The single biggest opportunity to develop Pakistan lies in its 100 million people who are below the age of 20. We need to focus on their development to build a new Pakistan.
The country has abundant natural resources, the fifth largest river system in the world, which could be a huge source of cheap, and clean hydel power. Similarly, we have ample reserves of coal, as well as areas in Sindh and Balochistan that are suitable for wind energy projects. Given an honest and sensible government, we could have been producing energy at an average price of less than Rs3 per kilowatt hour.
However, the country has been eaten away by corrupt leaders who have built palaces abroad and accumulated mountains of wealth in the UK, UAE, Switzerland and many other countries, while the industry in the country lies devastated – with exports stagnating at about $21 billion annually. If we can produce energy at such low rates (as is already being done in the UAE through solar farms) we can hugely boost our industrial production, resulting in the expansion of the industry and provision of jobs to our qualified youth.
The second area that we can tap into is the IT sector. There is a worldwide demand for software for a variety of applications, particularly due to the fast emergence of machine intelligence. These applications are finding use in a number of businesses. We need to tap into this fast-growing source of wealth by setting up a network of high quality training centres in the country for IT graduates so that their skills can be honed to meet the demands of businesses. The global IT market has risen to about $1,400 billion, with a significant increase in the last couple of years, particularly in the software development sector.
The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has opened up a number of exciting opportunities for Pakistan’s youth, provided that they are properly trained. The rise of artificial intelligence and its integration into almost every sphere of human activity has created unprecedented opportunities for our youth. New and more powerful computers are being developed that will be able to take over many conventional jobs and lead to an expansion in some fields. Most industrial assembly plants will no longer require humans as their functions will be taken over by intelligent bots. This has opened up fantastic opportunities for IT professionals capable of developing powerful algorithms to tackle specific industrial and service requirements.
Free or low-cost legal and medical advice is already being given by IBM’s computer, aptly named Watson. Before long, lawyers, judges, doctors, nurses, restaurant waiters, film actors and other professionals will be replaced by intelligent bots. Autonomous vehicles driven by computers will replace 95 percent of the vehicles on our roads, drastically reducing accidents. Most automobile manufacturers will go out of business as there will be no need to have personal vehicles with the availability of cheap and efficient autonomous taxi services.
Therefore, machine intelligence is one area to which our government must give the highest priority, by setting up centres of excellence in every university to meet the growing demands of high-quality professionals in this field. The transition from vehicles powered by combustion engines to electric vehicles is also occurring at a fast pace. This is creating research and development opportunities for our youth in the field of electric batteries.
Bioinformatics is another exciting field that our youth should be trained in as it is linked to genetic engineering. The ability to process large genomics data with powerful computing systems and to analyse it in order to arrive at meaningful conclusions will impact the health and agriculture sectors. New plant and animal species are already being developed with exciting properties, and the demand for suitably trained youth in this field will grow at an accelerated pace.
The processing of big data derived from the environment, stock exchange, drug interactions with receptors etc, will also be a growing need in the years to come. ‘Holoportation’ is now allowing face-to-face interaction between family members and friends who are thousands of miles away but appear in realistic holographic 3D images right next to you. So, board meetings of members thousands of miles away will be possible in a room in real time; holographic images will sit around a table and interact with each other. Quantum computers will greatly facilitate all these processes as they are already multiple times faster than supercomputers.
There are millions of young men and women in Pakistan today. Their parents have struggled hard to educate them. They now have bachelors, masters or PhD degrees but are extremely frustrated as there are no jobs. All their hard work has gone in vain as the industrial sector has collapsed over the last decade, primarily due to massive corruption. The corruption in the power sector has been the single most important factor in the collapse of the industrial sector, coupled with poor government policies.
In this fast-changing, knowledge and technology-driven world, it is imperative that we prepare our children for an exciting tomorrow. This will require the government to tailor policies which lead to a dynamic interplay between research and business. The first challenge is to have a strong technocrat government that understands the key role that knowledge is now playing in the process of socio-economic development. The government must be able to craft futuristic policies which create an ecosystem where knowledge becomes the primary driving force for socio-economic development.
The second challenge is enhancing the quality of education and research in our educational institutions in order to promote innovative and problem-solving skill sets in carefully selected fields. The third challenge is facilitating the private-sector to venture into new and emerging areas so that manufacturing in cutting edge fields can be promoted through research and development within industries. This requires government incentives such as tax breaks for innovative high-tech industries, establishment of venture capital funds and the setting up of technology parks to facilitate new start-up companies.
To embark on this road, it is necessary to root out corruption and punish the culprits who have looted and plundered at will, as was done in China. We need to focus our policies on tapping into the real wealth of our country – our children. They can be a source of massive creativity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is now upon us.
The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC).