Event Details:

  • Date and Time: March 24, 2022; 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm IST
  • Topic: Transformational Technologies and U.S. – India Science and Technology Cooperation
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Event report prepared by – Anu Anna Jo

KEY PARTICIPANTS:

Speakers

Jay Gullish – Executive Director of Digital Policy, U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC)

Nandini Kannan – Executive Director at Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF)

Opening Remarks:

Dustin Bickel – Economic Officer, U.S. Consulate General, Chennai

Concluding Remarks:

Prabhu Bala – Vice-Chairman, IACC (Tamil Nadu), Director of Precision Equipments (Chennai) 

Moderator:

Varsha Radhakrishnan – Research Fellow (Technology Policy and Artificial Intelligence), CPPR

About the Event

Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), in collaboration with the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai, Public Affairs section is undertaking a project to study ‘India – US Relations: Change, Continuity and Transformation’ with a special focus on four areas of cooperation: 

  • U.S. – India Trade Relations
  • U.S. – India Science and Technology Cooperation
  • Indo – Pacific Strategy
  • U.S. and India as partners in global climate initiatives

‘Transformational Technologies and U.S. – India Science and Technology Cooperation’, addressing the Science & Technology focus area, is the fourth webinar hosted by CPPR in this effect. This focus area is a critical and transformative aspect for the U.S. – India relationship, and has the potential to significantly accelerate the strategic and economic achievements of both the nations.

Highlights of the Event

India – U.S. partnership from 1960s to the current state as well as the partnership challenges faced by the countries were discussed in detail. The emerging technologies, skilling of the workforce, and the U.S. – India technology and tech diplomacy were the focus of the discussion.

Opening remarks: Dustin Bickel – Economic Officer, U.S. Consulate General Chennai

  • Science & Technology are critical components of the U.S. – India global comprehensive partnership. Government and research institutions of both the countries, and Indian private sector partners and colleges and universities all work together to foster science and technology cooperation. Through all of this cooperation, we are strengthening our societies, growing our economies, and making the world a better place.
  • Partnerships are built on foundation of trust and trust is rooted in spending time together, working together, and solving problems together.
  • As examples of the United States and India’s long standing relationship in technology driven solutions to address climate change challenges, he quoted the Fullbright -Kalam Climate Fellowship and the Ignition Grant Program launched by the U.S. India Science and Technology Endowment Fund. There have also been various initiatives by the U.S. Department of Energy. Memorandum of Understanding between the United States Geological Survey and India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences for the exchange of scientific resources, personnel, and technical knowledge in the areas of earth observations and earth science has also been effected. He also quoted NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar, or NISAR as an example of the bilateral collaboration in the sphere of science and technology.
  • He stressed on the point that it is vital to work together to facilitate the cross fertilization among all of the available resources including private institutions and government partners to advance the collaborations.
  • We live in exciting times where economic and social challenges can be overcome by human ingenuity, finding ways to promote, sustain, and disseminate. The benefits of innovation is a top priority for all our governments.

First point of Discussion – 

Science and technology intersects in different aspects such as defense, clean energy, banking, etc. Which sector is paid more attention in the current Indo – U.S. partnership context?

  • The U.S. – India relationship is really, truly unique in the world. There are no two other countries, democracies or otherwise that have a technology in the scientific sector that is so integrated. – Jay
  • According to Jay, the U.S. – India relationship in the science & technology sector is quite integrated and among all that, what matters the most is the people to people interaction. People, especially students’ move from India to the U.S. for studies and eventually settle down there, whereas US companies invest in India.
  • Jay mentioned that both countries are very diverse and have cultural characteristics that differ from region to region. This diversity brings in a lot of different ideas, different perspectives, but also ways to tap different types of markets.
  • We have a strong synergy which is growing academia, basic, applied and commercializing science, as well as allied areas of research. These are the areas where we can collaborate and do better. – Jay
  • Nandini Kannan stated that individual scientists and their institutions have strengthened the science and technology ties over the years. Science and technology formscentral to the strategic partnership between India and the U.S. It Should be a driver for responsible, impactful innovation.
  • India and the U.S. are responsible democracies, so we need to make sure that innovation in science and technology, especially now with Artificial Intelligence (AI)I, is not only impactful, but also responsible  – Nandini
  • Taking the discussion further on the same point, Varsha asked about the key moments in the Indo-U.S. cooperation and how these moments shaped science and technology development for both countries. Nandini was of the opinion that institutional level collaborations: such as collaboration in space, and more recently AI, innovation from machine learning, big data and big companies setting up research labs in India, all of these had an impact on the Indo-U.S. cooperation. Jay believes that Green Revolution,digitization and software are the key moments in the partnership, along with the joint mission to Mars.
  • There’s always been science and technology cooperation even before the seventies and sixties, like students from India going to the U.S. to study and that has happened organically with IIT Kanpur starting off collaborations with U.S. institutions and cementing the relationships. – Nandini
  • Millions of young Indians, software engineers in the U.S. sifted through the code lines reviewing billions of codes manually to identify and overcome the widespread concern of the two-digit dates in computers during the turn of the new millennium. They learned about software, about coding, about American business culture, which is really critical. It was after the Y2K that those resources converted slowly but surely what we see today which India having technology capability and software and then engineering design at a scale that is unparalleled around the world. India has the English language, which is the language of computers, but they also have the cultural connection and the business ties that enabled India’s IT industry to flourish after that Y2K problem. – Jay.
  • U.S. and India not only have an opportunity but almost an obligation to work together and try to set foundational stones for the digital economy and technology going forward. – Jay

Second point of Discussion – 

In bilateral partnerships there are factors that enable or impede the outcomes of that partnership, what are some of the enablers and barriers in the domains of entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystem?

