Prof Atta-ur-Rahman, FRS, NI, HI, SI, TI
Pakistan needs a different governance system — a democracy in which the major focus of the government is to transition from a low level agricultural economy to a strong knowledge economy in which it can tap into its real hidden strength—— the 100 million young people below the age of 20. The 4th Industrial Revolution is already happening and disruptive innovations are transforming the manner in which we manufacture, travel or do business. Knowledge is now the single most important factor for socio-economic development and science & technology are the great equalisers. Countries that have realized this and invested heavily in developing their human resources to the highest possible levels have leaped forward, leaving others far behind.
We live in a world where truth has become far stranger than fiction. Each day brings thousands of new discoveries, many of which are transforming our lives in a multitude of ways. The blind can, amazingly, today see using their tongue http://www.wicab.com/media/Wicab%20Press%20 Release%203-19-2013.pdf. You can hang an elephant on a strand of “graphene” that is 150 times thinner than a human hair and the strand will not break since it is 200 times stronger than steel. The Harry Potter’s disappearing cloak has become a reality by the discovery of “metamaterials”. Anything covered with metamaterials just disappears since they have the ability to bend light. Genes have been transferred from deep sea jelly fishes to orchids —— the result are luminescent flowers that glow in the dark. Super-fast gene sequencing under development should allow the entire human genome to be sequenced in minutes! Bullet proof paper has been developed through application of nanotechnology. Objects can be moved by thought control through devices that you can wear on your head and give mental commands to drive a car or move a wheel chair. Anti-ageing compounds have been discovered and when given to old mice, made them younger! It is expected that children being born today may have ages of 120 or more because of fantastic advances in medicine. Stem cells promise to cure damaged organs and may change the manner in which medicine will be practiced tomorrow. Advances in genetics and biomarkers will be able to alert persons before the onset of a disease so that they can take precautionary measures. Human organs are already being produced through 3D printing. These include parts of human kidneys, livers, jaw bones etc. Regenerative medicine is one of the hottest areas of modern science and already complete head replacement of persons is under planning, allowing complete bodies to be changed! The first such head replacement is planned to be done in two years. Neuroscience is an intensive area of research and objects can be moved and cars driven through crowded streets by thought control.
Artificial intelligence is evolving at a mind boggling pace and before we know it, lawyers, doctors, and even judges will be robots. It is predicted that by 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans. IBM has already launched two such services, an IBM Watson medical service that offers medical advice to patients, and an IBM Watson legal service that is offering legal advice to customers. Watson already helps nurses diagnosing cancer, 4 times more accurately than human nurses. Young lawyers in USA are worried as they may soon not be able to find jobs because of the services available through robots. IBM Watson offerslegal within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans.
Driverless cars are under development and soon it will be far cheaper to have access to robotic cars that will be at your door step in a minute, instead of having your own car. Petrol and diesel driven cars will soon vanish from our roads and be replaced by electric cars with super fast charging batteries. The upheaval that is occurring can be sensed from the fact that the total value of shares of Tesla, a company established 13 years ago, overtook the value of shares of Ford, which was established in 1904. The CEO of Mercedes gave a speech a few weeks ago in which he stated that the real completion of his company was not with other traditional car companies but with companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Tesla. In fact software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next few years. How the landscape of industry is changing rapidly can be judged from the facts the world’s biggest taxi company (Uber) does not own any cars, the world’s biggest hotel company (bnb) does not own any properties. Most insurance companies will go out of business as there will be hardly any accidents with cars under robotic control so that car insurance will become 100 times cheaper. Solar energy will become the main source of world energy and already installations in UAE are taking place with 1000MW farms at a phenomenally low price— only 3 cents per kilowatt hour. This will allow the water problem to be solved as cheap desalination plants to supply water to coastal cities from sea water, operating with cheap solar energy, will become common place.
For Pakistan to progress in the 21st century and become part of this 4th Industrial Revolution, we need to focus our efforts largely establishing a strong knowledge based economy. This requires diversion of national resources to education, science, technology and innovation (ESTI) so that an eco-system is created where new ideas can be quickly translated into commercial products and processes. This change canonly be accomplished under a visionary leadership. It is therefore essential the Prime Minister should have the necessary qualifications and vision so that he/she can personally oversee the implementation of the ESTI initiatives. This would require a radically different form of democratic government which can dove tail all the national efforts to certain well defined goals so that high quality education, science & technology institutions can be built and innovation systems established.
A core element in such a new democracy would be institutional reforms. These range across the board from the judicial system, election system, police, FBR, NAB, FIA, and large national institutions such as Pakistan Steel and PIA to the educational systems and science research institutions as they are all inter-linked. Reforms would also be needed in institutions providing testing, quality and standards related services, as well as legal and financial institutions.
Successive governments of Pakistan have only paid lip service to education, science, technology, innovation or high tech manufacturing. This has resulted in our country being ranked among the lowest in the world in education, science, human development index or poverty. The change requires the need for a visionary leadership in Pakistan, as was achieved by Korea (General Park), Singapore (Lee Kwan Yew), Malaysia (Mahathir Mohammed) and China (Deng). A knowledge economy must be driven from the top through a visionary, competent and honest leader, backed by a cabinet of the top specialists in the country in their respective disciplines. We will never be able to join the 4th Industrial revolution under incompetent and corrupt political leaders. The time to act is now as tomorrow will be too late!
The author is former Federal Minister of Science & Technology, former Chairman Higher Education Commission and Chairman of UN Committee for Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP