Asia’s first computer was built at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, in early 1960s! This was mentioned by Dr Vijay Chandru, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Strand Life Sciences. He was sharing his thoughts on ‘Information Science and Precision Medicine’ in the Indo-French Innovation Workshop being held at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. He also noted that the time lines of genomic and computational revolutions overlapped quite a bit, which ultimately enabled data intensive healthcare.
The second and concluding of the Indo-French Innovation Workshop witnessed some high quality discussions by renowned researchers from both India and France. The topics discussed were: ‘Innovation And Technologies For Energy’, ‘Informatics As The New Innovation Lever’, and ‘Innovation In Economics and the Economics Of Innovation’. There was also a panel discussion on ‘How do societies (governments, citizens, industries) favour transfer of innovative research (fundamental and technological) into practical industrial revolutions?’
The two day Workshop was jointly organised by the Service for Science and Technology of the French Embassy in India, New Delhi, the College de France, Paris, the Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities, New Delhi, the French Institute in India, French Embassy in India, and the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.
Professor Marc Fontecave, Chair in Chemistry of Biological Processes, Collège de France explained the significance of basic chemistry research in addressing the global challenges posed by climate change and the looming energy crisis. According to him, the world needs 27 tera Watts of power in 2050, out of which 12 tera Watt has to be carbon-free. Stressing on the intermittent nature of renewable sources, he said that the world needs novel technological solutions for storing energy.
Dr ThirumalachariRamasami, Former Indian Science and Technology Secretary, carried on the discussion on energy, but from an Indian perspective. “World energy demand is rising at about 1.5% per year. The challenge is to balance human development index with energy consumption, and ensuring long term sustainability with low ecological impact”, he said. He also gave an overview of the innovations in solar technologies in India.
Ramesh Venkatesan, Principal Engineer, MR Applications Engineering, Wipro GE Healthcare, Bengaluru, spoke about how information science is making quality healthcare accessible to a greater number people. Referring to the emerging high technology devices in medical electronics, he said “Functional consolidation is the big driver in today’s medical electronics”. He also explained how a cloud based platform for managing healthcare data of patients could alter the way healthcare services are delivered to the rural population in India.
In an entertaining talk on ‘Informatics as the New Innovation Lever’, Professor Gérard Berry, Director of Research at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, and Chair in Algorithms, Machines and Languages, Collège de France, explained how information has changed the way we develop tools and technologies. According to him, in the last century, technology development was driven by the matter-wave-energy triangle, and now, the fourth component, information, has changed the process completely. “Today’s digital camera has much more than physics. It’s essentially a collection of algorithms”, he said. Referring to the increasing role of simulation in research and development, he said, “Simulation has replaced physical computer time”. His talk was also followed by a lively discussion on how far one could go while simulating natural processes.
During the session on ‘Innovation in Economics and the Economics of Innovation’, Professor Roger Guesnerie, Chair in Economic Theory and Social Organization, Collège de France spoke about the historical evolution of economics. Starting from the work of Adam Smith at the end of 18th century, Professor Guesnerie took the audience through the works of Ricardo, Malthus, Cournot, Walras, and Menger. Referring to the role of competition in economics, he said, “Recent research has shown that increasing competition from a weak level increases innovation up to a point, beyond which innovation decreases”.
Professor AjitSinha, School of Liberal Studies, AzimPremji University, spoke about how the concepts of value and prices have evolved over time. Adam Smith, in 1776, looked at the concept of value deeply, and argued that the ultimate cause of value lies in the primordial productive activity when a man works against nature directly. About a hundred years later, economists rejected this idea, and argued that commodities acquire value in exchange because human beings derive utility from them. He ended his lecture with a mention of work of Sraffa, who in 1960, challenged the linkage between value and utility.
ParthaSen, Visiting Professor, Institute for Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University, observed that the economics of innovation precedes the innovation in economics. Giving the example of financial system, he noted that economic thinking can often speed up material progress or hinder it. Referring to the global economic crisis, he said. “One could argue that what we are witnessing today is innovation in finance gone wrong from society’s point of view, partly because academic economics is lagging behind”.
Curtains came down to the workshop with a lively round table on ‘Innovation, Democracy and Institutions’, chaired by Dr Samuel Berthet. Dr PrashantJha, Fellowship Director, Stanford India Biodesign Centre, School of International Biodesign (SIB), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, spoke about how his School is trying to bring innovative solutions to the healthcare industry. According to him, every year, India imports medical equipment worth US $ 5 billion. In an oblique reference to the differential access to healthcare in India, he said, “In terms of healthcare, India is developed, developing, and under developed at the same time. So, it’s the best place to innovate!”. In his short, and crisp remarks, Professor Marc Fontecave, said, “New discoveries come from multidisciplinary approaches”.
Professor JayantModak, Deputy Director, IISc, shared lessons he learnt as the CEO of the Society for Innovation and Development, IISc. According to him, innovation needs a big vision, and it is interdisciplinary by nature. He also explained how IISc has come up with programs to encourage its faculty to take their innovations in research to market. Prof José-Alain Sahel, who is developing an artificial eye, cited a number of examples to drive home the point that basic research often leads to useful, and sometimes unpredicted innovations. Dr TaslimarifSaiyed, Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platform (C-CAMP), spoke about how his organisation has created an ecosystem for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.
Concluding remarks by Professor Anne Cheng and Dr Baptiste Beaulieu, a medical doctor andauthor, left the audience in an introspective mood. Professor Cheng noted that innovation also tends to create more needs, which would obviously lead to greater exploitation of natural resources. Referring to the ever growing dependence on technology, Dr Beaulieu said, “We must pay attention not to become tools of the tools we build”.
The next day, two of the Professors from Collège de France, Prof Marc Fontecave and Prof Gérard Berry, gave interactive popular talks as part of National Science Week 2016 celebrations at Visvesvaraya Industrial &Technological Museum, Bangalore. About 450 students, teachers and general public participated in the programme.