They say history is the best teacher and I have analysed many lessons of our history—the good ones and the bad ones. At the core, I believe our course can be corrected, but only when we realise that timely policy decisions made now can impact Pakistan for decades to come. This is the reason why, when I took over the Ministry of Science and Technology—a ministry written off and discarded by political pundits as futile—I cared more about the critical decisions and policies not yet made as they have far reaching seismic consequences for Pakistan.
In the 1970s for example, while the world adopted the combustion engine, we sat idly by, failing to capitalise, understand or adopt this new technology. The delay in adoption caused Pakistan to not keep pace and lose global market competitiveness. History may have given us a second chance, but we cannot risk our future by not capitalising on technologies that lie before us now. Especially post-COVID, the world and Pakistan alike are going through an inflection point.
Disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, drones, electric vehicles (EV) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are here to stay and can bring transformative change and innovation across all sectors of our economy—critical to unlocking the environmental, economic and social transformation we desperately need. We must embrace these emerging technologies that promise to deliver sustainable, inclusive economic growth whilst providing higher standards of living for our citizens.
The speed and scale of such advances in the past few years alone have been immense. To give you a few examples:
The global big data market almost doubled in market size in three years with a total revenue of $49 billion in 2019. Similarly, worldwide spending on AI was approximately $35.8 billion in 2019, with a 44 percent increase from 2018. 5G, a prophetic phenomenon in Pakistan, is no longer a potential future but the reality in more than 38+ countries and lastly, global EV car sales are forecasted to go from 2.2 million in 2020 to almost 40 million units by 2025.
According to a World Economic Forum report, these disruptive technologies can accelerate our progress in reaching two-third targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The dynamic combination of realising the UN Sustainable Development Goals and emerging technologies will enable transparent and digitalised societies across the globe.
It is therefore imperative that we as a nation of 220 million people, projected to grow another 30 million in the next 5 years, do whatever it takes to develop and implement these technological advances across Pakistan with collaborative efforts across all relevant actors.
The possibilities are endless, but they can only come to life if we work on a unique strategy and plan to develop these technologies.
Seeking answers to these questions can help us accelerate innovation and achieve sustainable development. Four key pillars namely Target, Create, Scale and Sustain (TCSS) can help drive implementation:
What can our technologies target? We must ‘define and design’ priority problems and solutions to direct resources utilising these breakthrough innovations.
How do we create a business-friendly environment? We need to develop technology-related policies and replicable models.
Who can we scale up with? We need rapid mobilisation through a broad set of new tools to inspire relevant stakeholders to foster collaborative partnerships.
How can we sustain these technologies? We need to enhance HR development and skills: upskilling, reskilling and mass-skilling our workforce to meet the challenges ahead.
I realise that these technologies need ‘champions’ in the government. The Ministry of Science of Technology, as per its vision of ‘ThinkFuture’ is leading diligently on these technologies.
The Ministry is spearheading the fight to formulate national policies and to create a business-friendly environment in the field of disruptive technologies. My Ministry’s strong resolve to create a Pakistan Disruptive Technologies Board focusing on seven disruptive technologies: Electric/Intelligent Vehicles, Artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, Augmented reality, Block Chain, Internet of Things and Smart Robotics.
Similarly, on drone technology, a technology we had completely banned, will soon have its own board which will oversee its rapid proliferation and indigenisation. Imagine healthcare services delivered to far flung rural areas or our farmers utilising drones to effectively monitor their crops and efficiently increase their yields—drone technology can make this happen.
To put this all to action, MoST is also leading by creating 12 smart cities across Pakistan, working with national clusters and local governments in delivering higher quality of life to our citizens and collecting data that leads to actionable insights, helping generate revenue for government coffers. We are also working on creating companies that can aid in igniting this new revolution.
In conclusion, I encourage my fellow citizens to embrace and engage with these technologies. We must learn to effectively adopt these new innovations and learn to live with these technologies rather than shun them. We must aspire to lead the world and not be laggards.