Changing gears for industry 4.0

In his address to the joint session of Parliament in June, President Ram Nath Kovind said that the government would soon announce a new industrial policy, keeping in view Industry 4.0. These remarks are of huge significance. So let us understand and appreciate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of the nation.

We all know the industrial scenario evolved over phases in history—from the family system, cottage system, handicrafts, factories to Industry 4.0 now. The new term acquires significance with nations and businesses looking towards increased automation, use of technology and digitisation of manufacturing as new methods of work.

Industry 4.0 is beyond just smart connections, and is therefore more dense and deep when compared to earlier industrial revolutions. This is why discussions on how to absorb and adapt to the changes that it brings are an integral part of appreciating what will be the next phase of human existence.

The huge technological changes that we are witnessing today are the end results of science, innovation and improvements in research. Though change is not new, the great speed at which it is happening is surely a cause for concern. The impact is so profound that it is entailing a change in every aspect of life for humankind. New business and governance models are being thought about because of these huge shifts. Interconnectedness makes all stakeholders—from state to market to civil society—responsible for every issue. One has to carefully think in not only participating in this changing paradigm, but also work out how to gain from this drill.

There is no clarity on where such rampant digital global transformation is going to lead us. Nevertheless, there is unambiguous acceptance of the fact that technology has in a huge way accelerated the movement of goods, services and ideas. This in turn has redefined notions of power, security and other concepts of global politics that any exercise in national policymaking cannot afford to ignore.

Across the international sphere, there is an attempt by nations to increase their economic might. The political establishment in India too recently has talked about making the country a $5 trillion economy. Such a giant leap in domestic status would also require the right diplomatic manoeuvres. Our international and domestic issues are linked because of the irreversible process of globalisation that has led to space-time compression. Due thought needs to be given over tapping investment, and increasing exports and manufacturing, for the requirements of Industry 4.0.

Artificial intelligence and 5G networks are now seen as essential for securing national security. Adequate cyber- infrastructure investments, and dealing with the Internet of Things and robotics require the development of domestic competence, which has to be done by the joint cooperation of many parties.

While unleashing speed, bandwidth, and opportunities from micro-level start-ups to national security with 5G, India has to think about many things, including where to place China and the West in this technology-transfer paradigm. Education and dissemination of information are needed for right orientation when it comes to change. So we have to think about methods to implement experiential learning and smart classrooms in an attempt to revamp our education and skilling systems to be in tandem with Industry 4.0 requirements. The New Education Policy therefore must try to balance this global-domestic linkage for workforce and skill development of the youth of the country.

Giants like Ericsson have recently announced they would come up with fully automated smart factories with wireless connectivity in the US. Many global and regional forums for international cooperation are looking at sustainability as the main factor in establishing a people-friendly Industry 4.0.

Our government too must think and use its improved position in the international supremacy scale for establishing mechanisms to leverage and optimise investments; it should perform the right balancing act keeping in mind these factors for faster development of an inclusive digital infrastructure. Further, trade dynamics are changing and contemporary global politics is witness to a US-China trade war—a zero-sum game. The Indian government, while charting out its plans over big data and artificial intelligence, must be careful not to give in to the temptation of protectionism amidst any variations in tariffs.

While deliberating on a smart workplace, computers and robots might cast doubts on human involvement. Yet the government must never ignore the thirst of rural areas over embracing such landscape changes. Nigeria, Kenya and some regions in Sub-Saharan Africa are showing the way over inclusive digitalisation with more rural women in the workforce. The boundaries are being redefined to strike the right balance over the essentials of Industry 4.0, namely skilled human capital, conducive environment and connectivity.

Connectivity leads to increase in trust, which is a strength for any governance exercise. The government must work to make digitalisation beyond smartphones and take advantage of any spillover. This would be an apt approach towards gaining from engagement with Industry 4.0.


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