Indian innovation

September 30, 2019

What happened?

Last June, the Indian Space Research Organization confirmed the successful launch of a moon-bound spacecraft (Chandrayaan-2). The mission’s budget is only $141 million, significantly lower than that of other countries: the U.S. spentaround $25 billion on 15 Apollo missions (i.e. ~$100 billion with current prices). Likewise, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission cost $74 million, compared to NASA’s $671 million Maven Project. Other examples of “cheap” Indian innovation are the affordable cars offered by Tata, such as the Tata Nano, which costs around $3,500, or the cheap data bundles that Reliance Jio offers: about $2.80 for up to 3 GB of data and unlimited calls or a “WhatsApp Plan” of $0.20 per month for unlimited usage of WhatsApp and Facebook across India.

What does this mean?

Most of these innovations emerge in India because it is still a poor country with a large consumer base with little disposable income for high-end products. However, these types of frugal innovation tie into deeper Indian concepts of technology. In fact,there is even a word for this, jugaad, which is derived from the Hindi yoga, meaning “joining” or “union”, and from the Sanskrit word yukti, which may be translated as “hack”. This goes to show how this concept of Indian innovation is related to cosmotechnics; how we use and conceive of technology is intrinsically related to our cultural worldview, philosophy and metaphysics. India’s worldview can be described as one in which fantasy, sensibility and idealism merge with physical reality, leading to a free civil society as well as a focus on “otherworldly mysticism”. Bringing this back to the concept of technological innovation, it implies that technology in the Indian worldview is always related to transcendental concepts such as liberation, magic and spiritualism.

What's next?

We have written before that India is a civilizational culture, defined by its spiritual and religious traditions. The idea of Indian innovation should thus be understood in relation to other concepts of the Indian world. For example, it relates to Mahatma Ghandi’s ideal of simple living, in which one should denounce material possessions and pursue an ascetic and self-sufficient lifestyle. This, in turn, relates to India’s society and economy, which are still highly rural and local in nature, or the subjugation of politics and economics to religious and spiritual practices in India. Speculating further, we could see that the coming generation of “transcendental” technologies (i.e. whose working surpasses our immediate sensory perceptions), such as artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, or meaningful virtual worlds, tie into Indian cosmotechnics and that India could become a spiritual leader in the adoption and implementation of these technologies in our everyday lives.

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

Pim Korsten has a background in continental philosophy and macroeconomics. At the thinktank, he primarily focuses on research, consultancy projects, and writing articles related to technology, politics, and the economy. He has a keen interest in the philosophy of history and economics, metamodernism, and cultural anthropology.

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