Affordable engineering – Not the best advice

While developing products which are affordable, and hence within the purchasing power of many is critical for Indians to start leading better lives, it does not represent a solution for India’s development. R. Mashelkar, in a recent convocation address, points out that the need of the hour is for students to work on problems which focus on creating affordable technology, and in this manner making the lives of millions of people better. Since resources (in this case recent graduates) are limited, I would instead argue that we need to focus on problems which are important world over – both fundamental and applied. Some examples: How do we develop cures for next-generation diseases like Cancer and Alzheimers ? Can we develop the technology which will underlie the functioning of the next generation of computers ? How can we contribute to a molecular understanding of cellular processes ? Can we develop technology which can harness renewable energy ?

Becoming world leaders requires confidence

Industries and cutting-edge research support national economies. By contributing to research at the cutting-edge, India will develop industries, and host companies, which are developing products at this level – the Intel’s, Samsung, Airbus, Microsoft and Apple of the world. These industries will in-turn employ thousands of people, and pay wages which correspond to their Western counterparts. Such an eco-system constitutes ‘development’.

The only way a business model which revolves around a product which is ‘affordable’ can compete in scale to companies like Intel would be if they benefit billions of people. Often, that is not the case. Further, since it revolves around an existing technology, and one can imagine that at some stage, these industries would be taken over by larger players in the world stage. There is no doubt that affordable technology will benefit many people. But it can not bring the life of an average Indian and an average Canadian, at par.

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