Post Pandemic Technology Blues

By VARINDIA - 2021-03-23

Post Pandemic Technology Blues

Asoke K Laha, President & CEO of Interra Information Technologies

 

Every catastrophe has a positive effect like every victory is pyrrhic, having good and bad effects. History is a silent spectator to such developments. If the yester years’ World Wars had heralded breakthroughs in technology in medical sciences, hopefully the tapering off of pandemic effects are scripting tectonic shifts in every aspect of human behavior. Before we set out the possible transformations in the post pandemic, let us map the effects of the two world wars, which are also explained as the most traumatic phases of human history. Most of the developments were in technological, industrial and medical domains. Defence, aviation, manufacturing, discovery of  certain medicines including antibiotics had immensely gained from the innovations and discoveries during the world war days.


Before I start giving my thoughts on developments in the post Covid-19 days, the other day in a panel discussion,there were discussions on many subjects and domains where there could be radical changes post pandemic.  


What  appealed to me most was the prediction of an Indian born American citizen settled in San Francisco. He was responding to a query from one of the participants as to why people were leaving that city in large numbers. The reason is simple. They need not be in big cities to carry out most of their works. Technology has enabled them to shift without any way affecting their works or business. He also added that these were possible even before. But people never seriously thought about this. Pandemic has forced them to do so.  


Was his statement apocalyptic? I cannot judge. Time can only prove that. But one thing is clear. People are now betting on concepts like work from home, digital cross country operations, and a whole lot of things that can enable them to carry out their normal activities in a way suitable to their pocket and convenience. I cannot predict how long that would continue. Looking at the future of  technologies that are being developed based on artificial intelligence, machine language, cloud, block chain etc. I feel such concepts are here to stay.  Now, automated factories are not a wild imagination, but a reality that would happen in a relatively shorter timeframe than we thought some five years ago. 


Let me dwell on one of the presentations at the webinar of a future factory. The paper presenter has displayed a sketch of the factory that runs on sensors and IoTs, machines that can take instructions from the control room (another machine)  and carry them out with clockwise precision. The error and faults brought almost to zero. The interesting thing is that across the world many people are working on that. Innovators and scientists have realized that the future money lies there. They also know those who get the head start in such technologies would rule the roost. Not only would that,  it would be the part and parcel of the future power game. That is to say technology would decide who the superior power is; those who lead and those who follow. 


What about the business strategies? According to some,  they would undergo tectonic change post pandemic. Why should one have a factory or an office in New York, Wuhan, Paris or New Delhi paying high rentals not alone for their factories or offices but also the upkeep of their employees?  Can they spread out their offices to far off locations, which can give them better living conditions, air and least cost zones? Yes, that  is a worldwide phenomenon and we have seen many such cases in India. But what people predict is that a small-time IT company with a low asset base can now hire a person in New York, Toronto or  Shanghai to carry out   his or her activities. That means pandemic has shown that globalization is not alone for large asset based companies but the SMEs and start-ups can do that provided that they are in compliance with host countries’ legal framework. Given that, the question arises why should an Indian pay through the nose to set up a company in the US. The criteria laid down for the level of investment and the number of employment one has to generate through such investments laid down in the US are much beyond the capacity of an ordinary start-up in India. Will the national authorities allow such types of collaborations among the small sized companies and start-up’s? Can an  Indian start-up entrepreneur with his firm registered in India  get seamless entry into markets in the US, Canada or Toronto?  


My understanding is that it is not legally possible now. But I feel in future the efforts of the global business community will be to lobby  toward that. The administrations in every country will favorably look at those proposals if all countries in the loop are stakeholders in the game.  We have now some arrangements like double taxation avoidance treaty or Totalization agreement that exempts countries from charging social security tax is levied in one partner  country. Registration of a company can be a logical extension of such arrangements. My sense is that countries and groups are going to seriously think about such arrangements, provided that would result in more business activities. If that happened it would be one of the positive  spin offs of the pandemic.   


Another participant at the webinar mentioned about electronic devices becoming mini and Nano as we progress. Miniaturization is a part and parcel of development and a critical factor for disruption. That can be explained by culling out examples from the IT sector. People used to say Supercomputers, which the US developed, did require more space and accessories. Now, you have computers that can be as small as your wrist watch having multiple uses. That way the world is moving towards a miniature paradigm. All electronic goods are going to be small but they are going to be studded with sensors that can capture every movement and action. That is how the smart cities are going to   be managed; that is how driver less cars are going to be launched; cars running on artificial intelligence and Internet of Things which run using sensors,  wi-fi and integration of many other digital networks. I will not be surprised if the next level of disruption in electronics will be replacing vehicles run on petrol or any other fuel with electronic devices, where fuel can be replaced with electrons that can generate power to drive a vehicle. That may be a far –fetched imagination;  but I  am convinced that it would happen sooner or later.   


Another interesting presentation was about the application of digitization in agriculture. The paper presenter was an Israeli lady, who asserted a small farm can be managed with the help of a mobile telephone, which can help the farmer to get all types of relevant information including weather forecast, market prices, fertilizer and pesticides application, how they can be moved from producing centers to processing outfits and a lot more. According to her,  the precision agriculture, an interplay of sensors, IoTs, data analytics etc  is going to revolutionize agriculture, enabling the farmers what to produce, how to produce, how to ensure quality and texture to the agricultural  produce and a lot more. Even small holdings can successfully run on profit, an ideal technology for the Indian situation that can transform the Indian agriculture.    


An Indian policy maker in his paper described how the digital revolution is taking place in India. What struck me most was his explanation about the Arogya Sethu, the new App developed by India to sensitize people about the pandemic, how to maintain social distancing, how to sanitize, number of cases in the area etc. One little known fact he revealed. That was about the critics of the App. It was developed by a team of 15 young professionals totally in-house with the lowest possible cost. Now, the government has decided to use the App extensively for the vaccination also. The experience so far has been very successful. 


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