Innovation, scientific research, and technological interventions are pivotal for sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development. Digitalization and automation of production, smart systems especially in the energy sector and transportation, artificial intelligence in key sectors such as health care, biomedical technology as well as nano- and quantum technology have redrawn the lines of what production is, what is the role of the market and the manner of attaining social justice and equity, besides spurring comprehensive development models.
After the COVID pandemic of 2020, the world is facing immense economic pressure.
Growth relies on the integration of basic and applied research, at public and private levels, on the national and international scales. The critical point in this is how scientific and technological interventions can support the objectives of sustainability and improving the living conditions of society.
Institutional frameworks and arrangements are required to ensure that the potential of science and technology is aligned with the broad themes of economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability, as discussed in the UN report titled ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goal 9) calls us to
“Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”
After the economic downturn of 2008 and the recent COVID pandemic of 2020, the world is facing immense pressure – the pressure of optimally utilizing resources even as the economy and the job market face a severe crunch. In a country like India, with its massive population, it is even more important to efficiently use the country’s resources. Redundancy, wastage, and encumbering human-based procedures must be reduced. The technological gap with developed countries has to be reduced in certain strategically selected areas, even as we move towards becoming an ‘information society’ – a society that works on and utilizes the power of information and technology to drive its functioning and progress. Neoclassical growth models consider technological progress and knowledge accumulation as the only way to achieve long-term growth, by reducing the effect of diminishing returns to capital.
Innovation is increasingly seen as being crucial to tackle environmental challenges such as climate change and global greenhouse gas emissions, besides helping in maintaining biodiversity. Innovation can also help alleviate social challenges that encompass demographic and health challenges, social exclusion and inequalities, and paucity of infrastructure and facilities.
In India, frugal innovations that are popularly known as Jugaad innovation can facilitate the availability of goods and infrastructure, from low cost and biodegradable refrigerators (such as the MittiCool) to the Jugaad cycle that can generate electricity, in an inexpensive and accessible manner, thereby reducing differences in living standards between different strata of society.
Technology is also providing innovative ways of improving governance (as part of the National e-Governance Plan or NeGP), education (National Education Technology Forum under the National Education Policy 2020 that shall be a platform for the exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning), healthcare (such as with mfine, an AI-powered, on-demand remote healthcare service) and access to market (such as for farmers with platforms like that provided by Agribazaar and the government’s National Agriculture Market).
It is important not to only and primarily pursue technological development and scientific progress as an end in itself but rather for the socio-economic growth of mankind, all the while being responsible for not encumbering the environment. After all, as famous American futurist Jacques Fresco once said
“If technology does not liberate all people for the pursuit of higher aspirations in human achievement, then all its technical potential will be meaningless.”