Three Ways The Quad Can Focus On Technology Cooperation
Here are three ways the Quad can focus on tech cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region — deliver on a regional AI stack, increase collaborations and capacity building on hi-tech, and promote digital-based economies.
In the recently concluded Quad foreign ministers' meeting, there was a palpable sense that increased technology cooperation was a necessary prerequisite for the region’s growth.
China’s increasing belligerence, both territorially and virtually, has accelerated the need for a more responsible and forward-thinking approach to regional partnerships.
Here are three ways the Quad can focus on tech cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region: deliver on a regional AI stack, increase collaborations and capacity building on hi-tech, and promote digital-based economies.
Regional AI stack
Each of the countries’ combined strengths — India (data generator), U.S. (computing powerhouse), Japan (R&D) and Australia (PPP model) — can leverage the region’s AI stack. This is premised on a democratic technological model of AI governance.
Although the four countries are well positioned to build complementary models of governance for the benefit of a region, China’s entrenched approach and the Quad’s disjointed vision thus far, make it a challenging prospect.
Based on the generated by Lowy Institute Asia Power Index 2020, an annual index that ranks countries in Asia based on generalisable parameters like economic and military capability, diplomatic influence and future resources, the Quad countries have their task cut out.
This year, in the ‘High-tech exports’ category, Japan topped the rankings with the U.S. and China in the fifth and sixth positions respectively.
When it comes to ‘Human resources in R&D’, that denotes the number of full-time researchers available to a country, China leads the pack with a whopping 1,767,579 while the U.S. comes second with 1,371,290.
For India, a sixth spot in this category appears commendable but taken together with its paltry thirteenth-place finish on the count of R&D spending suggests that government backing for cutting-edge, tech-based research continues to remain weak.
However, the country ranks low on innovation and dynamism. This problem is compounded by the lack of skilled professionals who can develop platforms from emerging technologies.
The lesson for the Quad countries is to develop their respective national level AI stacks, through the participation of private stakeholders that would provide the foundation for regional collaboration.
In recent times, the Quad members have boosted bilateral initiatives amongst each other on the technology front, a necessary step towards increased multilateral engagements in the future.
The U.S-based National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, in its advocates for a coalition of democracies to further responsible AI innovation including the creation of a US-India Strategic Tech Alliance ().
For all these bilateral initiatives to take root, it is vital that the Quad members agree to technology transfer and recognise data localisation concerns of individual members.
This not only helps build trust, but also promotes the individual country’s domestic capabilities and expands market opportunities.
The real endgame for the Quad is to identify opportunities for democratising technology in the region in order to empower individuals, businesses and societies.
Digital Economies in the Indo Pacific
The Indo-Pacific is a burgeoning space for technological innovation with countries in the region relatively younger and comfortable with using Internet and smartphones.
Rapid adoption of digital economies in the domestic context can be a way forward, which would offer consumers with high quality products and services while businesses can benefit from low-cost operational deployment.
Cooperation on the military agenda is important, but is ultimately limited. The Quad members need to focus on the big picture of the civilian technology ecosystem along with the promise of sustainability.
The dire need for responsible actors in the Indo-Pacific should elicit greater collaborations on AI and digital solutions.
Such a vision would serve the larger purpose of the Quad — “a free, fair and inclusive” region.
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