Aakar Patel | As the world changes rapidly, Indians stuck in the past, not eyeing the future



Column writing is called “punditry” in America. Their definition of expert is “an expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called upon to give his opinion to the public”. However, this is not how experts usually put it. Journalists are not experts in any particular subject or field. Almost all of them come from the pool of journalists and were previously reporters or editors.

If they’re experts at anything (and that’s highly debatable), it would be in the tight reporting space they were working in. Nothing. The editors, and I was one of the four papers, are not experts at anything. Columnists are post facto commentators. They write about what has already happened. We have no idea what’s going to happen. How many Indian columnists predicted recession, second wave of pandemic, Chinese intrusion into Ladakh, farm laws, highest unemployment in history, public response to AAC, demonetization and three years of declining GDP growth, the failure of the GST or the dismemberment of Kashmir? Nothing.

Forget it, how many even predicted the outcome of the crushing West Bengal election? We are not even political experts and should not be taken seriously. To be fair to us, it’s not our fault. The near future is difficult to predict because it involves human action. The government chooses to do something or not to do something, and it has effects. None of us can say how this will end, often including even the government.

But the long term is easier to predict because it is not based on human action but on technology and science. Some things are inevitable because the technology and its rate of improvement are predictable. Computers will get faster, oil will end, manufacturing will need fewer people, robots will improve. All of this is already happening and will continue to happen. Predicting the future is only being able to examine the pace of progress.

The climate will change because science tells us it is changing. Inequality will increase because businesses get bigger. Foreign influence will increase in the politics and economies of countries like India as they are technologically dependent. War will become less violent but more decisive because military power is linked to technological power.

The question is, what will all of this ultimately mean for us? For centuries that sort of thing didn’t matter because progress was slow compared to today. During a period of the 19th century when electricity, mechanization and locomotion were discovered and invented, the change was dramatic. The first man flew in December 1903, in a plane that could travel a few meters. In 66 years, Americans have sent men to the moon. This is a change of a pace never seen before, but the change has accelerated since then, due to the increasing power of computing.

Supercomputers today have much more computing power than the human brain. It is only a particular software or algorithm that needs to be developed to make them like us, which means for a computer to have general intelligence. Already narrowly intelligent, a computer is much better than us, whether it’s flying planes, playing chess, or scanning x-rays. But a computer can’t read a book like we can and can’t. not know the difference between a dog and a sitar. He doesn’t have the capacity to think and people are now working (especially in Google owned companies) on training computers to be like us.

What happens when such general intelligence is developed, as predicted in the next few years? This machine will be able to improve quickly, thanks to an instantaneous evolution. Since AI is smarter than us, it will be able to make itself better and smarter to the point that we consider it to be God. Again, many books have been written about this and in some of America’s smartest circles, including people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, these things are being seriously discussed. They are doing it because artificial intelligence of this type may only be 20 years away and may prove to be a threat to humanity.

But while the most powerful people in the world are talking about it, and to some extent some governments (America and China have artificial intelligence programs in their military), these are not topics India thought.
If the West switches rapidly by 2030 to renewables and electric cars, what does this mean for crude oil production? An American company plans to colonize Mars within the next 10 years. The rockets to do this are already being manufactured and tested. What does this mean for the future of the earth and its nation state system? In a world where the difference between natural and synthetic is quickly disappearing, how long will competitive sport be popular? 3D printing will soon change manufacturing and make many businesses obsolete. What is the future of nations which, like India, are still poor and have not moved towards development? Where will our millions of people find jobs?

Life for all of us will be very different in 10 years from what it is today. 20 years from now, life may be unrecognizable from what it is today. But wallowing in the narrowness of Indian politics and society none of us can see, let alone predict.



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