Technology is increasingly shaping the economic and geopolitical relationships between nations today. As technology increases its influence in every sphere of our lives, what challenges will this present for us in the future? Which policies can nations adopt to benefit from rapid technological advancements? Who will be the new winners and losers in this new geopolitical landscape?
Explaining the present-day technological competition through a historical, sociological, and political perspective, Anirudh Suri’s book explores the strategies that countries need to adopt to deal with the new reality. During a talk on the book, Anirudh Suri, Mohan Kumar, Jahnavi Phalkey, and Rajan Anandan examined the various new challenges that India needs to address, in order to become a leading technological power. The discussion was moderated by Rudra Chaudhuri.

Discussion Highlights

  • Great Games of Human History: In an attempt to paint a big picture of technology’s impact on society, Anirudh Suri, in his book, points towards four ‘great games’ through history. First, the great agricultural game, which focused on generating surplus and shaping a more complex society. Second, the great trading game, which stressed on controlling choke points to reap the benefits of increasing world trade. Third, the great industrial and colonial game, which led to the emergence of the western European powers. Fourth, the great tech game, wherein technology is increasingly shaping economic and geopolitical relationships. Arguing that the previous great games have always influenced the successive ones, and that technology is in the limelight today, Suri provides a strategy for India to remain competitive in this game.

  • Technology and Societal Values: While technology has shaped societal values, the panelists emphasized the need for societal values to shape technology. They explained that technology is not value neutral but embodies the values of its makers. This leads to certain older values persisting through newer technologies. A lack of strategy towards technology, and not shaping technology according to the values of the society, creates a great degree of uncertainty and fear towards technology, which could lead to poor policies and strategies.

  • Technology and Geopolitics: Participants argued that technology is arguably the next big shaper of geopolitics in the world. As an example, they discussed the rising number of cyberattacks across the world, including one on northern India during the Ladakh standoff in 2020. Discussing nations’ vulnerability toward threats emerging from technological advancements, panelists noted other instances of when technology influenced geopolitical contests. Instances include debates around data localization, cyberattacks on Ukraine, and the tension between U.S.-China, which is impacting the semiconductor supply chain in Taiwan.

  • India’s Position in the Great Tech Game: India, owing to its talent, internet users, entrepreneurs, and success with its IT services, occupies a significant position in the present tech game. Panelists discussed how India is emerging as a dominant power in certain niches, such as agriculture, fintech, and health among others. The digital ecosystem such as IndiaStack and specifically, the UPI system, is another area in which India has made significant strides in. However, India is still lagging due to limited digital infrastructures in rural areas and limited focus on R&D. For India to stay competitive in the game, participants suggested that it should develop critical infrastructure, invest in R&D, reskill its existing talent, and create policies that support innovation. Explaining further, panelists suggested that rather than looking at ways to export the IndiaStack model, India should consider developing specific applications which should then find its own market abroad. This can lead to India being a leader in this great tech game, they added.

  • Way Forward for India: Panelists noted that India’s journey so far has been about significant innovations in certain strategic pockets, which has made the need for both penetration and spreading of digital innovations to whole country more apparent. According to the author, the five key components to win the great tech game are talent, capital, tech, strategy, and policy. Stressing on the need to recognize the new reality of the world, i.e., the prevalence of tech, he argues that India should adopt enabling policies to leapfrog more comprehensively, rather than in patches.

This event summary was prepared by Nahum Narayanan, a research intern with the Technology and Society Program at Carnegie India.