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India at the forefront of information technology for science and culture

The computer age in India began in 1958, when India’s first electronic digital computer HEC-2M was installed at the ISI in Kolkata. That computer was not only special because it was India’s, but also because India was in its infancy. It was the second country in Asia to adopt computer technology after Japan.

Although information technology was spreading to millions of homes and offices because of the arrival of personal computers, that achievement contributed inestimably to making India a country beyond the path of development.

At present India is one of the technical centres of education in Asia, with a large share of academics and students, including foreigners, interested in computer engineering and technology courses.

India has left an indelible mark at world level in terms of technology over the last two decades. Once again India has hit the world headlines. On November 17 last the Param Siddhi-Al supercomputer, manufactured in India, was ranked 63rd among the 500 most powerful computers in the world.

Bearing this in mind, the country is working hard to ensure that its information and computing capabilities meet the needs of the Indian people.

The Information Technology Facilitation Program (TIF) and the Technology Promotion Development and Utility (TPDU) are the components of the programme launched by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The overall objectives of the programme are to generate endogenous potential for the development and use of digital information resources and to provide information for scientific and technological research and industrial development.

Given the quality of connectivity in today’s scenario, the programme aims at strengthening the base of information resources available and provide a mechanism for the optimal use of the country’s potential.

TIF will also be a collaborative research facility between industries and institutes. Nowadays the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the socio-economic fabric of the country. All these global technologies can be implemented in every sector of the economy, to the benefit of the main beneficiaries of the scientific and industrial research workforce.

Public and private sector companies have recently made significant investment in the development of facilities including telecommunications networks. We need to consider, however, how best to use these facilities for scientific and industrial research, and how the new devices can be used in various environments across the country.

India’s capabilities have gained international recognition and awards in software development, especially in the ICT field. India also has a large community of experts in every field of science and technology and almost all of them are proficient in English. India is a favourable and conducive environment for the development of this material to meet the national and international demand.

This latent potential, however, has yet to be turned into significant business opportunities. Capacity building in the field of materials development is therefore important and its strengthening will be supported in developing materials for institutions equipped with the required infrastructure and technical capacity.

In particular, there will be support on specific projects concerning:

1) research in materials development, design and methodology;

2) know-how training and skill development programmes on all aspects including entrepreneurship, technology and marketing for scientists, students, retired experts, housewives, etc.;

3) tests with technology and systems for content development carried out in the languages of the Indian Union;

4) surveys and studies to assess priorities in facilities that exploit ICT content development, and skills in the leading sector to search for talented young people.

Several scientific institutions in the country are engaged in developing databases on their domains. Similarly, many libraries possess invaluable collections of scientific material. Proposals to promote the scientific organisation of these resources and the introduction of data sharing mechanisms or activities are a priority for the Indian government.

Furthermore, the concept of virtual information systems has wide application. It can combine knowledge networks and information processing bases.

Products and services can be shared even by those who do not contribute to the system. The project will develop into a virtual laboratory that will connect and network several specialised institutions.

Likewise, virtual learning will also be promoted and made easier, unlike what happens in Italy where to read a political or sports daily, not to mention other periodicals, on the web, you always have to pay a fee, apart from the praiseworthy and free ‘La Stampa’, and the equally meritorious archives of the no-longer-published daily L’Unità.’

With specific reference to the e-publication of Indian materials and technologies, the reviews and journals in this field – with a few exceptions – have low visibility and few readers. Due to these limitations, the Indian professionals who operate in the field of science and technology publish their significant contributions in hardly visible periodicals, reviews and journals.

There are also problems concerning publishers, such as printing, archiving and shipping. Electronic publications can therefore help to improve the situation.

With the increasing use of the Internet, printed reviews and journals could be able to survive mainly as means of academic communication. The electronic medium provides a faster, wider and cheaper means of communication than traditional ink on paper. At present, the subjects that are India’s strengths such as mathematics, statistics, geosciences, etc. are encouraged to create institutional or national open repositories in special subjects for academic and research institutions.

Indian science will be studied regularly through the National Science Program of Health Mapping. On the basis of patent information, the use of scientometrics (measurement and analysis of science and scientific outputs) will be explored, and the development of new analytical tools and techniques will be attempted.

Standardisation of the synthesis of data elements, such as results from separate databases, and training on integration and collection and other similar activities are therefore undertaken in a cost-effective manner.

We need to study and probe user needs in order to identify new technologies, as well as evaluate and develop new tools and techniques. In Italy, instead, many scientific reviews and journals do not provide their issues online, as they hope readers will buy the print or pfd version, as the State has cut off funding since the summer of 2011, thus condemning prestigious historical publications to death.

It is not for nothing that sector-specific studies are undertaken in India to assess the implications and impact of technology industry and media convergence. While policy parameters (in the Greek meaning of the word) are developed for such studies, they help assess sectoral impact and develop new indicators and areas of interest, as well as explore new opportunities for disseminating cultural knowledge on the web.

Human resource development activities target specific groups of professionals and ordinary citizens: users, managers and information researchers.

The intellectual abilities of knowledge workers are improved to a level in which beneficiaries (citizens, scholars, professionals) will be effective upon their own initiative, without the need to pull strings – as is the case in Italy –and being forced to say “Picone sent me” (as in the famous comedy film directed by Nanni Loy), to consult, for example, the XXXX issue of the YYYY periodical buried in some storeroom of the ZZZZ library.

In view of improving skills, India adopts both formal and informal systems based on the following two policy lines: use of tools from new information resources to promote skills development of information professionals and experts, as well as knowledge management; human resource development activities.

They operate regular and long-term training facilities on knowledge management in national institutions in order to prepare students for jobs in digital libraries, such as content managers, information economy experts, human-computer interface specialists, etc. All this results in a huge job supply.

Giancarlo Elia Valori