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Perspective: Emerging and Critical Technologies for India

  • 22 Feb 2024
  • 15 min read

Why in News?

India's target is to expand its economy to USD 7 trillion by 2030, necessitating a strategic emphasis on smart and advanced technology.

What are the Different Critical and Emerging Technologies in India?

  • Quantum Technology:
    • Quantum Technology is based on the principles of Quantum mechanics that was developed in the early 20th century to describe nature in the small scale of atoms and elementary particles.
    • Conventional computers process information in ‘bits’ or 1s and 0s, following classical physics under which our computers can process a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ at a time.
    • Quantum computers compute in ‘qubits’ (or quantum bits). They exploit the properties of quantum mechanics, the science that governs how matter behaves on the atomic scale.
      • In this scheme of things, processors can be a 1 and a 0 simultaneously - a state called quantum superposition.
      • Because of quantum superposition, a quantum computer can mimic several classical computers working in parallel.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI):
    • AI is the ability of a computer, or a robot controlled by a computer to do tasks that are usually done by humans because they require human intelligence and judgement.
      • Although no AI can perform the wide variety of tasks an ordinary human can do, some AI can match humans in specific tasks.
    • The ideal characteristic of AI is its ability to rationalise and take actions that have the best chance of achieving a specific goal. A subset of AI is Machine Learning (ML).
      • Deep Learning (DL) techniques enable this automatic learning through the absorption of huge amounts of unstructured data such as text, images, or video.
  • Semiconductors:
    • Semiconductors are materials which have a conductivity between conductors and insulators. They can be pure elements like silicon and germanium or compounds like gallium, arsenide and cadmium selenide.
    • India’s Stand in the Semiconductor Market:
      • Indian semiconductor industry in 2022 was USD 27 Billion, with over 90% being imported, and therefore a significant external dependence for Indian chip consumers.
        • Countries exporting semiconductors to India include China, Taiwan, the USA, Japan, etc.
      • The Indian semiconductor market is expected to reach USD 55 Billion by 2026 with its own consumption of semiconductors expected to cross USD 80 billion by 2026 and to USD 110 billion by 2030.
  • Clean Energy:
    • Clean energy is energy that comes from renewable, zero emission sources that do not pollute the atmosphere when used, as well as energy saved by energy efficiency measures. Some examples of clean energy sources are solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal energy.
    • Clean energy is important because it can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change, and improve air quality.
  • Green Hydrogen:
    • Green hydrogen is a type of hydrogen that is produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power.
    • The electrolysis process splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen produced can be used as a clean and renewable fuel.
    • Uses:
      • Chemical industry: Manufacturing ammonia and fertilisers.
      • Petrochemical industry: Production of petroleum products.
      • Furthermore, it is starting to be used in the steel industry.
  • Bioeconomy:
    • As per, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Bio-economics could be defined as the production, use, and conservation of biological resources, including related knowledge, science, technology, and innovation to provide information, products, processes, and services to all economic sectors with the aim of moving towards a sustainable economy.

What is the Distribution of Funds for Research & Development?

  • Global leaders in emerging and critical technology typically allocate around 2 to 3% of their GDP for research and science development (R&D). In countries like Korea, private sector investment in R&D can reach as high as 80% of total investment.
    • In India, this figure stands at only about 0.7% of the GDP and is limited to merely 30 to 40% of total investments.
  • It's crucial to recognise that funding for R&D cannot solely rely on government initiatives; the private sector must also play a significant role by enhancing its R&D capabilities. One notable initiative taken by the government is the establishment of the National Research Foundation.

What are the Various Government Initiatives for Emerging and Critical Technologies?

