresh everything, including modern facilities with public transportation, ICT-enabled infrastructure and impart the right kind of skills to its people. Greenfield cities can become centres of excellence for new-age industries and become innovation hubs.
One of the emerging mega trends is the demand for customised products that are currently being mass produced on assembly lines. Even products such as apparels, cars and mobile phones will be customised in the future. Cars are going to be more like an electronic product and fall less and less in the mass-produced automobile segment. 3D printing will become ubiquitous to produce customised products as per individual requirements. This could be the biggest employment generator and forex earner for a country like India—by exporting customised products to consumers the world over, especially to high-end customers.
Renowned futurist Heather McGowan has said that, earlier, people were trained for 25 years and used that knowledge for the next 40 years till they retired. However, this is going to change very soon and “continuous lifelong learning” will be the successful model for industries to remain competitive and for workers to remain relevant in organisations. The distinction between research institutes and production units will blur, and there will be constant exchange between industries and educational/research institutes. With the help of AI and robotics, new ideas will be used to build prototypes and quickly converted into mass products. New products will be introduced at a much faster rate. This will require close interaction between academia and industry. Fast changes in technology will require constant upgrade of skills and implementing new ideas quickly. High-end educational/research institutions need to be co-located with industries in these greenfield cities, so that they can interact with each other seamlessly and bring new customised products as per changing requirements. India needs to create centres of excellence, which act as models for future growth of cities in India. Time is now to revamp our education system, with a focus on research, creativity, communication skills and jobs that cannot be replaced by robots.
The biggest criticism of this approach could be that India does not need to spend money on greenfield cities, when a majority of our masses are deprived of basic amenities. We have to remember that these greenfield cities will be big centres for employment generation to the youth coming from metros, small towns and villages, and will enable them to move up in the income pyramid. In the 1990s, the software industry emerged as one of the biggest sources of employment generation and helped hundreds of thousands of youth to be in highly remunerative jobs and raise their standards of living. Greenfield smart cities will tap the potential of the youth to meet the requirements of new-age industries. These centres of excellence will have huge demonstrative role to make our cities better and smarter, and pave the way for India to become a developed nation.
The author, an IAS officer, is MD, Dholera Industrial City Development Limited