CEBE Research Seminar – 30 April

Thursday 30 April, 1pm-2pm, MP203, Millennium Point, City Centre Campus

Science, Technology and the Software Industry in India – History & Progress

With Professor Mathai Joseph, Head, Persistent Computing Institute, Pune, India

Since independence, India has had a long history of governments attempting to guide the development of technology and industry. This originated from a combination of several factors: the colonial heritage which endowed the bureaucracy with powers to control the growth of industry, socialism and centralised planning, and the belief that its leaders were wise enough to know what is best for the country. Computing was subject to the same controls, especially because there was an assumption that the spread of computing would displace jobs, rather than create employment.

Technology has its own imperatives and it is not possible to stop it moving ahead. From the 1960s to the 1990s, India was a trivially small player in computing in global terms. Moreover, governments are not best equipped to decide on the ‘right’ technology for a fast-moving industry like computing or how computers should be used in organizations.  Yet successive governments insisted on deciding on the technology to be used, the kind of computers organizations should have and how they should be used. Hitching the acquisition and use of computers to poorly conceived decisions about technological choice can help neither industry nor its users. The major changes in computing technology in the 1980s and the rapidly lowering cost of computing and communication made controls impossible to enforce. The software services industry started to grow from the 1990s and today computing is seen as one of the major successes of the Indian economy.

In this talk, Mathai will cover some of the background in which computing grew in India, highlighting the factors that led to the success of the software services industry and how this happened largely independently of the policies of the government. Today, computing has entered almost every part of life in India, urban and rural, and has helped to create millions of jobs. Yet computer science, like other sciences in India, has not grown and shown the same kind of achievements. The talk will be interspersed with his personal experiences from the 1960s to the present.