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February 11, 2019

The first weekend of February saw the arrival of almost 900 students and almost 60 speakers and guests as part of the E-Summit, organised by the E- Cell. The two day event was packed to the brim with talks by top business leaders and policy makers, workshops, competitions and networking events. The theme for this year’s event was, “Building for the Billion”.

The first day saw the inauguration by the Director of the institute who indicated the event as an opportunity to showcase the innovations made in technology to the guests. He stressed the importance of the startup culture, saying that the establishment of more successful startups has the potential to bring the country out of the tag of developing countries. This was followed by the speech by Mr. Ajay Prakash Sawhney, the current Secretary to the Government of India - Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. Mr. Sawhney is a 1984 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of Andhra Pradesh cadre. His work on the National Policy on electronics was a starting stone for Electronics reforms in this sector.

Mr. Sawhney

Mr. Sawhney started with an unusual remark that If he could rewind back and restart his career probably would be an entrepreneur. He was encouraged by the growth of startups in India and mentioned that India comes 3rd, only behind the USA and China when it comes to number of Unicorns (Startups with a valuation of over $1 billion). He went on to say that connectivity has reached almost the entire nation via the Digital India initiative, with an apparent 1.2 billion people being digitally connected. He also stressed the importance of emerging technologies like the Internet of things (IoT), Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning.

This was followed by a visit to the new SAC building, the Tinkering Lab, Design Innovation Centre and the Business Incubator.

Watch Out got a unique opportunity for a short interview Mr. Sawhney, in which we gained insight into his beliefs and vision. The transcript of the same is given below:

Watch Out: Sir, how was your experience here at the E-summit organised by the E-cell?

Mr. Ajay Sawhney: I’m quite delighted to come to Roorkee. This had been an extremely well regarded university earlier and is now an IIT with an amazing presence of an alumni base in all domains across the country as well as abroad. IIT-Roorkee has already made its presence felt in the start-up ecosystem but I believe that it is extraordinarily important that IIT-Roorkee register a much larger presence at a much larger scale across the world through its start-ups. Through the foundation courses such as computer science, electronics, nanotechnology, materials, biotechnology and the presence of tinkering labs, 3D printing, additive manufacturing as well as the strength of the core fields such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering we have abundant sources of knowledge at our hands but technology will only be able to generate wealth and solve problems once we as engineers begin to apply it at something useful.

Watch Out: A lot of start ups are coming up in the electronics and IT fields, also IIT-Hyderabad recently launched a course in Artificial Intelligence. So what according to you are the steps that the IITs should take in order to incorporate all these changes and to produce better results?

Mr. Ajay Sawhney: The area of Data Analytics is going to be extremely important. India is endowed with a massive data pools, large amounts of data being generated at any giving point of time. Some of this data is systematically harnessed while most of it is left to waste. Most of the data collected with regards to a specific purpose, say for example Kisaan Soil Cards, is often used for that purpose only but not combined with any other sorts of data. What we don’t realise is that when the same data is combined with the data of irrigation, weather, land holding, post harvest loss, market prices etc. the value of the same data increases manifold.

Data is the fuel for anything in artificial intelligence, so first it is important to get our act together in how this data is to be harnessed and secondly, whenever you start looking at data, there are concerns about privacy. So coming out with a personal data protection bill on the lines of what other countries in Europe and what California has done and in fact improving on these international models is imperative to ensure development along those lines. Building expertise in areas of Machine Learning and Deep Learning and further expertise in the areas of cyber security to ensure that whatever we do with in the country and the industry, the security remains paramount. I think as we move closer to the area of A.I. we need to ramp up our capacities to handle the ecosystems. Having startups in areas such as these would be a step in the right direction. But then again, it’s not just A.I. either, it may be robotics, but it is also using sensors and internet of things, analytics of data etc. So it is a combination most of the times. In the case of additive manufacturing our labs have finally started to use the 3D printers. So now I ask you this. In today’s world, why shouldn’t we be manufacturing our own 3D printers and the materials that go into it. It is known that this is going to be very big business. Are we going to continue to import such things forever? When it is known that it’s a near certainty that we are going to move toward additive manufacturing from the traditional methods of manufacturing, then why is it that we don’t take the initiative.

These are the thoughts I ponder upon. Whatever we start using, we must think about producing it on our own rather that looking for outside help. The R&D of such things along with the core elements and patents coming from within the country. A grip on all of those key technologies is extremely important and that is the message that I’ll like to leave.

Watch Out: Thank you Sir.