• Thiyagarajan M

    Technology has always been political

    Rants are not worth responding but

    I have known Nikhil for 10 years and have the highest respect for him, after Om Malik he is my most favourite technology journalist for his deep and incisive views. I also admire his courage to deliberate topics which are normally deemed outside the ‘overton window’ (non discussable topics)

    So despite the rant I had to sit down and had to think on this because this is Nikhil asking these questions. However after reflection I found that I can’t agree with him on several counts, well this is not our first time :)

    I also feel more compelled to do so because while he talks technology & politics in the title of his post but it seems to be a complaint against iSPIRT. And I am on the side of iSPIRT, have been part of iSPIRT from the day it officially started and many years before that. Moreover now I am a full time ‘Fellow In Residence’ since last four months running the M&A Connect program.

    His rant has many factual errors including about UPI that Nikhil Kumar  already points out in his tweets.

    If I understand it right the following seems to be major points he rants about

    • Unsettling adoption pace in Digital Identity & Payments
    • Muddled debate on digital colonization
    • Subversion of choice in technology diffusion
    • Close relationship of technology and politics

    Technology is the yin, policy the yang of new markets

    Technology as Kevin Kelly beautifully points out is a force of evolution, it is an  unstoppable force of nature. Definition of politics or policies in this context is it is allocation of scarce resources in the face of change. Technology creates new possibilities while policies moderates those by setting up the new rules of game. Looking across time or geography this relation has been so empirical that technology and policy have been the yin and yang of new market creation.

    Sometimes policies or regulation kills a market. Peer to peer music file sharing – Napster anyone ? DMCA killed it. Closer home about 5-7 years ago every mobile payment startup in India died because it was not clear who defined the policies when it came to mobile payments (RBI or TRAI)

    Over time this is the reason why the ‘challengers’ just like the ‘incumbent’ have learnt to engage not only to understand the new game (technology) but to also influence the rules of the game (policies). More pronounced recent debate of defining the rules of the game for being challenger friendly is Net Neutrality of which Nikhil was the chief crusader himself.

    Makes me wonder what makes one crusade(er) more noble than another.

    Poor understanding of Digital colonization

    Digitization is going to happen to everyone in the world, that is the force of technology. Digital or not is not the choice we have, how in the new digital world can we influence net positive societal impact is a more apt question.

    I am not in favour of a state hand in speeding the process of digitization but in the digital world does one want to be in control of a private hand whom you can’t influence. I would rather prefer to yield in to the power of who I can vote out not a global private lord that dictates a feudal system.

    In face of creative destruction it is indeed the responsibility of the state and the society to rehabilitate the farmer or the cobbler that loses a job because of change in technology. To shoot the messenger that warn about the creative destruction and is helping preparing everyone for the change is naive.

    Dealing with Illusion of Choice

    It is easy to score a debate by calling something as ‘attack on choice’. In world with natural monopolies (key digital infrastructure) options out there are merely illusion of choice. Many other countries are discovering now that Google, Facebook control identity than most countries would like to yield it. These countries have already yielded their choices and data to large corporation. Internet is fundamentally a aggregation of private data which is retailed  to highest bidder. Due to India’s ability to leapfrog an architecture around data for the first time we can even enter into a dialogue about data and privacy. The debate and the policies on this has not been settled. Questions on these are great,  rolling sleeves with an alternate solution even better. Standing by the side and only complaining the least useful.

    Debating Issue Vs pointing fingers without facts is not cool

    People in iSPIRT are rooting for positive change like Nikhil and everyone involved feels responsible for the consequence of change that takes place especially those that get influenced by them. They think deeply about the societal impact and have had major share of disagreement with the Government as well. To cherry pick links and blog post to say things iSPIRT is very close to just one stakeholder is totally unwarranted and uncool.

    India stack – one of four building blocks for Product Nation

    iSPIRT is a part of the ecosystem and works with everyone within it  – entrepreneurs  (entire spectrum of ‘new’ to ‘seasoned’ ones), policymakers, global corporates, academic researchers, developers, investors, banks, other industry bodies,  global think tanks and more.

    The vision for iSPIRT is building India as a Product Nation, our thoughts captured in the annual letter 2016 here. For realizing that vision building public goods is a declared motto. Four type of these building blocks of public goods is Technology (India Stack), Policy , Market Catalyst (InTech50, M&A Connect), Playbooks (Roundtable, PNGrowth, iKEN).  Belief systems formalized to make this happen as credo has stood us for last four years.

