On the eve of the 75th birthday of leading scientist and former director of CSIR, Dr RA Mashelkar, Manasi Saraf Joshi caught up with him over technology and the future. Mashelkar says technology will not replace human jobs, but displace them and the future will dwell more on emotional intelligence than artificial intelligence.
Sir, at the age of 75, you still say that many things are yet to be achieved. We would like to know how this seed of achieving bigger heights was sown.
My mother is my first guru. She told me there are no limits to things we do in our life. I used to be happy if I scored 97 in Mathematics, but she would tell me to go for 100. She used to say we must not restrict ourselves but go forward in life. Bharat Ratna Swaminathan, who was my guru, would say that whenever I get an internationally acclaimed fellowship or Royal Society fellowship, the ladder of success has no limits, you can go up and up. Thus today also, at this age, I work all seven days of the week. I believe Saraswati pooja is to be performed for the entire life.
You have many awards and fellowships to your credit like Padmashree, Padmavibhushan. The general feeling in society is that once awards are won, we should stop. Do you take awards as milestones? How do you keep your spirits going?
I don't work for awards, as I believe they are just a pat on the back, the best is yet to come. Instead of working for bank balance, we must work for national balance or societal balance. If we do not contribute towards society, we will not be able to keep pace. In India, we need to change the society and its mindset. I know science and technology and I can contribute to the welfare of society through it. Everyone has knowledge and expertise of different fields and should use that for social betterment.
Jobs are declining owing to automation. Similarly, computers are beating humans in intelligence too. What steps should be taken to improve upon it?
Half of India is young and if they are unemployable, then the demographic advantage would turn into a demographic disaster. Robotics, automation, artificial intelligence are the core of the day. Repetitive work will be done by machines. Same is the case with artificial intelligence. But if these jobs are gone, new jobs will be automatically created. I would call it job displacement rather than replacement. New jobs will include maintenance of these robots, software for making robots, manufacturing and related jobs. We need to bring a complete overhaul of the education system to cater to these new and emerging fields. We need to think about the future than about immediate needs. I have talked about 10 exponentials, 3D technology, Big Data, Internet of Things. It will create 55 new jobs. We need to work towards it. We need to pick up pace and industries, factories and government should join hands and come together to achieve it. The future is closer to you than you think.
We are talking about 5G by 2020. But at the same time, it is said that overuse of gadgets has a negative impact and it is proving harmful when it comes to internal communication in the family, friends and society at large. What is your analysis of this?
A few days ago, I read a news report wherein a four-year-old child informed the authorities about his mothers' health condition. It happened so, that the mother of this child suddenly fell unconscious. The child, who was playing near her, saw that his mother is not responding, despite calling her several times. He put his mother's finger on the mobile screen, which unlocked the phone and he could call the emergency number. Timely action by him and the authorities saved the woman. Use of social media is restricted to fake news, but we should unite to make use of it in a positive way. I was saddened to see a policeman sitting on the road, eating in the rain at 12.30 am. I tweeted the picture and I got a reply from the police commissioner at 6.30 am with a solution. At 7 am, I got another message showing the implementation of it. This was done only due to affirmative use of social media.
Industry and society interface needs to be improved. While working in the government sector, you beat the red tape, and at the same time, you brought a change in the system. How did you balance it?
We must understand our responsibility towards society. When I joined NCL in 1976, groups of scientists used to work on different projects, without any communication among them. There is a beautiful sentence written on the main hall at NCL which says, 'Purpose of this laboratory is to take society ahead'. We need to work for society, the nation is our responsibility. In India, unfortunately, we don't have teams working together, but we work in groups. There was no team at NCL then, the two laboratories that existed worked differently, but by the time I retired, 19 laboratories were on one project. There should be communication, people should know what we are doing it. In Pune, school children would come to see and watch what scientists are doing. I brought transparency. We run on people's taxes, they should know about the medicines and insecticides we are making.
How do you view the future?
The future will be taken over by compassion economy, rather than financial or technology economies. Emotional intelligence is more important. Now the humanities will become more popular. Human relations development will be of great importance. We must think of universal income and devise ways to earn extra income. We must believe in doing well by doing good.