Decoding Digital India

Topics BOOK REVIEW

At a time when India’s demographic dividend dream seems to be in tatters; with high unemployment, falling economic growth and social unrest becoming the hallmark of the India story; a book on how an algorithm and not a human is making a robot that will make a robot make another robot might look like the end of the road for India’s young, restless and unemployed population. Pranjal Sharma’s book India Automated – How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Transforming India chronicles how technology is reshaping not just landscapes but also the country’s mindscape. It delves into technological transformation unfolding in India before everyone’s eyes; the intricacies of which everyone sees but does not understand.

The book uncritically and patronisingly captures how technology, mechatronics, robotics, artificial intelligence and everything that comprises what World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab described as the “fourth industrial revolution.” Mr Sharma succinctly describes how over the last few years, new technology has penetrated every facet of life in India — from government functioning, industry, service sector and defence. There are anecdotes about the positive impact of invasive technologies on governance and social well-being. For instance, Mr Sharma illustrates how facial recognition, which is still in its infancy in terms of sophistication and accuracy in India, has helped the Delhi police track down 3,000 missing children. He sounds a warning about the adverse consequences without delving into how a database of faces could be potentially misused as a tool for surveillance as it is being done in China. Mr Sharma notes, “Facial recognition is yet another technology that could have terrible consequences if it goes rogue, but a boon if used responsibly. In the end, the government will have to take a responsible approach to a technology that can improve a range of citizen services.”

The book offers useful insights into the companies that are shaping these technological changes in India, be it in the field of manufacturing, services, healthcare or human resources. In particular, there is a rich description of companies in the manufacturing sector that are using and deploying technologies that are revolutionising their manufacturing processes, improving product quality, saving costs and creating a ‘smarter’ factory.  An interesting example is how Altizon, the world’s first industrial internet platform company, helped a legacy Indian multinational integrate its production lines across several countries without investing more money in replacing old machinery or buying new ones. In effect, Altizon’s solution helped the Indian multinational centralise the operation of its machines at 35 factories spread across the globe through a system that not just gave a single point of control but also helped engineers predict when a machine needed downtime or was headed for maintenance. Earlier, it would need an engineer with a spanner and other tools in hand to individually inspect a machine and take a decision based on his own expertise and understanding of the situation. 

Mr Sharma has interesting, although potentially scary insights, for job seekers and how Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be judging their employability in the times to come. It is estimated that 62 per cent of enterprises used some form of AI in their human resource departments. It provides a fascinating insight into how Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s biggest IT company employs AI for recruitment. Mr Sharma writes that any potential candidate has to go through two levels of AI screening before she finally faces the human interviewer. It is AI which sifts through hundreds of resumes before zeroing on the ones which will pass through to the next stage. Those selected are again put through an AI-driven video interview process. The book notes, “Experts now offer several tips for candidates who have to face an AI-based interview. For instance, they must ensure a good internet connection, settle in a noiseless area and make sure they are as well dressed for the interview as they would have been if there was a meeting with a human recruiter. Remember though, it will no longer be easy to smooth talk your way into a job, for the AI-bot will see through you faster than a human can. “

And just in case the reader thought that the book was all about companies and businesses, Mr Sharma also provides insights into how digital content companies minutely analyse a person’s behaviour to serve them tailor-made content.  Mr Sharma offers Netflix as a case in point. The online content streaming giant stores every action taken by a user on a computer while browsing through its website . The AI analyses this behaviour and makes a personalised home-page for every viewer. In effect, an invisible force has created a psychological profile of the viewer – and is showing her what it believes she is most likely to see. Bigger brother cometh?    

India Automated: How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Transforming India
Author: Pranjal Sharma 
Publisher: Macmillan
Price: Rs 650
Pages: 235



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