The curtain rose with the inaugural session, “Shaping Technological Futures,” where Govindan Rangarajan, Director, IISc, Bengaluru, set the stage with a profound welcome address. His words echoed with pride as he showcased the remarkable innovations birthed by IISc and its pivotal role in shaping national policies.
This session was followed by the keynote address by Ajay Kumar Sood, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India on “Expanding Science and Technology Horizons: Within and Beyond”. Chaired by TA Abhinandan, Professor, IISc, Bengaluru, this session became the harbinger of a series of enlightening dialogues. While discussing the four pillars of sustainable development — education, science, technology, and innovation, Sood highlighted the startup ecosystem’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Delving into disruptive technologies like quantum computing, Sood envisaged their pivotal role in the nation’s development. He also explored the societal impact of Digital Public Infrastructures (DPIs), exemplified by the revolutionary United Payments Interface (UPI) system.
Ethics, trust, and being future-ready
In the next session, “Ethics of Disruptive Technologies,” Sharad Sharma, Co-Founder, iSPIRT Foundation and Nimmi Rangaswamy, Professor, International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, participated in a discussion. It was set as a “Dialogue between a technologist and an ethicist regarding the ethical principles that should steer anticipatory governance strategies when dealing with disruptive technologies,” stated the event schedule pamphlet. Animesh Jain, Policy Fellow, OPSA-PAIU, IISc, Bengaluru, moderated this session. Sharma advocated for a “virtuous way” of identity, citing the positive use of Aadhaar, while Rangaswamy cautioned against the inherent biases and values embedded in technologies like AI. The session concluded with a dynamic exchange, echoing the importance of ethical considerations in steering anticipatory governance strategies.
Ellis pointed out the role of trust and negotiations in the science and technology domain and the need for global approaches to unite all countries. Mehra mentioned that the government is trying to become future-ready by developing specific skillsets among its citizens and applauded the skillset India brings to the technology domain. Dörfler highlighted the requirement of taking up innovations from India globally and said that the paradigm shift in the education system in India today is well recognised — the country is already teaching translational skills thoroughly.
Acknowledging traditional knowledge and the people who developed them
The event resumed with session 3, moderated by Dakshata Lingayat, Policy Fellow, OPSA-PAIU, IISc, Bengaluru, and it had two segments of lightning talks. The theme of this session was “Diversity of Knowledge: People and Practices,” with the first segment focusing on the Practices. Wiebe Bijker, Professor Emeritus, Maastricht University, the Netherlands, delivered the first talk in the segment. His speech was titled “Plurality of Knowledge”. Bijker joined the event online and shared his insights virtually. The two following addresses were prerecorded — “Handloom as Socio-technology” by Annapurna Mamidipudi, Post-doctoral researcher, Technical University of Berlin, and Trustee, Handloom Futures Trust, and “Towards Green and Sustainable Future – Story of Handloom” by Uzramma, Co-Founder, Handloom Futures Trust, Hyderabad. They instilled the importance of indigenous knowledge in developing new technologies.
Highlighting how women face significant discrimination in developing technologies, Dey mentioned that people called Bertha Benz (who first rode a car for long-distance travel) a witch!
Her talk was titled “Diversity of Knowledge – from a Gender Lens”. Bijker then virtually joined all three speakers from the second segment in an open discussion. Together, they pointed out the role of traditional knowledge in developing new technologies and the requirement of acknowledging the people who are the authentic sources of such indigenous knowledge.
How can scientists and science communication break boundaries?
A well-funded science communication office must be part of every institution that engages in scientific research, and the institutions must assign a value to the outreach work — this must count when they evaluate their scientists for promotions.
She also said that students must be introduced to outreach through a mandatory course, and we must communicate science in the vernacular languages besides English. In conclusion, she highlighted the need to reach out to the public more and think “beyond outreach”.
In essence, Dialogue 2023 transcended the traditional boundaries of a scientific summit, bringing together a diverse spectrum of thought leaders, policymakers, communicators, and visionaries. It not only celebrated the current achievements but also sowed the seeds for a future where science and technology play an ever-expanding role in shaping the nation’s destiny.