I wrote this piece for India’s Economic Times, but it applies to entrepreneurs everywhere. Anyone, anywhere, can now solve the big problems of humanity.
In 2015, India overtook the US in the number of internet users. A billion Indians will be connected to each other, and to the rest of the world, by the end of this decade.
They will be able to learn about the latest advances in science and technology, obtain Masters degrees from top universities, learn best practices in agriculture, sell their crafts and services to the world, and demand better governance. Never before has India — and the rest of humanity — been so connected.
In the 2020s, a billion Indians will have access to —and will be able to afford — the most advanced health devices, robots and 3D printers. By 2030, the most remote corners of India will have abundant clean energy through solar cells and battery storage units.
This is not science fiction. It is all happening. And just as Indians are leading scientific research and technology companies in the US, they will be doing this at home — without any government assistance and despite all the obstacles that they face. They will be solving not only India’s problems, but also those of the rest of the developing world.
A few years ago, I wrote about how India is about to undergo an internet boom and create billion dollar companies and people thought that was unrealistic. India now has several billion-dollar startups, whose value is about to reach in the tens of billions of dollars.
What’s making this possible are technology advances, in everything from smartphones to medicine to solar. These are being powered by the progression of computing: Moore’s Law. Every year, computers get faster, cheaper and smaller. And they become more widely available, as smartphones have become. Our smartphones are already more powerful than the supercomputers of yesteryear.
With faster computers, it becomes possible to design new technologies such as sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) systems. With better sensors, we can develop sophisticated medical devices, drone-based delivery systems and smart cities. With AI, we can develop self-driving cars, voicerecognition systems and computer systems that can make humanlike decisions. With acombination of smartphones, AI and sensors, we can develop digital tutors and revolutionise agriculture.
Almost everything is becoming digital — information technology (IT). And India has tens of millions of experienced IT workers, many of whom are tired of working for western corporations and are ready to branch out on their own to solve problems.
Just as Flipkart and Snapdeal took advantage of the nascent e-commerce opportunities, thousands of others will. They will create marketplaces for rural artisans to design and create custom crafts for customers worldwide; apps for fruit-sellers, sweet shops and restaurants to showcase their products and take orders from neighbourhood customers; tools for merchants to provide services and delivery.
India’s sharing economy will also bloom, not only in taxi- and three-wheeler-sharing, but also in cycle-rickshaws and buses. And then in skills, education and personal goods. We can expect the informal economy — labourers, technicians, maids and painters — all to be offering their services through apps. As a result, quality, wages and availability will increase since ratings systems will lead to increased accountability.
With Aadhaar having provided an identity to hundreds of million people who had none, we will see digital currencies and virtual banks, as well as crowdfunding of local ventures, houses and education. A new digital economy will emerge that allows communities to uplift themselves.
Whether for railway ticket booking, water and power availability, or analysing government productivity and efficiency, virtually every aspect of government services will be improved through measurement, monitoring and automation. Entrepreneurs will build the solutions for modernising governance and reining in corruption. Small, inexpensive, internet-connected sensors will be able to monitor traffic patterns, air quality, noise, radiation levels and water quality, as well as help manage pollution and waste, parking, traffic congestion, security and almost every other aspect of urban functioning. Indian entrepreneurs will first build smart neighbourhoods and then smart cities.
The problems of education can also be solved through technology. Digital tutors will do the jobs that teachers don’t.
With internet-connected smartphones, farmers will learn how to improve crop yields and minimise chemical usage. Social media will connect them with each other so that they can share experiences, with sensors helping to monitor soil humidity and optimise watering. Supply chains will be improved, and on-farm diagnostic technologies will increase efficiency.
Indian entrepreneurs have the motivation and skills. Just keep your eyes open to watch them step up to the opportunity. But if you blink, don’t worry. You certainly won’t miss them.