'Indian IT is headed off a cliff'

Technology entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa, one of Silicon Valley's most respected voices, says we are approaching a future of abundance in which people may not have to work for a living, but will lose the social stature that comes from work.  


What is your reading of the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for humans in terms of work, society and the purpose of life?

It is not one, but a number of technologies that are advancing at an exponential pace and converging. These convergences are making it possible to solve the grand challenges of humanity, such as hunger, disease, energy, and education, and to disrupt entire industries. These advances will not only transform industries but also our everyday individual and societal experience.  And it is happening much faster than people understand.  

We will soon have unlimited food, energy, and education while robots and AI take over the jobs of humans. We won't have to work for a living, but will also lose the social stature and meaning that comes from work. The purpose of our lives will change for the better and worse - at the same time.

AI is reaching a point that it can drive cars, automate the jobs of call centre workers, and help make data-based decisions. It will increase business efficiency, provide better weather forecasts, and give us medical advice. Yes, there will be a large-scale destruction of jobs. People say that there have been warnings of jobs being eliminated by technology before, but new jobs were created. What is different this time is that everything is happening at the same time, technology by technology, industry by industry. We have never seen anything like this before.

 

If you were leading the government of India, what would be your biggest worry about AI/Robotics/3D printing, etc?

The good news for India is that it has a massive infrastructure to develop. People can be put to work building new smart cities and clean up the pollution and mess accumulated over the decades. The government needs to understand these new technologies and their potential. It can't stop them but can guide them along a path that benefits the entire population. Yes, jobs will disappear, but new jobs will be created. There are hundreds of millions of people who are living in dire poverty and despair, the focus needs to be on having them share the prosperity that is being created.

 

Do you think that large societies such as India will have to move towards a Universal Basic Income, redistribution through taxation and stepped up welfare programmes, etc?

Universal Basic income is hyped up by the Silicon Valley elite as a solution to the joblessness that they are creating. It is band-aid, not a solution. Much bigger thinking is needed about how to create a new society in which social stature and the reason for being don't revolve around the job that one has.

The really good news for India is that its social structures have always put enlightenment above material assets. The guru and the artist are highly respected. In the future of abundance which we are headed to, these roles will become more important than ever, values such as helping others and uplifting humanity will be cherished. What India has to do is to go back to its spiritual roots and start imagining a new society based on these. Don't obsess over Western values and Western solutions.  

 

What do you think will happen to our famed outsourcing industry over the next 10 years?

I have written extensively about this. Indian IT is headed off a cliff and its leaders have been busy issuing press releases and publishing fancy marketing brochures which make it seem like they understand the new technologies. There are opportunities to build new $100-billion IT businesses using the new technologies. IT workers need to start learning about these and forming their own start-ups that take advantage of the opportunities. Nearly one billion Indians will soon be on the Internet. There are endless opportunities to start companies that cater to this market as well. The Western outsourcing market will seem tiny compared to the market opportunity that is being created.

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