Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Spreading your technological wings

Today's learning is actually something I learned about a few months ago, but was reminded of recently. In brief, Narendra Modi is very smart and a great politician, unfortunately being a great politician is rarely a positive character trait. This trend actually started before the BJP came into power. Regardless, he is very interested in increasing the influence of India on the world, and fashions India as a very important country, which to be fair, it is. 

One of these influence-building projects is this sort of Digital Belt and Road Initiative. India has had great success building digital infrastructure that has transformed India. From The Economist:

The statement defines digital public infrastructure (DPI) as “a set of shared digital systems [that] can enable delivery of services at societal scale.” That means things like biometric identity systems, digital payments and data management. Over the past decade India has taken advantage of its huge pool of skilled technical labour to build such services for its own citizens. Aadhaar, its digital-identity system, now covers nearly the entire population of 1.4bn. Transactions on its United Payments Interface (upi) are growing rapidly—more than 10bn payments and transfers were made in August 2023, up from 1bn in October 2019. DigiLocker, an online warehouse for official documents such as drivers’ licences and tax records, has made dealing with India’s tiresome bureaucracy easier.

UPI has basically transformed Indian commerce. Basically, it's like if the government made Zelle and everyone used it to pay for literally everything. The Economist earlier published a longer article about the same thing. 

The concept here is that DPI is like digital building blocks, in the same way the Belt and Road Initiative is like physical building blocks. India says they're just giving this stuff away for free, too. Obviously, free means that you will have to hire a fleet of Indian administrators, engineers, and consultants to implement the technologies and fix problems. I personally think it is promising. I don't know India's intentions, but it seems like it can't be that bad. Well, keep in mind India is doing a ton of really weird things: "US thwarted plot to kill Sikh separatist on American soil" (FT). Unless India is building some kind of spying backdoor on these systems, it seems like a net positive. Enabling countries to have solid digital infrastructure is almost guaranteed to benefit their economies in our very digital world. 

A second thing I wanted to share basically amounts to light reading. The Economist featured my favorite essay: "Euphemism and exaggeration are both dangers to language." You should be able to read the link. Of course, they conveniently found that Orwell would be on their side. It is the exact kind of article I imagine the ideal Economist reader would really enjoy. It would really stoke their "I'm a liberal. In the classical sense." personality traits. They bring up a good point though. We should use words for their meanings.