- Introduction on emerging technologies.
- Mention salience of outer space for India.
- Mention salience of quantum technology for India.
The future of geopolitics, economies, livelihoods and governance will be written in chrome. Emerging technologies like AI, robotics, quantum computing will play across several domains, ranging from cyberspace to outer space. As India enters its 76th year, it is emerging as an increasingly consequential power in a range of multilateral technology conditions and multistakeholder forums.
There are two keystone technology arenas for India’s engagement in the coming decade – space and quantum technologies.
Outer space: this domain is becoming increasingly crowded, and contested. The emerging space security scenario points to serious consequences. The current situation calls for rolling out some rules to ensure that space remains safe, secure & sustainable. Given the number of new security challenges in outer space, India can play a substantial role in shaping an international outer-space regime.
India is an established space power, with important stakes in maintaining an open & secure outer space regime. Its interests in drafting the rules are driven by the fact that it is one of the earliest space-faring nations, likely to play an active role in outer space activities. India is one of the 3 biggest Asian space players along with China & Japan. Therefore, any future regime will be ineffective without participation of key players.
The development of sophisticated military space programmes in India’s neighborhood is of enormous concern to India. China’s demonstration of ASAT in 2007 was a reminder of this kind of challenge. India tested its own ASAT in 2019 as a response to China. Also, India’s interests in formulating space rules is linked to its economic growth. India has assets worth US$37 billion – making it crucial to protect its space assets. Space assets are of significant multifarious utility to India, which is likely to grow manifold in coming times. Finally, India’s interest in outer-space regime is linked to the increasingly contested geopolitics in Indo-Pacific region.
Quantum Computing: quantum technologies come with a plethora of applications that can accelerate solving some of the most challenging current problems. Quantum encryption can secure communications, quantum simulation can discover new materials, quantum sensing can map climate change, etc. To capitalize this quantum revolution, 2020-21 Budget pledged to spend INR 8,000 crore on National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications. Thus India joins a growing group of countries having dedicated strategies & budget for quantum.
However, quantum can undermine the stability of nascent digital infrastructure, including key public infrastructure upon which is built India’s financial infrastructure. In the absence of clear rules on unethical uses of quantum technologies, this can become a double-edged sword. The broader structural implications of quantum also remain underexplored. Also, international norms around quantum can follow a similar trajectory to that of AI / space, remaining limbo or scattered across disparate set of principles. So, New Delhi must prepare to shape, rather than be shaped, by the shifting geopolitical winds.
India must use this as an opportunity to lead in developing a coalition of like-minded countries that can fund technology-aided solutions, that can gradually find favor among the Great Powers as well. There is a particular advantage for India – many developing countries in Asia & Africa consider India’s technological advancements as impressive – that India can leverage. Indeed, India is seen as a bridging power narrowing the divide b/w developed & developing nations. It will serve India well if it manages to take this moment to make important gains in governance of these technologies.