B.G. Sidharth
B.M. Birla Science Centre
B.G. Sidharth

Within the framework of the project "Europe and India: Past, Present and Future", the B.M. Birla Science Centre has instituted two courses in Europe in 1999. The first course "Reliability Engineering and Software" was conducted by A.S.R. Murthy, from Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, and the writer. The second course "Computer System Architecture" was conducted by J.S.R. Subrahmanyam and K.V.K. Prasad, both from B.M. Birla Science Centre. The stress during the project would continue to be on computer related areas. There is, in fact, a window of great opportunity for India to become a significant world player and also attain a higher prosperity level, thanks to computers and computers related services scene. True, India still has less than about 2% of the world market in software. True, only about 2.5% of the households own PCs (though this is about 50% more than in the case of China). True, India does not have its own credible hardware sector, though Indians have achieved considerable success in the design of very large scale integrated circuits, and even in the manufacture of a limited number of supercomputers like Anupam and Param. Yet a combination of factors has catapulted India to the forefront of the computer scene. There are two good indicators to bear this out. First, as President Bill Clinton himself said recently, Indians own half of Silicon Valley. Equally significant is the fact that nearly half of the computer personnel employed by Bill Gates have been Indians.

Is it surprising that a country like Japan which has excelled in technology has not made a significant mark in computers, whereas India with an unenviable record in technology has done so? The answer is no. Indian education has by and large been theoretical, hands off . Tasks which are manual have traditionally been left to the not so educated. With computers the situation has been different, the educated Indian can sit at the computer keyboard, in an air conditioned room, and that has made the difference.

Equally important is the fact that the world leader in this field is America, and educated Indians know the English language very well. Yet another factor is that in the mid 80s, the Government of India was visionary enough to slightly liberalise controls in the field of computers. That has lead to a rush of students – poor Indian families do not think twice to sell their properties to get their children educated in computers, because there is a promise of job and money. This has coincided with the shortage of computer professionals in the West, due partly to the rapid development and expansion in this area. For example in Europe alone there is a shortage of some one million computer professionals. Finally, Indian computer professionals are a form of cheap labour.

There are indeed certain problems. The commercialisation of computer education has lead to the turn out of professionals of questionable quality. Next, due to the demand in the West, and USA in particular, the stress has been on computer programming, and not computer science, which is the motor for future development. Indeed India is able to provide software services and support but is much less impressive in the field of software products. Lastly, there is still an acute shortage of Indian professionals.

Nevertheless, such is the global demand for computer services, that India is in a favourable position. Bangalore in particular, and other cities like Hyderabad promise to transform India into some kind of a Silicon Valley. The indicators are clear. For example Mr. Azeem Premji, who heads India’s computer firm Wipro is now amongst the ten wealthiest businessmen of the world, and there is no reason why this kind of prosperity should not spread to several others, and thereby to the country itself.

A lot needs to be done though. Basic telecommunication services have to be improved and, of course, such a basic requirement as an uninterrupted power supply should be provided. A pro Information Technology policy must be formulated by the government to create the appropriate environment for the growth of not just the technology, but of the human resource as well. It would also be desirable for India to stake a claim in possible future technologies which could have a direct bearing, for example, nanotechnology and quantum computers.