Innovation is the key determinant of economic growth and social welfare.
Man has been at the centre of the world as we know it today, atleast since the last ice age. The civilisation is only a coverlet beneath which this dormant beast sleeps lightly and is ever ready to awake. To preserve the civilisation we have to deal with this brute element innovatively. As till the time humans will innovate, civilisations will thrive and the moment they start undermining innovation civilisation will struggle even to survive.
Today in this era of data, digital and democracy, we rely on the innovations done in technology, economy, politics and almost all the spheres of life for tasks as basic as flushing down the faeces. But when innovation is done with malign intentions, it leads to creating weapons and inspire wars. This can result in end of civilisation as well.
From Seed to Cedar
Going way back to 10000 BC, we see the neolithic man using stones to create fire, hunt and use as tools. We see in 1000 BC that iron has been discovered and is being used for agriculture. If it would not have been the nature of man to innovate, we would not have found the Ashokan non rusting iron pillars.
In the eighteenth century AD, innovation entered the manufacturing sector via Industrial Revolution. Never in the history before humanity witnessed innovations at such a large scale and with such a large and everlasting impact. Inventions like Steam engine and spinning jenny not only revolutionised various industrial sectors but also laid the foundations of mechanisation on which the future innovations will be built.
As a result the electricity revolution brought out the industrial revolution 2.0 in late 1800’s, the electronics revolution of 1970’s brought out the industrial revolution 3.0 and as I am writing, we are in the age of fourth edition of industrial revolution, led by the emergence of artificial intelligence through big data analytics and deep machine learning. We have reached a stage where our innovations are able to innovate by themselves.
No time like the Present
Today, innovations have entered all the spheres of our life and guiding our economy and society. The innovations in political arena like the concept of democracy, universal adult franchise and even the technologies to support them like electronic voting machine have helped maintaining the Rule of Law in the society.
The economy has seen it’s fair share of innovations since time immortal. The shifting from barter to currency system, concepts of Laissez faire and open market system, Planned economy, the stock market and the banking systems are some such examples.
The society has withstood many problems only through constant innovations. Existential crisis like flood and droughts are being mitigated via disaster management. Distances are being shortened through advanced communication and transportation systems. Even the social issues like inequality and injustice have been tried to eradicate through innovations like reservation. In whole, our society and it’s functions have been and are being shaped and defined through innovations like the IT and the telecom revolutions.
Technology: the Guiding Force
In almost all the innovations, technology has either been at core of or has contributed significantly towards them. We can see the use of technology in making things as small as a needle and as large as an aeroplane. the communication systems have become the nerves that connect whole of the world like a body.
Technologies like Biotechnology and Nanotechnology have been the cause for life-saving innovations like vaccines, medical procedure and their equipments and medicines, impacting not only the lives of humans but also the fellow species.
We have scientists working in agricultural technologies that have brought us the green revolution and ensures food security and nutrition security through innovations like GMOs, fortification and High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds.
Innovations have not only helped in rising the standards of living for the people but also helped humans in prospering intellectually. It has taken us to Moon, Mars and even beyond the reaches of our solar system and at the same time to the depths of our oceans exploring the new possibilities.
All that glitters is not Gold
The human barbarism, as seen in the brutal wars which has led to millions loosing lives over the centuries, has also been aided by the innovations like swords, spears, bows, arrows and catapult in ancient times and bombs, guns and weapons of mass destruction in the contemporary and present times, causing existential threat to whole of the humanity.
The mass surveillance systems are being used to invade the personal spaces and privacies. Innovations in industries since 1750’s have been the major contribution in emitting the green house gases that has led to accelerated climate change through the release of green house gases and other harmful effluents in the nature. The problem is so dire that island nations like Maldives and Mauritius are facing a threat of complete submergence in the coming decades if the sea level continues to rise at the same rate as today.
Innovations have been instrumental in creating new jobs in the past. But with the emergence of automation and artificial intelligence, industries of leading economies are facing a threat of loss of jobs in industries due to replacement by machines. The situation is similar to when the products of hand weavers and pottery makers of eighteenth century India were replaced by the efficient and low cost British machine made products.
These problems need to be responded to at the war footing.
Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent but the most responsive to change”. Innovations are meant to solve the problems faced by humanity, not to create them.
At the international level, UN general assembly must pass a guiding framework through a resolution on “Innovating in the favour of Sustainability”. This should be in lines to ensure that the problems like unemployment due to machines; weapons of mass destruction can be actually eradicated. International institutions like UNFCCC and it’s Paris agreement and the IAEA need to be strengthened via alternate funding mechanisms and more autonomy and authority.
Nations should work towards curbing the malicious intents in innovations that lead to threat of security to them as well as fellow nations and promote terrorism. They should at the same time promote innovations in higher educations and scientific institutions through finances, functions and functionaries.
India has taken a lead at many fronts through its Digital India and Skill India Missions, NEST division in the external affairs ministry. NITI Aayog has started the Atal Innovation Mission to inculcate the sense of innovation and entrepreneurship amongst the youth. Though much work is needed in promoting the research culture at par with international standards in the higher education.
On the regional level, society needs to emphasise on the moral values making people into concious citizens, teaching them to innovate in the right direction: benefitting not hampering the society.
Individually, a person should work towards developing an innovative mindset and character. One can even learn from the Constitution wherein it’s mentioned that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop scientific temperament and promote brotherhood and develop fraternity in the society.
Hope Springs Eternal
Innovation is the tool that can create an IVF embryo giving someone a life and creates a nuclear bomb taking lives of millions in a single go. So it is the intent by which the innovation is being carried out, that guides it’s climax. So, it won’t be wrong to say that it is not only the ends that matter in the case of innovations but also the means that are adopted to carry them out.
If we put our faith, trust and resources in the virtuous institutions like ISRO, they will lead us to Mars. So, it is the need of the hour for the government and the corporate world to increase their support in the favour of innovations that serve the humanity. Innovations if done with the right intention can bring peace, prosperity in the whole world and help us fight problems like Covid-19 etc.