R, Chandrasekar, CDF

CDF to study new, disruptive technologies affecting lives of people: R. Chandrashekhar

The Center for the Digital Future (CDF) was launched in New Delhi. CDF has the vision to “Conduct actionable research on the impact of digitization of the economy.

The current ecosystem is undergoing fundamental and profound structural transformations due to digitization. The nature of technology is dynamic and it is disruptive for policies to anticipate the outcome.

Here, R. Chandrashekhar, Chairman and Co-Founder, tells us more. Excerpts:

DQ: CDF’s focus is on evidence-based research on the building blocks of the digital economy. How are you going to go about this?

R. Chandrashekhar: The first step will be to understand and analyze what these building blocks are, in a given context, or, while considering specific questions. We need to recognize that while data and concerns related to its generation, storage, analysis and commercialization are all very valid, it is not the only element in a digital economy in which the users, hardware, software and communication systems interact with each other. Useful digital systems and services create value. In the process, data gets generated and used. Simultaneously,the value that gets created is captured by different entities with resultant shifts in economic relationships.

In this milieu, we need to understand how these technologies, especially new and disruptive technologies, are affecting the lives of people. For example, impact on competition, access to economic opportunity, economic stratification, employability and skills, need to be studied across different domains like healthcare, agriculture, retail and so on.

Another dimension that warrants study is how the advent of the gig economy impacts labor and labor laws. We are already seeing clear indications of such impact, but there are very few systematic studies to gather actual data on the kind of impact and extent of impact in a quantifiable manner. The identification of key building blocks in a specific context or in relation to a specific question would determine the kind of evidence needed.

The modalities of gathering hard evidence is also a non-trivial issue. The central idea is that such evidence, rather than intuition, gut-feel or anecdotal information can lead to better policy and regulatory discussions and decisions leading to superior outcomes for people.

The key step is to develop a cogent argument about how various building blocks come together. The modalities of carrying out the research will depend on the question but rigorous economic and legal analysis including, where necessary, primary data collection will be an integral part of everything we produce. After this substantial background work, we will engage in stakeholder consultations both to enrich our understanding and disseminate our findings.

DQ: How will CDF carry out an impartial inquiry into key facets of the digital and data economy?

R. Chandrashekhar: The digital and data economy has many stakeholders: citizens and citizen groups, larger tech companies and smaller startups, foreign companies and domestic businesses, traditional businesses leveraging such technologies, governments and policy makers.

An economy based on technology needs to leverage its strengths to maximize the welfare of all. The Centre proposes to use this as the touchstone while carrying out fundamental research that places the concerns of each stakeholder in its proper context, but maximizes total welfare. Based on this research, we will then engage all the above groups in our consultations and outreach.

We will carry out research on how to use emerging technologies to further inclusive growth. This approach is also reflected in the composition of our founding team.To that extent the Centre does not represent or speak for any particular stakeholder group. This is, in fact, a core value of CDF.

DQ: What are your plans to build research on the various aspects of digitization?

R. Chandrashekhar: The Centre will carry out core research into various aspects of digitization as well as project-based research on specific topics. For example – an area of core research would be the issue of data ownership and control (both de jure and de facto) and a specific research topic would be the use of and policies for leveraging data in the health care sector. We will organise our research teams and funding to deliver on this plan.

While many questions warrant such studies, we intend to initially prioritize and study those that are most critical and urgent and for which such studies have not been undertaken so far in the Indian context. We intend to focus on the Indian context with a global perspective.

DQ: What are the emerging technologies that are of research interest to CDF?

R. Chandrashekhar: The Centre is interested in all emerging technologies such as AI, ML, IoT, robotics, AR/VR, etc. Our main interest is not in these technologies per se, but much more on their impact on the society and the economy. Some of the key issues we will work on are:

Data – Whose data, who collects, who uses, who has and should have rights over raw data and processed data. Relationship between data owners and providers of services based on data [individual and aggregate]. Role of the state in ensuring protection of citizen and consumer data from non-legitimate use by corporates or even the state itself. Data flows, economic value of data, fair principles for apportioning returns from value added and realized.

Platforms – Necessity or otherwise of protection of safe harbor for platforms, their role in advancing to a digital economy, their role as disrupters and creators of new business models. Their relationship with consumers on one hand, and the principals on the other. Meaning of intermediaries, crowd-sourcing platforms, aggregators, other platforms etc. Competition Policy as applied to platforms.

Balancing development needs and national security concerns: Harmonizing citizens’ interests and national interest; privacy, supporting development needs and enabling R&D; right to privacy and anonymity.

Need for innovation, optimizing its impact and outcomes.

Current contract and commercial laws: how they play out in the data/digital economy

Building India’s comparative advantage in digital and leveraging it. What can India’s innovation USP in digital be and how can we create and foster it? Creating and protecting IPRs for “Innovation in India for the World”.

Helping to evolve a conceptual framework for application of sovereign laws bounded by state jurisdictions in a globalized cyber space; role of bilateral and multilateral agreements in this sphere.

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