My journey through the Geek Nation – II

Written by  //  April 17, 2011  //  Science & Technology  //  1 Comment

I am reading Angela Saini’s Geek Nation and this is a post in continuance of my previous one where I discuss the interesting bits in the book.

=====Part II=====

After the depressing start to the book, Angela continues her journey on to Bangalore to understand the IT boom that the country went through and what the industries are doing now to help the nation.

She sees the Infosys Campus, interviews Narayan Murthy and meets engineers from Tata Consultancy Services but gets an impression that what these IT giants are doing is not innovative work but  providing quality resources at a very cheap rate to do a lot number crunching, outsourcing and such menial tasks. She couldn’t see ‘innovation’ as she was hoping to. She quoted the dismal figures of what these big corporations invest in research and development especially compared to the giants like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

But there was some optimism:

Ananth Krishnan of TCS says, ‘Making existing things cheaper is something India has always been good at, ever since it started carrying out affordable software maintenance in the run up to the millennium bug.

There’s certainly something to be said for this approach to science and engineering. After all, this is how Japan launched its electronics industry in the 1970s. The island nation became a scientific powerhouse by undercutting American manufacturers on imported technologies like auto mobiles, computer hardware and consumer gadgets while maintaining great quality and an educated workforce.

To begin with, Japanese innovations did tend to focus on management practices and how factories were organised, rather than fresh science and new products. But as they got bigger, the Japanese developed their own cadre of inventors. They ended up doing research and making products that the world had never seen.

There were some other innovations too. TringMe was started by two Indians who left their high paying Silicon Valley jobs to start this service in Bangalore. Also, the Spoken Web technology that was conceived and built in the Indian labs of IBM.

Even the IIT Delhi which she had left unimpressed last time had something to offer after all. She writes about a club called Technocracy started by students as ‘they were tired of the theoretical, nose-in-a-book culture developing at the IIT.’ (Interestingly, they organise Science Quest which is aimed at creating and promoting a culture of Science Journalism at IIT Delhi). Finally, it seemed Saini had started to see real progress and innovation but that was not to last for very long as she came across the anti-GM lobbyists next.

To unearth the whole story she travelled to the interiors of Maharashtra and to the National Botanical Research Institute in Lucknow. She concludes at the end that in the anti-GM lobby science and nationalism have gotten jumbled up. In the one hand the lobby lacks any scientific credibility but on the other hand it has found a lot of support because the people fighting seem to develop nationalistic pride in the process. If instead of American manufacturers providing these seeds, Indian research institutes had done it then there would not have been so much support for the movement. The farmers were of a similar opinion.

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