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Commentary

In India, For India

It's a bright sunny day in Bangalore, and Microsoft has rolled out the red carpet for its research director, Rick Rashid; the government's minister of science and technology Kapil Sibal; and some of India's top academics for the one-year anniversary of the company's India research lab, which employs 30 scientists and may soon double in size. Sibal, a well-known lawyer, walks up the stairs of the Taj Residency hotel and the press photographers' flashbulbs pop. Hundreds of guests at Microsoft's sy
It's a bright sunny day in Bangalore, and Microsoft has rolled out the red carpet for its research director, Rick Rashid; the government's minister of science and technology Kapil Sibal; and some of India's top academics for the one-year anniversary of the company's India research lab, which employs 30 scientists and may soon double in size. Sibal, a well-known lawyer, walks up the stairs of the Taj Residency hotel and the press photographers' flashbulbs pop. Hundreds of guests at Microsoft's symposium pack a hotel ballroom.While India's tech industry tries to lift the country from economic depression by churning out intellectual property for export, the message today is self reliance. Sibal and Rashid unveil "Virtual India", an interactive online map of the country that uses government geospatial data. The idea is to help ordinary Indians navigate their vast country. Sibal, who pushed through a policy change to allow digital maps for the first time since Indian independence in 1947, says the Microsoft-government partnership can help ordinary people get around, discovering if and where there's a road, where there's a decent hotel. It's only possible with Indian minds working inside India, he says. "In order to understand the problem, you can't sit in the United States and do it."

India's problems are large. It's a country of a billion people, more than a third of whom are illerate. 700 million live on rural land. Technology has infused the economy with capital, but India produces just 50 computer science Ph.Ds a year. Ravi Venkatesan, chairman of Microsoft India, takes the stage. He calls India "an IT superpower that has 300 million illierate people." India innovates for export, he says. But to assert itself on the world stage for the first time in three centuries, his countrymen need to do more. "It's high time we started innovating in India and for India."