The world is innovating. We have self driving electric cars, humanoids, robotic girlfriends and very soon we could have a terminator that speaks in Salman Khan’s accent. Let us see how India has been innovating recently.
Mangalyaan and ISRO’s PSLV sattelites have been a major pride for our country. So has been advances in solid state made by Bharat Ratna CNR Rao. But, where we have been let down is where we have been doing most chest-thumping, the field of Information Technology.
Before you start shouting, let me explain what I mean by innovation. Business innovation/application of technology and not what I am looking at. This of course excludes e-commerce sites, dating sites or even apps like Pokemon Go. I am not going to discuss on whether Indian startups are innovating, this is a discussion that has been dealt with properly in other threads. Also let us be very clear on what we mean by Indian innovation or innovation from India. An Indian is a permanent resident/citizen of the country who pays taxes here. This does not include NRIs like Sundar Pichai or Sathya Nadella who if would had remained in India would probably be writing code for banking software in TCS. I hate the term Indian-American , are we going to keep taking credit for children/grand grand grand children when they have American citizenship and our country has nothing to do with them?
What I mean by technical innovation is something that fundamentally changes the state of human civilization. Something radical like airplanes, space rockets, computers, google and smartphones. When such a technology hits us we know it has changed the world, we don’t need startup awards or million dollar valuation of companies to know this. So how do we measure if our IT industry is truly innovating. For other fields like physics, chemistry we have Nobel prizes. Turing award is the computer equivalent of noble prize. No Indian has won turing award yet, Raj Reddy comes close. He lives in US and is probably an American citizen by now. I will not categorize him as Indian, please refer again to my definition of Indian.
I have a simple way to measure innovation of our IT industry:
Contribution to major open source projects
The good thing about open source projects is that they don’t care about your skin color or how much money you have. Even if you are in remote village of Bihar and commit some code that is helpful to the project, it will get accepted. The beauty of the internet is that the brightest minds of the world can collaborate to create something without worrying about boundaries. Lets review game changing open source projects and see our involvement in those:
- Internet: The internet itself is a project of publicly available protocols. IETF manages the development of these. All of the chairpersons have been American and Europeans and most of the working groups are in the west. In fact, internet was started by department of US defence in 1960s. At that time India was just out of independence and we had no idea what a computer is. We can say we are just too behind on the curve to catch up on this.
- Linux Kernel: Linux was started by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Linux Kernel is one of the most high profile and successful open source projects in the world. All big companies like Google, Apple, Samsung use linux kernel is their product. Even your android smartphone uses linux kernel. List of active developers can be seen here. Again no Indians
- Firefox: Mozilla firefox is the first browser to challenge the autonomy of Internet Explorer which had become buggy and slow due to lack of competition. The open source code and its active contributes can be seen here. Most are from America, Europe and Japan. No surprises here !
- Openssl: Openssl is the most widely used implementation of SSL and TLS. This is what lets your bank keep your information safe and allows you to submit login/password securely to a website. Without this, internet security would be mayhem and you would never be able to buy those mobile phones from flipkart. Again most of the developers are from Russia/US.
- Bitcoin: Bitcoin is a digital asset invented in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto. It makes digital payments peer to peer and decentralized and is almost as revolutionary as the internet. The core development team consists of people from America/Europe. Most of the mining is concentrated in China. We have almost zero say in bitcoin development.
There are more open source projects which I didn’t cover, which you can yourselves examine. By developing actively in these, you have power the change the course of future and you need not do it alone. We can no longer can give excuses of lack of resources/education. Anyone can learn anything on the internet, they are courses/papers available which previously only the privileged had access to.
The future is coming, we can either be part of it, or we can continue doing this:
— Jai Hind !