Friday May 24, 2024

Pakistan’s new roadmap

By Atta-ur-Rahman
August 16, 2023

Pakistan’s current economic collapse is largely due to our leaders not recognizing that socio-economic development no longer depends on natural resources but largely on the ability of our human resources to create new innovations that lead to the manufacture and export of high technology value-added products.

That is the reason why Pakistan has drowned itself in debt, and we must borrow more money at even higher interest rates to pay off old debts. So, the hole that we have dug ourselves into gets deeper and deeper.

The whole of the education sector needs to be completely revamped if we are to become internationally competitive. This can be done relatively easily now by integration of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at school, college and university levels that are freely available from Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseware, Coursera, Udacity and many other sources. About 10 years ago we created an integrated version of MOOCs which are freely available at and which contain some 73,000 video lectures at school, college, and university levels. These need to be integrated into our educational systems so that our students can benefit from excellent faculty available from all over the world. Several thousand Khan Academy lectures have been translated into Urdu and are also available at this website.

The new government must have a visionary scientist or engineer as the minister of planning and development to quickly launch Pakistan on the road to a strong knowledge economy. Unless this new vision is impregnated into the entire government system at all levels, and our development focus changes from the conventional development approach and becomes tailored to the demands posed by the new and disruptive innovations that are changing world economies, we will remain a poor country deeply sunk in international debt. Here is a glimpse of the new world that we live in and the new economic opportunities that exist.

The rapid pace of technological advancement has led to a plethora of disruptive innovations in various fields. They have revolutionized various industries, reshaping the way we live, work, and interact with the world around us. For instance, biotechnology has witnessed a groundbreaking innovation in the form of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. This revolutionary technique allows scientists to precisely edit DNA, enabling them to modify, delete, or insert genes with unprecedented accuracy. CRISPR-Cas9 has the potential to treat genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia, enhance crop resilience against pests and environmental stress, and create genetically modified organisms tailored to specific needs.

Regenerative medicine has seen remarkable advancements through 3D bioprinting, a technique that enables the creation of functional, personalized tissues and organs. By layering bioinks composed of living cells, scientists can fabricate intricate structures with the potential to replace damaged organs or accelerate wound healing. This innovation offers hope for addressing organ shortages and improving patient outcomes, paving the way for a new era of healthcare. In 2020, scientists at Tel Aviv University successfully 3D bioprinted a heart using human tissue and vessels, showcasing the potential of bioprinting for creating complex, functional organs.

Precision farming, empowered by technologies like GPS, sensors, and data analytics, has transformed traditional agriculture into a highly efficient and data-driven practice. Farmers can now monitor and manage their crops with precision, optimizing irrigation, fertilization, and pest control based on real-time data. Precision agriculture has resulted in increased yields, reduced resource wastage, and promotion of sustainable farming practices, thereby addressing the challenges posed by a growing global population and changing climate.

Another rapidly emerging field is that of Collaborative Robots (Cobots). Cobots have revolutionized industries by working alongside humans, enhancing productivity and safety. Unlike traditional robots that operate in isolation, cobots can be programmed to perform intricate tasks while interacting with their human counterparts. In manufacturing, cobots have streamlined assembly lines, while in healthcare, they assist in surgery and patient care, thereby minimizing human error and fatigue.

Similarly Deep Learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, has ushered in a new era of machine learning capabilities. Through neural networks with multiple layers, deep learning models have achieved remarkable feats, such as image and speech recognition, natural language processing, and autonomous vehicles. The transformative impact of deep learning is evident in personalized recommendations from platforms like Netflix, medical diagnoses through advanced image analysis, and predictive analytics for financial markets.

Flexible electronics, including bendable displays and wearable devices, represent a disruptive innovation in the electronics industry. These flexible components enable the creation of lightweight and adaptable gadgets, ranging from foldable smartphones to smart clothing. This innovation not only enhances user experience but also opens up opportunities for novel applications, such as electronic skin for medical diagnostics and flexible solar panels for renewable energy generation.

The advent of 5G connectivity has transformed communication networks, enabling faster data transfer, lower latency, and greater connectivity among devices. This innovation underpins the Internet of Things (IoT) and supports technologies like autonomous vehicles and remote medical procedures. With 5G, communication is no longer limited by physical boundaries, fostering global connectivity and enabling new possibilities in education, entertainment, and business.

The energy sector too has witnessed disruptive innovations in the form of renewable energy sources and advanced energy storage solutions. Solar and wind energy technologies have gained widespread adoption, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Concurrently, breakthroughs in energy storage, such as lithium-ion batteries, have enabled efficient storage and distribution of renewable energy, making it more accessible and reliable for a sustainable future.

In the field of material sciences, there have been amazing developments too. Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, is one of the strongest known materials. It exhibits exceptional electrical conductivity, thermal stability, and flexibility. Its potential applications span across multiple industries, from electronics and energy storage such as ultra-fast transistors and highly efficient solar cells to medical devices and water purification. Graphene's versatility exemplifies the transformative power of material sciences in driving innovation.

The transportation industry has undergone a paradigm shift with the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles. Electric vehicles (EVs) are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, while autonomous vehicles have the potential to enhance road safety and redefine mobility. These innovations are reshaping urban planning, public transportation, and logistics, with implications for energy consumption, air quality, and urban design.

The disruptive innovations discussed above underscore the transformative power of human ingenuity and technological advancement. This can only happen in Pakistan if we have a government in which all ministers and secretaries are top experts with PhD degrees from leading universities in relevant disciplines and the minister of planning is a visionary technocrat who understands the importance of a knowledge economy for socio-economic development and for national defense.

The writer is the former federal minister for science and technology and former founding chairman of the HEC. He can be reached at: