A View through Technology Glasses

by | Nov 18, 2022

The Australian writer and broadcaster, Clive James (1939–2019), curtly defined modern times when he said, “It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are.” While we are all amused living in an internet-connected world, it is important to look at the braggadocio of both, our past and future and have our moments of doubt. As a technologist, I find technology as an enabler of both, good and bad. As Bill Gates put it, as automation applied to an efficient operation magnifies the efficiency, when applied to an inefficient operation, magnifies the inefficiency as well.

I recently read Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World, written by the Canadian father-son team of Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. The book was published in 2016 and updated in 2018. I found the narrative to be a brilliant mix of history, technology, and sociology and feel it is a must-read for all young people who are preparing to face the Web3 metamorphosis.  

The transformation of the financial technology sector in India is indeed phenomenal. The way the Unique ID project survived a long-drawn disruption and finally embraced more than a billion people is an example for the entire world. The governmental financial assistance and subsidies are directly transferred to beneficiaries. Tax collection is automated, and many government services are done automatically and efficiently. India, as a nation and with its human resources, is best positioned not only to lead the blockchain revolution, but to become a leading nation in the process when it reaches 100 years of independence in 2047. 

As of now, blockchain is not understood by many people outside the computer science sector. It is typically reduced to mere cryptocurrency, which is akin to comparing the Internet with email. Rubix, for example, is a global green blockchain with the ability to solve some of the world’s greatest problems, from climate change to property ownership, to implementation. And this new technology is also being passionately promoted and developed by two Indians, K. Chakradhar Reddy, and Mahesh Ramanujam. 

What I find most striking is that for the first time in history, people who hold the ground – farmers, artisans, and factory workers – have a real chance of asserting their rights and being paid directly for their work. Natural assets such as water, carbon, and air are essential for life on earth, and cannot be converted into commodities by clever businesspeople. Each water bottle sold for Rs. 20 per liter must declare from where the water was drawn and how it was paid for. 

Who is making the new wealth and how? The American ecologist, Garrett Hardin (1915–2003), called a situation where shared common resources are depleted, a tragedy of the commons. Not very long ago, Mumbai was spread over seven islands, and Bengaluru and Hyderabad were cities dotted with lakes. Systematically, water bodies were encroached upon and sold as properties by a collusion of politicians, bureaucracy, and banks who doled out loans for the buildings constructed on lands of dubious titles and sold at inflated rates. Most people living in high-rise buildings are indeed lifetime debtors. 

As the regular reader of my blog knows well, I do not consider indicators like GDP or Sensex, or even the $ value of our currency as guideposts to development. Even inflation is a much-misunderstood term. The issue is of people over natural resources, sanctity of the right of people traditionally living over common lands, which includes the poorest and the tribals, and enforcement of the law so that the rich and powerful cannot evade its provisions while the poor are punished in the absence of legal help. Technology is now available to fast-track the judicial process and punish the guilty without harassing the innocent. Not making use of it is a mistake. 

For India to be a developed country, every citizen must have equal access to public services, namely healthcare, education, and social security.  Writing in the context of the United States, the Tapscotts called technology and democracy “not a happy story.” They write, “In the spirit of the saying, ‘The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,’ let’s reinvent the government for a new era of legitimacy and trust. It’s time to stop tinkering and launch transformation.” 

India has adopted many traits of the US society and the manners of its democracy, and not all are good. Take, for example, the TV debates. Every evening an assemblage of speakers, mostly from a band of some 20-30 people, shout at each other. Even the anchors use a tone of inciting quarrels rather than moderating a debate. Public discourse is fragmented. Intellectuals have organized themselves into warring groups that are uncooperative and even hostile to whatever action or initiative is taken to change the status quo. Democracy needs a reasoned opinion, not just any opinion. Democracy needs legislative assemblies to debate, refine, and resolve issues. There must be decorum in these bodies. 

Could blockchain technologies help improve our democracy? 

The Tapscotts write, “Imagine the board of elections (commission in India) creating digital wallets for each candidate or choice, with approved voters allocated one token or coin each for each open seat. Citizens vote anonymously through their personal avatar by sending their ‘coin’ to the wallet of their chosen candidate. The blockchain records and confirms the transaction. Whoever ends up with the most coins wins. . .  DEMOS, a new end-to-end (E2E) e-voting system. . . uses a distributed public ledger like the blockchain to create a digital ballot box that citizens can use to vote from anywhere in the world.”

Our technology institutions must come forward and make India lead the world in blockchain technologies and in the process, improve and prosper our own systems. When our own experts will demonstrate that blockchain is regulated by mathematics and is neither up to the whims of the governments nor to the wishes of the anarchists, people will agree. The book concludes by saying, “Like the first generation of the Internet, the Block Chain Revolution promises to upend business models and transform industries. But that is just the start. Blockchain technology is pushing us inexorably into a new era, predicated on openness, merit, decentralization, and global participation.”

Can India make a historical choice to use technology to change the status quo in terms of ownership of natural resources, and the real estate business, and make people vote from wherever they are rather than turn up at a particular booth and prove their identity every time, which can be a big put off for many people to vote? These three changes can be brought in by blockchain technology, for which the precursors are all available. What is needed is the political will to transform India into a developed country by including all its people in the process. The view through technology glasses is a bit unsettling, but certainly not dark.

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20 Comments

  1. Very well written article, Sir…!!! Thanks for sharing.!!! I really like this saying – In the spirit of the saying, ‘The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved.’
    While blockchain promises wonderful achievements, it’s not truly distributed or decentralised today…!!! For example, many TVs or game consoles still uses software to render 4K rather than hardware rendering true 4K….
    Same way, blockchain today has a distributed architecture sitting on top of a centralised system. It’s not truly distributed which is the main problem and allows these hacks and frauds. We need to focus on maturing blockchain technology to be truly decentralised to prevent these hacks and attacks.
    Rather than using this technology or rather making the only goal of this technology to mine crypto currency….!!

  2. Your prologue to an emerging technology is fascinating, Prof Tiwariji !

    While its view through technology glasses is promising, the impact can be seen only with successful implementation of transformational programs.

  3. Thank you Arun ji. I agree only political will is required absolutely.

  4. Thank you, sir, for a comprehensive discussion yet again about a befitting technology in today’s times, in the form of your engaging book review.

    This is very congruous with your views expressed in your previous blog around restoring the ownership of the nation’s resources to where they belong – the often marginalized groups of the society comprising farmers, artisans and workers who do not possess or claim the voice to assert their right.

    I have always maintained that what we develop is not for ourselves – it’s for those not in the room. Your vision and optimism about the ability of blockchain and other technologies to support our world and bring about equity and inclusivity is energizing.

  5. Dear sir, Compliments for a blog on advanced technology and far reaching effects and applications of block chain. As you rightly brought out, political will is a must for implementing these technologies in important spheres of business and most importantly for an application like ELECTIONS. To get the EVM accepted, it took us decades and even today I am not sure How many political parties are convinced about the fact that EVMs cannot be tampered. With no wire connected to EVM and with no wireless hardware implemented on EVM, the great leaders still believe that it can still be manipulated.

    Every party has opposed the EVMs during one phase or the other. Even I have seen politicians with technical background making these remarks. Having been the suppliers of EVMs , we had to face these nonsensical comments and keep proving them wrong. Only during last 5 years, Election Commission of India told us not to respond for these all and sundry remarks and they said that they will handle it.
    Having said that should we stop progressing? My answer is NO. We should continue to progress. Take a pilot project fairly big size and prove the efficacy of block chain and convince people that how participation of people in the democratic process can improve and how it can bring transparency in the process.

    I am an optimist and I strongly believe, India will be the first country to exploit full capability of BLOCK CHAIN. The way digitization got progressed in our country It gives me hope and immense confidence to say that we will be leaders in exploiting this technology. Thank you once again for blog on advanced technogy.

  6. Great post that magnifies the impact of technological advancements that are currently happening. Like any other technology – blockchain poses its own challenges along with its use-cases. Considering the data volume and the data collected – we relied heavily on big-data and cloud technologies which worked at enterprise levels. Blockchain or web3 will make it usable and reach wider audience. I guess regulatory measures have to go hand in hand with these advancements – so that they cannot be rigged by the big players. In no time – we will start using blockchain applications for everyday use. Solving for uniqueness is just a tip of the iceberg and the real problem lies in security.

  7. This one is one of the most interesting blogs you’ve written. I also would like to thank you for introducing me to the book “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World”. It’s a powerful game changer for the current generation interested in the field of Blockchain.

    The takeaway from your blog is that blockchain can surely encourage greater civic participation and dialogue, and restore trust in democracy. The process is slow, but it is inching society towards that era.

    Have seen someone using the word ‘braggadocio’ after ages I guess. It wasn’t anywhere in my memory lately, thanks for bringing it back.

  8. Sir, thank you for this wake up call for us engineering professionals. We must not stick up in traditional branches and hone skills in the fast-emerging areas. Those of us who embraced computers early have flourished. Those who got into Cloud flourished. The same is true for people working in financial technology, specially the blockchain. As quantum computing matures, which will in a few years’ time, blockchain will be the way of the business.

    Just to add, I recently read a book by Bernard Marr, Tech Trends in Practice. It talks about five technology trends rolling out and will have the most profound impacts on our society and humanity. These are Artificial intelligence and machine learning, Gene technology, Human-Computer interfaces, Extended Reality (XR), and 3D Printing. And you are looking very cool in Oracle glasses – must be from your son Amol!

  9. Great article as always sir, beautiful picture as well…

    It is indeed true that Blockchain technology has the potential to revamp currently existing processes to unlock new sources of efficiency and value. It will revolutionize interactions between governments, businesses and citizens in a manner that was unfathomable just a decade ago.

    In business, by allowing ‘self-regulation’, India can considerably move towards improving the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ by allowing entities to interact through a trusted medium with a reduced dependency on cumbersome regulatory oversight and compliance. By empowering citizens through features of transparency, decentralization, and accountability, blockchain would help in improving ease of living.

    Thank you for keeping us informed with the latest and the best. Heartening to see our friend Mahesh Ramanujam in the blog. He has recently joined as Network CEO of Rubix, based out of Washington DC and a leading company in the blockchain area.

  10. This is a wonderful read, sir!

  11. The last para very well summarises the three burning issue that needs attention. And certainly, natual resource area is a big one on which survival of present life on the earth depends.

  12. The blog brings out a very important aspect – political will to enable access to essential facilities to all.
    This should be done immediately.

  13. Dear Sir, Thank you for sharing this article on importance of Block chain. I am fully agree with this, its future of IT technology. I am also trying to understand this technology from healthcare point of view, and have a strong feeling that it will help in reducing the overall cost of treatment by removing gaps in treatment from one provider to another provider.

    Along with this FHIR (Fast Health Care Interoperability Resource), a new technology to share the healthcare data between different systems is the future if health care. Please do share some basic book names on Block chain which help me to understand this new technology, Warm Regards.

  14. Professor Arun Tiwari jee is a missile technology man. He thinks missile way. We get very new thoughts through his blogs. As a missile man, his thoughts and writings always appear with precision and perfection full with new vision. Precision and perfections are absolute requirements for missile men and their technology. Otherwise it will go awry.

    In this blog he has made caution about the use of technologies in a positive way. As for as the issues of developed and developing nations are concerned, there is no perfect measure whom to call developed and whom the developing. This is a relative comparison. We all know science (Knowledge) is progressive in nature and also self correcting.
    So in the light of science no country is a developed country, all are developing nations. The only defference is of the speed. In this contex, in some aspects, Bharat is a far developed country than others and vice versa.

    Let’s enjoy the development of science and technology, science will self-correct the wrong and technology will self-heal the wounds. The only thing that will last long, will be of self-balancing and self-healing.

  15. It was great reading. With in-depth knowledge Sahebji.

  16. Dear sir, Thank you for this wonderful blog.
    As a student I gained a lot of information from this blog.
    After reading this blog lot of questions raised myself and clarified myself.

  17. Inspired by your first blog on Blockchain in August 2022, I started taking interest in this emerging technology. You have very nicely explained Blockchain as an electronic distributed ledger, that stores the list of ever-growing data verified by all nodes of the network. It contains history and a list of all transactions ever completed within the network. Buying land for example in India, especially in rural areas, is still hazardous. Suddenly new owners appear and drag you into litigation. CVs are fudged by fake experience details. In case of medical records, every time a patient visits hospital, he must undergo a battery of tests just to fatten the bill. All this can be cleaned up by using blockchain. Personally, I liked the idea of voting using Blockchain. Thank you once again for clearing up mist from these emerging concepts and helping us see clearly. And the Oracle glasses you are wearing are indeed cool!

  18. You made my day with a beautiful picture and a thoughtful article on blockchain. It is the biggest truth of our times that blockchain technology, and Web 3.0 innovations will propel the digital asset economy’s value from $5 billion now to $100 billion by 2025 and doubled by 2030 resulting in a trillion $ contribution to India’s GDP. Such is the impact of blockchain technology!

    Blockchain implementation requires software people, financial, and legal experts as well as business managers, creating immense job opportunities. It is imminent that Blockchain technology will take over the B2B, G2C, G2G, B2G services. The materialization of blockchain technology also holds promise for the Government to harbour transparency and accountability and provide frictionless transactions with the citizens. There will be no room for hypocrisy anymore!

    Of course, there will be Nay Sayers and doubt creators about blockchain and a chorus that adoption of this technology is going to erode our legacy systems. But to me, blockchain truly poses to act as the catalyst to revamp the existing processes, by bringing in efficiency and transparency. With the immutability, transparency, and decentralized approaches that the technology offers, it is indeed a silent revolution in making.

  19. Dear Prof Tiwari

    Thank you for this great piece on technology (blockchain).

    You have correctly and rightly put the challenge for leadership on your country’s political and technological elite. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    India has all its takes to lead the technological revolution. And this will position your country well strategically both economically and geopolitically.

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