  • iDEX:
    • iDEX, launched in 2018, is an ecosystem to foster innovation & technology development in Defence and Aerospace by engaging innovators & entrepreneurs to deliver technologically advanced solutions for modernising the Indian Military.
    • The iDEX model has been very successful in innovative technology development and one of the important objectives of the iDEX model was to provide the much needed support to startups which have been working in the Deep Tech area and critical and emerging Technologies.
    • It provides funding/grants to MSMEs, start-ups, individual innovators, R&D (Research and Developments) institutes and academia to carry out research and development.
  • iCET Initiative:
    • The iCET initiative was launched by India and the US in May 2022, and is being run by the National Security Councils of both countries.
      • Under iCET, both countries have identified areas of cooperation including co-development and co-production that would gradually be expanded to QUAD, then to NATO, followed by Europe and the rest of the world.
    • Six Areas of Cooperation:
      • The six areas for cooperation are scientific research and development; quantum and AI, defence innovation, space, advanced telecom which would include things like 6G and semiconductors.
  • National Quantum Mission:
    • It’ll be implemented by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) under the Ministry of Science & Technology.
    • The mission planned for 2023-2031 aims to seed, nurture, and scale up scientific and industrial R&D and create a vibrant & innovative ecosystem in quantum technology.
    • India is the 7th country to have a dedicated quantum mission after the US, Austria, Finland, France, Canada and China.
  • Artificial Intelligence Mission:
  • India Semiconductor Mission:
  • National Green Hydrogen Mission:
    • It is a program to incentivise the commercial production of green hydrogen and make India a net exporter of the fuel. It will facilitate demand creation, production, utilisation and export of Green Hydrogen.
    • Objective:
      • Developing green hydrogen production capacity of at least 5 MMT (Million Metric Tonne) per annum, alongside adding renewable energy capacity of about 125 GW (gigawatt) in India by 2030.
      • It aims to entail over Rs 8 lakh crore of total investments and is expected to generate six lakh jobs.
      • It will also lead to a cumulative reduction in fossil fuel imports by over Rs 1 lakh crore and an abatement of nearly 50 MT of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
  • National Mission on Bioeconomy:
    • Amid attempts to boost rural economy by using bio-resources, a 'National Mission on Bioeconomy' was launched by the Institute of Bio-resources and Sustainable Development under the Science and Technology Ministry, in 2016.
  • Anusandhan National Research Foundation (ANRF):
    • The Anusandhan National Research Foundation (ANRF) was established with the Anusandhan National Research Foundation (ANRF) Act, 2023.
      • It aims to seed, grow and promote R&D and foster a culture of research and innovation throughout India’s universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories.
    • ANRF acts as an apex body to provide high-level strategic direction of scientific research in the country as per recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.
    • The Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) established in 2008 has been subsumed into ANRF.
    • ANRF will forge collaborations among the industry, academia, and government departments and research institutions, and create an interface mechanism for participation and contribution of industries and State governments in addition to the scientific and line ministries.

What are the Challenges in Developing Critical and Emerging Technologies?

  • Funding Gap: Despite the government's initiatives to boost funding for research and development (R&D), India still lags behind global leaders in allocating funds for emerging and critical technologies. The current level of investment, around 0.7% of GDP, is significantly lower than the 2-3% typically allocated by leading nations.
  • Infrastructure and Skill Gap: Advancing technologies like Quantum Computing, AI, and Semiconductor manufacturing require robust infrastructure and a skilled workforce.
    • Addressing the infrastructure and skill gap is vital for India to compete globally in emerging technologies.
  • Limited Private Sector Involvement: While government initiatives like iDEX aim to support startups and encourage innovation, there is a need for greater involvement from the private sector in R&D.
    • Encouraging more private sector participation is essential for sustained growth in critical technologies.
  • International Collaboration and Competition: Emerging technologies are highly competitive, with countries like the USA, China, and European nations investing heavily in R&D.
    • Additionally, managing geopolitical tensions and ensuring access to critical resources and technologies amidst global competition pose significant challenges for India's technological advancement.

Way Forward

  • Boosting Investment in R&D: Implement policies to incentivize both public and private sector investment in research and development, particularly in emerging technologies like quantum computing and AI. Encourage collaboration between industry, academia, and research institutions to leverage expertise and resources.
  • Enhancing Research Infrastructure: Allocate funds for upgrading research infrastructure, including laboratories, computing facilities, and specialised equipment, in universities and research institutions. Foster partnerships with private sector firms to access cutting-edge tools and technologies.
  • Adapting Regulatory Framework: Establish a dynamic regulatory framework that can swiftly adapt to technological advancements while ensuring ethical standards and addressing potential risks.
  • Clarifying Intellectual Property Rights: Develop clear and transparent policies on intellectual property rights to provide certainty and encourage investment in R&D. Enhance awareness among researchers and innovators about IP protection mechanisms and facilitate easy access to patenting processes.
  • Securing Critical Raw Materials: Diversify the sources of critical raw materials, such as rare earth elements, to reduce dependence on imports and ensure a steady supply chain for domestic critical and emerging technology development.
  • Promoting Collaboration and Skill Development: Encourage collaboration between academia, industry, and research institutions to foster knowledge exchange and skill development in emerging technologies.
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