  • The U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund that funds start-ups is an enabler and Intellectual Property issues and infrastructure that help connect is always a challenge according to Nandini. Everyone should come together to leverage resources, she added. Jay explained how important it is to create a strong political will to create the strategic relationship which would then allow high-end advanced technology interactions.
  • There has to be a synergy between the U.S. and Indian side. The challenge is finding the right partner on the other side. Academia is much more organized and it’s because of the conferences, meeting people, the institutions and their website that it’s much easier to find collaborators. In the science and engineering space, academic to academic collaborations worked beautifully, but it’s much harder to get the innovators, the incubators on both sides. – Nandini
  • It is really important that there is a strong political will to create that strategic relationship that would then allow at the high end of advanced technology interactions, that’s starting to happen. India and the United States have a very strong political relationship. At the end of the day, United States and India stand strong in favour of democracy, free choice and individual rights that allow us to have a strong strategic relationship that would in turn, allow us to collaborate effectively.- Jay
  • In the academic phase there is a little bit of a misalignment. U.S. universities have an incredible amount of endowments, which is not something that Indian academia largely has. Some schools have endowments that are larger than the GDP of some countries and that allows them to fund long-term research. India doesn’t have that very large pool of endowments, flip that around and the United States lacks the actual human resources to do the research and so the US bring researchers from around the world to conduct that research. – Jay

The gap in the partnership of Small Medium Enterprises (SME) in India and the U.S. and the measures needed to bridge this gap

  • Taking the discussion forward on the gaps, Varsha asked particularly about the gap in the partnership of Small Medium Enterprises in India and the US and the measures needed to bridge the gap. According to Nandini, awareness and availability of funds are the major gaps. All information should be brought together, and should be available from a single source to avoid confusion, she said.
  • How do we bring other small business communities together to understand that there are opportunities? How do you create awareness? It is an easy thing to say but difficult to implement. What makes a successful partnership? Those are the challenges we faced, even within our small portfolio. – Nandini

Third point of Discussion – 

With both countries becoming more AI driven and dependent on digitization, how does the IT and data infrastructure need to evolve to support this effectively?

  • Computing infrastructure needs to be scaled up and also enable access to good quality data sets that are representative are the need of the hour, explained Nandini. Additionally key learnings from workforce skill development were asked to Nandini for which she replied that much of the learning from the institutes must be interdisciplinary.
  • If you look at academic institutions, the problem faced for a very long time is the gap between the  haves and the have nots as well as the type of infrastructure that’s needed to go through an AI program. You can’t just teach the queries; students have to learn to work with computers that mine massive amounts of data. Some of it now can be done on a laptop, but for AI you will need huge amounts of GPU time – Nandini
  • We need to be training our models on data that represents the Indian ecosystem. So running a machine learning algorithm on a data set that has Caucasian data is not going to help in terms of predictive abilities. – Nandini
  • One of the things we’ve learned in AI is that without multidisciplinary groups, without having diversity of opinions, diverse backgrounds coming together, you don’t build good algorithms. So how do we make sure the technology and the infrastructure are available to more students across universities? Computing infrastructure is what is going to help train the next generation. – Nandini.
  • You need people who can understand the medical problem and learn how to develop the technology, the tools that’ll help solve the problem. A lot of the training that happens in institutions needs to be much more interdisciplinary. AI is going to require a workforce that moves between these disciplinary boundaries just as we’re talking about a global workforce that can move between geographic boundaries. – Nandini.

Fourth point of Discussion – 

How could a strong Indo-U.S. partnership in tech and tech diplomacy serve both countries in the geopolitical landscape and what kind of technologies should be prioritized in the near future to serve the purpose?

  • Strategic technologies in defense, national security, and cyber security need to be prioritised, also commercial technologies and technologies that benefit humanity should be given importance according to Jay. Incentivise interdisciplinary collaborations that have real impact in the near future, said Nandini. 
  • Earlier the internet was not designed for security, it was designed for openness and sharing. Now in a more mature setting, we realized those vulnerabilities and weaknesses. They need to be corrected. – Jay
  • You have to have strong economies because that supports not only a strong defense, but also allow governments and people to thrive and prosper, so commercial technologies really need to be critical because it enables jobs and innovation. United States and India are uniquely positioned to work together on things that benefit humanity, medical sciences. We both have large populations that help AI understanding, have diverse cultures, and genetic backgrounds. If we could work in some of those areas like financial inclusion, health technologies, that could be used internationally they’ll benefit Indians and Americans first and foremost, but they will also have widespread implications. – Jay
  •  One of the biggest issues that are going to impact research and therefore innovation is data sharing and one of the key issues that governments need to address. For research and innovation to happen in AI, in some of these emerging technologies, we need to figure out a way to get agreement on data sharing because that is going to drive the innovation that will lead to responsible use of AI and have equipable  impact. – Nandini
  • Technology moves much faster than the regulatory and policy frameworks that get developed. So it’s important for us as democracies to be nimble in the way we develop policies and frameworks. – Nandini

Concluding Remarks: Mr. Prabhu Bala – Vice-Chairman, IACC (Tamil Nadu), Director of Precision Equipments (Chennai) 

  • Mr. Prabhu Bala delivered the closing remarks by thanking CPPR, the speakers for bringing their analysis and expertise, the moderator, the host, and the audience. He reiterated that unless we invest in technologies, we will not have a better place to live. He also expressed IACC’s interest in working in the SME sector through a programme that brings India and the United States together.

Rajasree Praveen thanked the speakers, the partners, moderator and supporters and closed the proceedings of the webinar.


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