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Why we'll be a knowledge superpower

Why we'll be a knowledge superpower

Official: India ahead of China in satellite tech
Official: India ahead of China in satellite tech Updated: 2005-03-01 09:07 India is "a step ahead" of China...

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

New Delhi, February 20, 200500:59 IST

US infotech industry lobby, AeA, says countries like India are "eroding" the US's status as the world's tech superpower. New Scientist has dedicated its latest issue to Indian tech - from software to satellites to pharmaceuticals.

7.8% increase in Indian defence expenditure
7.8% increase in Indian defence expenditure * Allocation for fencing Indo-Pak border and LoC increased to Rs 2.33b By Iftikhar Gilani NEW DELHI...

Is the US losing its tech edge? YES. But very slowly. US tech trends have been drifting south. The percentage of patents that are filed by US firms is down. Growth rates for US science and engineering articles are weak. Less Americans are getting science and tech degrees. Foreign Affairs recently pointed out that the war on terrorism has so drained R&D expenditure that civilian R&D will "decline in real terms over the next five years."

But these are trends. US science and engineering publications grew at only 13 per cent between 1988 and 2001 while India's grew by 25 per cent, but the US still produced 20 times more than India in 2001. US R&D expenditure is bigger than the next five countries put together. The lead is gargantuan.

Is it a long wait for India then? NOT necessarily. There are two trends that are helping push India on to the knowledge fast lane. One is brain circulation. The US has compensated for American disinterest in lab careers by attracting brains from overseas. But foreign applications to study tech in the US have fallen dramatically - engineering fell 34 per cent alone in 2003. 9-11 is partly to blame: visa rejection rates have risen. But a bigger factor is that Indians and Chinese are finding opportunity knocking louder at home. And nothing moves knowledge better than brains physically moving.

The other is globalisation of tech. US firms are now outsourcing R&D overseas. India is a favourite destination. Says the New Scientist, "more than 100 IT and science-based firms have located R&D labs in India." And it's not just software. GE's Bangalore lab is renown for its material sciences division. An Indian firm recently bagged a contract to commercialise a US nanotech drug-delivery patent. Crucially, Washington is wary of China but sees India as a safe tech partner.

Is India's tech power status guaranteeed? NO. No one quite knows why knowledge economies happens. But it is clear you need, at a minimum, a compebreastive market, a decent educational system, patents to protect innovators and a risk-taking mentality. India has got it half-right in each category. The road is still under construction.

But Indians can shock and awe. After Bill Clinton's week-long presidential visit to India, the US ambbuttador was asked what was the visit's big moment. He said, "It may surprise you: The State Department's wires really began burning over a female Indian scientist who presented a paper on nanotechnology to Clinton's science team."

The New Scientist has no doubts. It's India special issue's breastle is "The next knowledge superpower."

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7.8% increase in Indian defence expenditure

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