Putting K'taka at the heart of India-UK tech tie-up

In preparation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to London in April this year, it became clear that a relationship which met Indian and British ambitions needed to focus on solving shared modern challenges. That inevitably meant collaborating on innovative technology.

Matt Hancock was the UK Minister in charge of the digital agenda at that point. He summed it up when he said we should “bring together some of the best minds working in tech to unlock its future potential and deliver high-skilled jobs and economic growth in both countries.”

The UK tech sector is valued at close to £170 billion and is one of the fastest growing areas of the UK economy. The UK is home to eight of Europe’s top 20 universities and we have over 1.6 million digital tech jobs. We are already the second largest investor in scientific research with India, supporting world-leading partnerships to address some of the biggest challenges faced by society today. These range from work to addressing anti-microbial resistance, delivering future mobility and transport solutions, and transforming our manufacturing processes.

Our existing collaborations provide a strong basis for the UK and India to put technology at the heart of the bilateral relationship and to develop a new, dynamic India-UK Technology Partnership. We are starting with Karnataka, India’s leading innovation and startup state.

We plan to build a technology bridge between Karnataka (centred on Bengaluru) and the cities, businesses and academic institutions of northern England, sometimes called the Northern Powerhouse.

The name acknowledges the region’s historical significance, but this is a region working to shape the next big industrial transition arising from the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. AI and data will change the way we live and work in the 21st century. The Northern Powerhouse, a centre for innovation and ideas, is an ideal partner for Karnataka, which itself is home to India and the world’s largest IT service providers.

Considerable work has already been done to look at the role AI and big data might play in transforming our respective economies. The UK’s Industrial Strategy identifies AI as one of the grand challenges that we will need to address to ensure economies continue to grow and people’s lives are improved. In addition, the UK’s AI Sector Deal is designed to support the development and deployment of AI in the UK to underpin the creation of new jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs. Here in India, the Niti Aayog recently published India’s national strategy for AI, informed by researchers and colleagues based in Karnataka, emphasising the national importance of this region to shaping India’s AI future.   

AI and big data

By seeking to strengthen the ties between Karnataka and the Northern Powerhouse, we will help businesses collaborate on emerging technologies in the field of AI and big data research. The partnership will generate the development of new technology, policy and skills training that can later be shared and adopted in other areas of the country, and so create jobs and economic growth.

Two weeks ago, I visited Bengaluru and attended the first workshop to plan how we might coordinate these collaboration activities. The workshop was hosted by International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B), which will soon be home to India’s Centre of Excellence for AI. I also met Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and the IT-BT Minister K J George to discuss the potential that a partnership built around AI and data could bring to both regions and heard from business leaders where we should focus our efforts first.

With our partners across India, we will move quickly to turn the new India-UK technology partnership into reality. Later this year, in December, the British High Commission will host an India-UK ‘Future Tech Fest’ in Delhi.

This event will, of course, showcase some of the cutting-edge technologies that are being developed in both India and the UK.  But it will also deliver thought leadership focused around three themes or areas of our lives: work, life and play.

Collaborating on enhanced technology requires us to develop new policy frameworks that work domestically and internationally and which support the needs of research institutions, government and businesses, including investors. Getting these frameworks right will require extensive coordination.

I would encourage strong representation from Karnataka at the Future Tech Fest, to help showcase the potential of our AI partnership and to ensure that our discussions benefit from the technology expertise that exists across the state. The state’s views will be vital to ensuring that this partnership delivers for Karnataka as well as the UK. I welcome your input as we develop these ideas.

(The writer is the British High Commissioner to India)

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Putting K'taka at the heart of India-UK tech tie-up

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