Blog: A day with Dr. Mashelkar that changed my life!
The German philosopher, Dr. Arthur Schopenhauer, always lay open on his table, the book Oupnekhat (Upanishad) and invariably studied it before sleeping at night. He is known to have said “From every sentence of the Upanishads; deep, original and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy earnest spirit…In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people.”
The term “Upanishad” literally means the inner or mystic teaching. It is derived from upa, ni and s(h)ad, i.e., sitting down near, which refers to groups of pupils sitting near their teacher to learn from him the secret doctrine. In the serenity of forest hermitages, the Upanishad thinkers pondered on the problems of deepest concerns and communicated their knowledge to the capable pupils that sat near them.
Today, feels like having read my first such Upanishad, as I had the opportunity to sit and listen to and learn from one of the greatest minds of our times, Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar. A visionary whose contribution to just India and the world has been absolutely unparalleled yet he remain incredibly humble, approachable and polite.
Just to give some insights into his achievements and my statement, Dr. Mashelkar is a Fellow of Royal Society, only a few Indians have achieved this feat. He has been awarded the World Academy of Science Lenovo Science award, which is a mini Noble prize for scientists from developing countries. He is a member of the Jury in 2019 for the Queen Elizabeth Prize of Engineering, which is the Nobel prize equivalent for engineering. If this is not impressive, he has received all three of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padmabhushan, Padmavibhusan and Padmashri.
Further, he was a chief scientist of India and is a chairman of plethora of boards, scientific institutions and technology companies like Microsoft India. For those who are impressed by numbers, Dr. Mashelkar has over 285 publications, 29 patents and 42 honorary doctorates. So you get the picture….
I was only too honoured and privileged to get an opportunity to have a deep discussion with him on the issues I am currently studying about. I wanted to get Dr. Mashelkar’s views on Artificial Intelligence (AI)and future of the human civilisation. Dr. Mashelkar and I discussed several topics that will need to be tackled when we consider our future with AI. We talked about the future of education, employment, government policies & regulation and India’s future with AI.
According to Dr. Mashelkar, education system needs an overhaul as the jobs of the past aren’t going to be available as jobs of future. The jobs of future are to develop, maintain and deliver exponential technologies such as AI, blockchain and virtual & augmented reality. We both agree that if we continue to educate our next generation with technologies of the past, then we would be doing them a huge disservice. The technologies of the past will continue to get automated with tools such as AI and the jobs just wont be exist in future. So the education system needs to quickly adopt to the changing needs and demand of the job market to develop new fields of science, engineering and social sciences. The future jobs would be in data science, machine learning, AI and blockchain so the education system needs to design the disciplines to meet this demand. Dr. Mashelkar also believes that there is one key skill humans have and machines don’t and that is empathy. There would be high demand for this skill in future and hence we not only need to encourage students to explore this discipline but we need to look into a discipline that combine traditional and social sciences.
The jobs we had in the past won’t be the jobs we will have in the next 10 years. As technology such as AI and blockchain grow exponentially, jobs in the field of financial services, engineering, science and even medicine will start getting automated. Anaesthesia will be administered by machine, taxes will be filed and audited by machines, cars manufacturing is already mostly autonomous but the cars will also become autonomous. So the future we are staring at will need a completely different workforce, a workforce that is capable of developing, supporting and designing the, then current and future technologies. Dr. Mashelkar believes that the newer generation are already breaking the shackles of the past when it comes to traditional jobs. They are keen to be employers than being employed, which means that they are an innovative generation and the traditional employment framework won’t meet their needs. As the employment scene changes employers and governments need to start creating environments that are conducive to innovation.
Government policies & regulation
Dr. Mashelkar argues that government policies and regulation are behind the eight ball when it comes to exponential technologies. He also believes that policies and regulations need time for development and provides an example of GST introduction in India. It took Indian governments 14 years to develop and implement this fundamental tax policy effectively. The exponential technologies and government policies are two lines that will never intersect but we need to ensure that they don’t diverge too far away from each other. Technologies evolve much quicker than policies and often governments have to retrofit regulations and clean up the mess left behind by emerging technologies. A great example of this is industrial revolution 2.0 when mechanisation and electricity exponentially spread around the world and created what we now know as climate change. Governments around the world have been dealing with this for the past 30 years and many prime ministers and presidents have lost elections on this issue. This has led to ineffective and expensive policies put in place by governments to tackle climate change costing trillions to the economy of countries. With the forth industrial revolution upon us, Dr. Mashelkar believes that bureaucracy around the world needs to be looking into the future rather than the past to design policies and regulations.
India’s AI future
I could not resist but seek Dr. Mashelkar’s views on India and its future with AI. As a person of Indian origin firmly rooted in India, it is but natural for me to have that curiosity. Dr. Mashelkar is convinced that India has a very bright future with technologies such as AI given the recent push by governments and private sector corporations to ensure that the growth of the country is not restricted to just the rich. Indian corporations have taken it upon themselves to develop and use technologies such as AI to help the society. Dr. Mashelkar provides an example of one such initiative where one of India’s top ranked corporation has invested $180 million USD into deploying AI solution into the education sector. This initiate aims at providing free education to one million kids each year and ensuring the technologies are used to benefit the society in general. Dr. Mashelkar also believes that India’s educated population of future in combination with empathy, which comes naturally to Indians will be India’s biggest asset in the future with exponential technologies.
Dr. Mashelkar and I discussed several other topics with exponential and emerging technologies and at the end he said to me, “I feel that I have given you more questions rather than answering the ones you had.” “To the contrary”, I said, “you have given me more paths to explore”. In the plethora of new possibilities of emerging and exponential technologies, I have found a beacon that not only shows me a direction but reminds me that the existence of light is to shine the way for others.
As we parted, I did what any Indian student does when they meet their Guru. Like they say in Sanskrit…
Guru Brahma Gurur Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwaraha
Guru Saakshat Para Brahma
Tasmai Sree Gurave Namaha
Guru is the representative of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He creates, sustains knowledge and destroys the weeds of ignorance. I salute such a Guru! Touching his feet, I sought his blessings to make a meaningful difference to the world we are walking into. I’ll be grateful if I were to achieve even a fraction of what he has achieved in this lifetime!
About the Author
Hrishikesh Desai is a progressive leader currently a student at 3A institute at the Australian National University. Hrishikesh has experience in federal government in regulation, Intellectual Property and you can connect to him on LinkedIn and Twitter.