Three Ways The Quad Can Focus On Technology Cooperation

Three Ways The Quad Can Focus On Technology Cooperation
Quad Meeting in Japan this year. 
Snapshot
  • 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. 

With emerging technologies set to add 15 trillion USD to the global economy by 2030, the world’s attention turns to an emerging grouping that can play both a responsible and sustainable role in the Indo-Pacific.

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 model 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.

According to a joint report by Oxford Insights and International Development Research Centre, India ranks in the top 20 on AI readiness.

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.

Case in point: Bharti Airtel and Jio’s separate collaboration in the 5G arena with U.S. and Japanese firms.

Bilateral collaborations

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.

Take for instance, India and Australia’s joint agreement on cyber and critical technologies that was highlighted in a recent ASPI report.

Earlier this month, India and Japan also inked an agreement to cooperate in 5G and digital technologies with an eye to expand cooperation into regions like ASEAN.

The U.S-based National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, in its report, advocates for a coalition of democracies to further responsible AI innovation including the creation of a US-India Strategic Tech Alliance (UISTA).

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.

A recent estimate by GSMA Intelligence suggested that the number of people in the region who are connected to mobile services is a whopping 2.8 billion — which makes up more than half of the global total.

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.

The U.S. is the undisputed leader in this aspect with its digital economy growing 3.7 times faster while India’s quest is to grow its digital economy to US$ 1 trillion by 2025.

Australia’s digital economy strategy envisions long-term growth powered by technological innovations that would expand the GDP from 5 per cent to 7 per cent.

Surprisingly, Japan needs to play catch-up on this front despite framing a digital strategy almost two decades ago.

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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