Nationalism will drive global alliances in 2021

From being seen as a utility sector, technology shifted centre stage for policymakers and businesses. The combined impact of Covid-19 and China’s aggression meant that India had to begin to see the strategic importance of technological prowess. 

The impact of this will be felt over the next few years, beginning from 2021. The era of tech nationalism launched with India banning Chinese tech platforms and telecom equipment. Similar sentiments can be seen globally. Many countries are now examining their own abilities and strengthening them. 

The rising sentiment of tech nationalism has many implications for India. Mostly, it means that enterprises will have to leverage technology to solve problems for India. Connected technologies like internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing and blockchain are being gainfully deployed in health, education, agriculture, services and manufacturing. But for these to be successful, a stronger foundation of digital infrastructure is essential. From satellite-based communication to a national fibre-optic grid, India must invest $35 billion every year in all types of connectivity and digital infrastructure. Hopefully, even 5G services would launch by the end of 2021. 

Tech nationalism doesn’t mean isolationism. India has to be part of a global effort to harmonise rules and regulations on connected technologies. The next few months will see India’s engagements with multilateral efforts on tech collaboration. There are several initiatives which will mature and grow in importance in 2021. 

India joined the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI) in mid-2020. This initiative includes leading economies such as the US, UK, EU, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Singapore. “GPAI is an international and multi-stakeholder initiative to guide the responsible development and use of AI, grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation, and economic growth,” a government statement said. “By joining GPAI as a founding member, India will actively participate in the global development of Artificial Intelligence, leveraging upon its experience around use of digital technologies for inclusive growth.”

Connected technologies are being gainfully deployed in a variety of activities. But for these to be successful, India must invest $35 billion a year in all types of digital infrastructure
The European Union and India are increasing coordination on cyber security. After a recent meeting, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) stated that both sides will work on “Cooperation on Cybercrime and Capacity building therein; Contemporary issue and exchanges on cyber policies; Internet Governance; and New Emerging cyber-related technologies.” MEA has even created a division for New and Emerging Strategic Technologies. Another important effort is the International Solar Alliance which will use emerging technologies to improve affordability and spread of renewable energy. 

There are other such multilateral efforts which will drive regional collaboration on technologies. While the US and EU work to reduce the dominance of Big Tech companies, the effort is also to bring like-minded entrepreneurs to create solutions for lingering challenges like health and education. 

India could learn and increase its collaboration with initiatives like the Smart Africa Alliance, which grew from seven to 30 countries representing over 700 million people. The alliance is “ushering Africa into a knowledge economy through affordable access to Broadband and usage of Information and Communications Technologies.” Bodies like the World Bank and International Telecom Union support the alliance, while several global technology and communications companies are partners. This effort is aimed at improving tech capabilities in Africa in a collaborative way. 

If 2020 was a year of crisis, 2021 can be the year of collaboration. Tech nationalism, which focusses on self-reliance, is not in contradiction with global collaboration on connected and emerging technologies. Home-grown tech solutions which address the needs of emerging economies will go beyond national boundaries. Equally important will be for countries to come together to create global rules for ethics and transparency in technology.

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