    As much impact as India Stack if not more is happening in other blocks as well – Innofest that is championing support of grass root innovators that will help build the ‘India 2’ (beyond metro) market. A fintech leapfrog council (FTLC) that is helping public sector banks navigate the nonlinear change, a huge step in helping banks arrest the negative impact of technology disruption. Startup Bridge India a roadshow for Indian startups in the valley declaring the arrival new global category leaders from India that silicon valley should take note of and partner. Helping grooming the next ring of category leaders in India through PNGrowth bootcamp led by practitioner entrepreneur who are few years ahead (senior doing group study for juniors). How do we know that this is creating an impact, NPS (Net Promoter Score) of each of the initiative hovers around +80.

    Of course iSPIRT works with policy makers as well to ensure that when rules of game are drafted the challenger is not endowed with a structural disadvantage. When iSPIRT supported Nikhil on similar rules creating exercise with respect to Net Neutrality I do not understand why engaging other stakeholder should not be done.


    I have gone through many red pill moment myself to later realize that it is also recursive, it feels smart to have the first red pill moment but is humbling when there is realization that there is a red pill’s red pill (Matrix Revolution gives a more detailed picture than just the first Matrix movie). In times of unprecedented change cognitive dissonance is bound to happen, wisdom is measured by how much cognitive dissonance one can handle.

    “Nikhil, do continue to ask tough questions on important topics regardless of how discomforting they are, for we all will benefit by finding answers to it. However to attribute wrong intent to people and organization especially without facts is uncool even in a rant for you have been the gold standard of teaching India to form points of view supported with facts.

    Also I would encourage you to define why should one crusade be called more noble than another one”

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    • Kuttappan Vijayachandran

      Yes: Technology has been political, always: Take the example of USA: NSF has served as the load-star for its technology development ever since it was launched as a response to the Soviet launched its Sputnik. And the Star-War program against Soviet guided missile system gave birth to the Internet as we know today but the net could have been totally different if Gorbachev had not launched his perestroika program and glasnost campaign in the late nineties. But as on now even NSF is not in a position to discipline US technology for domineering the globe with the help of IBRD-IMF-WTO trio. Chinese planners have learned the trick of coordinating over a billion people by developing a politically conscious IT they learned from the Soviet. New dreams of globalization are flowering around based on peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation of nation states and not on competition and conquests of the colonialists. BRICS is politics and so is the new historical experience of BREXIT. And UN is there built on the politics of technology a totally new historical experience. IT is something much more than capital and profits: It gives a new meaning for life on earth transcending time and space: Man has been re-launched into a new trajectory: materially, culturally and spiritually! And that is the politics of new technology!!

    • http://www.SangEnnovate.com/ Arvind Tiwary

      I am not sure I understand all the context to this. Am a fan of India stack and celebrate the line of Sharad on Digital Colony . However I am worried on NPCI and the way this digital adoption is being attempted.

      # This is my bias Pls skip this paragraph for the issues
      I am not sure how much influence we have but let me articulate my unease ( an unwillingness to use Card. Before #Expropriation ( yes not #Demonetization…that is a Goebbels type propaganda) I used 80% on card /Digital . From Around Dec 1 I am a conscientious objector to forced usage of Digital and lack of choice on CASH. I lost it on learning of the RBI minon designed form to withdraw money to spend on marriage. To may mind nothing excuses such restraint and I am not prepared to suffer such arbitrary restraint for an ill thought thru experiment. I insist on using CASH even if it is more inconvenient. I do not accept this conflation of CASH with BLACK ( Japan and Switzerland run with more CASH) or with CASH and Corruption ( Many corrupt income are declared in affiliated entities and tax paid) but that is a different topic…

      Q around India Stack

      NPCI is a non state organization owned by a few banks. UPI did not open itself to many other players , many banks also for a long time. I hear different explanations. Regulators wanted to go slow, Technical folks recommended to roll out in phases…but why is there a bunch of folks who are a bit reluctant to promote it in the vanguard?

      In case of issues ( Failed transaction, service level ) mechanism to report and rectify need to be a lot more clear and subject to transparency and review. Like IRDA Insurance claims or better. No?

      The Indian Railways was an admirable attempt to service the people in an age gone by. UPI is the railways for the Digital Age. How do provide the institutional pressures to keep it efficient and effective and not revert to type( Changes in Government leadership make a big difference . In Bangalore we have seen that if the IAS officer changes the organizational enthusiasm for technology solution evaporates and devices slowly become inoperative)?

      How does scale translate to reduced fees and charges . Digital is it takes off will grow at a rate that will require massive back-end and expensive cyber-theft protection. Since the economy and tax revenue will not grow at that rate we have a problem. HSBC found that digital transactions were 10X more frequent for the same asset under management. So while digital transaction are less expensive the aggregate amount may not be less.

      Cyber-criminals will see this as a pot of gold. Cellular encryption needs a 3GB rainbow dictionary and can be broken relatively easily. How easy is it for an individual or SME to report cybercrime and follow up . How comfortable are we that we have these bases covered?

    Dec, 25
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