New Technologies and India

New technologies refer to productive techniques or methods that offer a significant improvement, both in terms of costs and outputs, over established technologies for a given purpose. Seen this way, new technologies are not necessarily new but earlier methods that are subject to refining as changes bring about new ways of getting things done. Current ‘new technologies’ that are of most interest are information and communications technologies whose application in India (and South Asia) is having significant effects over government, society, politics, economy and foreign policy.

Looking ahead, technology could have a profound effect on India’s economic development, democratic politics, relationship between state and society and foreign and defense policy. Greater use of technology and technological gains could accelerate or hold back India’s economy, deepen or widen democratic trends, empower or infringe citizens’ rights and augment, constrain or weaken India’s economic and military heft.

Analytically, three issues matter – how new technologies are regulated, either a heavy bureaucratic approach or a market driven one, a mix or no intervention; how technologies affect politics and citizens’ rights, if new technologies empower and protect citizens or if they enhance state power; and how new technologies affect India’s national security, if they boost or diminish India’s economic and military power.

Technology is at the heart of India’s growth story; plans are afoot to transform India into a global technology hub. Foreign investment has produced a technology sector with international and domestic firms offering Indian consumers a range of products, services and applications. The growth in broadband penetration has led to a precipitous drop in data costs and commensurate rise in data usage. Indian citizens are now considered ‘data principals’ not just subjects. The prevalence of data is generating concerns about who uses, collects, accesses, harvests, owns and deploys the data. Questions loom large around privacy. Data accumulation enables innovators to deepen machine learning through artificial intelligence (AI) techniques. AI methods could help address development gaps in issue areas like agriculture, health, logistics, transport, trade and security.

Technologies are affecting Indian politics. Indian political parties use communication technologies for various functions from identifying voters, soliciting votes and articulating their platforms and policies. Use of various services and applications for political ends, however, are fraught with perils – spread of misinformation and false news could cause rifts between groups and communities, fomenting mistrust and, possibly, triggering violence. Technologies could be weaponized. That said, certain technologies and services could also empower citizens, giving them tools to organize, mobilize and serve various causes.

Finally, how technology is handled, regulated and managed will have implications for India’s foreign policy, particularly diplomacy with major powers like the United States and China. In addition, the development and use of sophisticated weaponry could generate advantages to the Indian military as it faces various threats. The rising spate of cyber-attacks increases the need for India to establish institutions, doctrines and norms to deter such threats, particularly attacks from state actors.