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February 11, 1999
He hates numbers, spends most of his time in virtual reality, and thinks India shouldn't consider every word of wisdom from the West as gospel.
Michael L Dertouzous, director, Laboratory for Computer Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States and futurologist, who was in Delhi for IT Asia, says India has business opportunities worth $ 1 trillion. "But for that, India will have to look beyond the borders," he says.
Dertouzous, the writer of books like Made in America and What Will Be: How the New World of Information Will Change Our Lives, was one computer scientist that Bill Gates personally called to be a witness in the Microsoft vs Department of Justice suit. But Microsoft allegedly backed out soon after the whiz was questioned by a government lawyer.
Dertouzous was India to give home-grown e-wizards some direction in the electronic revolution, saying he believed India's real power lay in its manpower.
For a man who claims he has "problems" with numbers, Dertouzous has come up with some calculations for India. It goes something like this: With a work force of 450 million Indians, it could be safely assumed that around 50 million of them had skills in insurance, banking and other services that were conducive to trans-border collaborative work. Given that the average earning for persons with such skills will be around $ 20,000, India has a $ one trillion business opportunities.
And since its manpower that he willing to bet on, Dertouzous also thinks "the key for India does not lie in dotcoms."
But what about the mushrooming dotcoms in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bombay and Delhi?
Says he, "I agree there is lot of activity happening in dotcom, and, of course, the e-revolution in Bangalore is very thrilling. But I think India has manpower of over 50 million people, who have potential to work in IT-enabled services. These people are going to bring in the business as information workers.
You see, this is the only way that the IT revolution can reach the masses. And believe me, no revolution is a revolution unless it changes the lives of the common man."
In fact, Dertouzous has worked out some "numbers" on the information economy as well, and thinks the size of the business done over the Net had grown to around $ 210 billion in just four years.
While the volume of business conducted among the G-7 nations is around $ 20 trillion, half of it goes into office work that can be processed over the Net. Of this, $ 10 trillion, 30-40 per cent, would be over the Net. That would be about $ 4 trillion.
So, how much can India earn and how?
According to Dertouzous, "The entire market will be made up free exchange of information and information services. And which is why, I think India should give work towards information networking, not just dotcoms. It is not necessary that whatever worked in the West will work in India too, or that it is important to take their success stories so seriously. The idea is to make your own success formula."
That, Dertouzous believes, calls for well-networked information workers. For instance, he says, "India is so proud of its tradition and culture, its tribes and its skills. Now, why not create a network of them and make their skills available to the rest of world. This way, you give them access to the world and vice-versa.
"What I mean is, 'Make IT change the lives of everybody'. That is the real revolution that we should be talking about."
Dertouzous thinks that four forces will impact the World Wide Web.
"The World Wide Web operates in accordance with the human psyche. And whatever happens in real life can happen in the virtual world too.
"I think voice-enabled human-machine interaction is going really change the web for good. Speech is natural and does not depend on the written word. This could be important for meeting national objectives of spreading the information revolution across the entire nation. The other three forces are -- automation of the Net processes, sifting of information to deliver meaningful information would hold another area of opportunity for India, customisation of information would be another key force to shape the information economy in the future.
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