I recently had the pleasure of visiting our colleagues in India, specifically in Chennai, at the ACM-India Councila meeting. The ACM-India Council joins the ACM-China and ACM-Europe Councils, as well as the general ACM Council, as the foundation for the internationalization efforts of our association. In addition to the ACM-India Council meeting, I was able to attend an ACM-W India event and a computer science research symposium hosted at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Chennai campus.
The 2012 ACM-India elections seated P.J. Narayanan as the chair of the ACM-India Council. "PJN," as he is known, is the Dean of Research and Development at the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) at Hyderabad,b an institution set up as a public/private partnership with the state of Andhra Pradesh. His enthusiasm and skilled leadership bode well for ACM in India. The vigor of the ACM program in India is underscored by 63 student chapters and 13 professional chapters, in addition to very active participation in the ACM-W India program. At the Chennai meetings, I counted over 150 women in attendance at the ACM-W event, as well as a score or more men, including me, who were pleased by the dramatic reversal of the usual gender balance!
It is well known that India has embraced and invested in information technology (IT) as an enhancer of job creation, notably outsourcing software and service-related businesses, facilitated in part by access to the global Internet. I learned the strong program of education in computer science, engineering, and programming had its origins in the policies of Rajiv Gandhi, the youngest prime minister in India’s history, and the son of Indira Gandhi—the first and, so far, only woman to ascend to that position. The noted entrepreneur Sam Pitroda was a key advisor to Rajiv Gandhi and strongly encouraged his initiatives in the IT and telecommunications spaces. Pitroda continues his advocacy in these efforts, serving as advisor to the present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and other officials of the Indian government. Among many other posts, Pitroda is also chair of the National Innovation Council.
During my visit, I had the privilege of meeting at length with Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi and the grandson of Indira Gandhi. Newly elected to the vice presidency of the Congress Party of India, Rahul Gandhi is a potential candidate to become Prime Minister as early as 2014. Energetic, thoughtful, and a tireless advocate for modernizing India and its infrastructure, I found Gandhi to be very receptive to the potential for applying IT for the benefit of India’s 1.2 billion citizens and for improving the Indian economy. A massive fiber-networking program is in progress to bring high-speed networking to every village in India. Distribution to homes and businesses could be achieved with the use of wireless connectivity including 2G, 3G, and LTE as well as Wi-Fi. While the current population of Internet users is estimated at only 140 million today, there are 300 million data-capable mobiles in use and that number is bound to increase. The number of smartphones with full Internet capability is estimated at 24 million.
I was able to meet with several Internet users living in a village on the outskirts of New Delhi: two 12-year-old sixth graders, two 20-year-old IT school graduates, and two artisans (electrician and plastering) in their 30s. The sixth graders were no strangers to Internet-based applications on mobiles and were very adept at making use of laptops/desktops at a nearby Internet café. The two IT school graduates were looking for work that would allow them to apply their training to well-paying jobs in the New Delhi area. The two older workers were using their mobiles and beginning to use laptops to track down work, stay in touch with clients, and encourage "word of mouse" advertising.
While in Hyderabad, I drove around the "Cyberabad" industrial park area seeing the names of many prominent multinational companies including Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM. Major Indian firms such as WIPRO and INFOSYS were also notably visible. I saw major infrastructure projects in progress including metro systems in Chennai and New Delhi. Visits with the Department of Telecommunications confirmed their commitment to the implementation of national scale digital wired and wireless network infrastructure. These efforts reinforce the potential for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) to reach larger audiences with a growing interest in practical education that can be renewed and refreshed during long and varying careers. It seemed clear to me there is a tide in Indian affairs drawing the research and academic sector, the private sector, the government, and the general population toward a decidedly digital future. Moreover, it is especially satisfying to discover the ACM has a serious role to play in encouraging and facilitating progress in this direction.
Vinton G. Cerf, ACM PRESIDENT