Reliance Industries chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani believes that the world is rapidly changing in the way it accelerates towards adopting digital technologies and the next step will be "digital-first".
Speaking at the Infinity Forum he added that data privacy is a must and that he believes in blockchain technology as it can deliver unprecedented security, trust, automation and efficiency to almost any type of transaction.
Here is the full transcript of the interview
Q: The world has come a long way from the age of computerisation and basic connectivity through the Internet. Covid has accelerated the digitization of all aspects of business and life. Enterprises have learnt to work remotely and increased their use of tech and people have learnt to consume everything digitally, even sectors like education, healthcare, and of course financial and work transactions. How do you view the world’s transition towards digitalisation? How is that set to impact the well-being of the people of India?
A: Thank you Anjali. It is good to see you virtually and my greetings to all in the Infinity Forum. Let me at the very outset thank the government of India, the International Financial Services Centre Authority (IFSCA), GIFT City and Bloomberg for organizing the Infinity Forum.
I must specially thank and comment on our visionary Prime Minister Shree Narendra Modi for his inspiring leadership which has made not only GIFT city but the Infinity Forum possible.
This forum is taking place virtually from the GIFT City and GIFT City will be a great place where digital technologies, finance and enabling policy frameworks merge together to create unique opportunities for technological innovations and new-age start-ups.
These are breakthrough opportunities not only for India but I believe for the entire world.
Our Prime Minister thinks far ahead of his times.
Long before FinTech became the buzzword around the globe, he not only conceptualized Gujarat, International Financial Tech City or GIFT City but also started work on its implementation.
It has now become a reality. So congratulations to everybody in the GIFT City organization, who has converted this vision into reality at the right time.
Let me answer your own question. In my own lifetime, and I am now 63 years old, I have seen four technology transitions. One more transformative than the previous one in the technology era. The first was the transition from the mainframe computer to where computers were used only by a few people to computers being used by thousands of people. This happened when I was a chemical engineering student in college in the 70s.
The second was the transition from this basic computer revolution, where we went to client servers, mainframe, the industry started using it to the ICT revolution when mobile phones and the internet came into being as two separate developments. And all of us in recent times, like some of us who are old, understand dot com in the 90s. And we have witnessed that.
The third was a transition from this, mobile-computer, both converging into a digital revolution. And when the internet really came in force, and this is when mobile and Internet got merged. As a result, the number of users, which started in thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands went to literally billions.
And now we are witnessing, as we speak, what I believe is the fourth transition from the digital revolution, where billions of people across the world use digital technology, to what I call the digital-first revolution, where digital becomes first the way of life for all 9 billion people that will be on earth - 7 billion today and going to 9 billion - and for everything that is physical, all our cars, everything that is physical, to be connected. And this really has happened because primarily of the advent of real exponential growth in connectivity technologies, computing technologies, and we have had next-generation silicon chip like - so we've had at least five or six technologies converge at one time, which is happening in the first two decades of this century, which I think will transform the world and what we will see in the next 20 years is what we have not seen in the last 100 years. And this transformation is taking place as we see and I believe, like any transformation, unevenly across geographies and across social classes, but since the speed of this transition is so breathtaking, I have no doubt that globally, we are on the verge of building a digital society.
I believe that India, like China-led manufacturing, can lead the digital society and become a global leader in its own right.
Let me explain what I mean by the digital society.
Everything in the physical world, almost every activity in the human world can now be digitized, digitally enabled, digitally enriched, and digitally transformed.
Anything and everything that can go digital is going digital at an exponential pace. This dramatic transformation is enabling people to perform tasks digitally, which traditionally, were only meant to be performed using the physical infrastructure. For example, holding meetings or shopping or watching a movie or making a vendor payment - all these activities 10 years ago, would have meant using physical infrastructure in different places. But today, we all do them from the convenience of our home. Even common people are now making financial transactions at the click of a button on their smartphones.
But this is just the beginning of what is going to be even more incredible, even more exciting, even more beneficial. This is because the world is going to be transformed by the digital-first revolution. The physical world will become subordinate to the digital world. Whatever product or service we desire, is being first imagined and designed in the digital space, then created in the physical space. Whether you are building an airport or a township, whether you are manufacturing a car or something in consumer electronics, it is today possible to design it end-to-end first in the digital space, test it as per all possible parameters and then translate it into reality.
What it achieves in terms of project execution is unprecedented velocity, quality, reliability, efficiency, customization, and customer satisfaction. This will also be a drastic cost reduction and a drastic reduction in waste resource opportunities in the coming years.
Reduction in resource wastage is especially important because it will mean care for the planet. Care for the planet is happening because of another related development. Energy systems are also being digitized, data-driven and AI-enabled. The transition to energy-saving, decarbonisation, clean and green energy is happening at an astonishing pace. We will therefore be seeing something unbelievable in the near future. There will be tremendous value creation in the virtual world as there is value creation in the physical world.
For example, people will begin to buy and sell and use virtual real estate, ideas and innovations will become more valuable. Then, how much physical and financial capital an entrepreneur has. Therefore, the coming digital-first revolution is going to make our world and make India more inclusively prosperous than we can now imagine.
I can say with absolute confidence that the digital-first world will be a more equal world without the traditional and unacceptable disparities and deprivations we see in our societies at present. The digital-first world will be a people-first world. No one will be last and no human being will be left behind.
The Digital First World will also be a planet first world. Care for the planet and care for the people - these two mantras will guide the technological transformation of the world in the 21st century. Sorry for such a long answer but I am passionate about this. I don't know if you could get most of it.
Q: It is such an exciting vision and indeed your passion absolutely comes through. If data is the new oil and you have often said data is the new oil, then digital infrastructure is actually the new pipeline. We started with Aadhaar, we have 1.3 billion people with a unique biometric ID, we have the ability through the Jan Dhan accounts to actually reach people at the last mile, UPI as you rightly mentioned, has enabled the average person to transact with each other without using physical currency. As a passionate business leader in this process of transition, where you and your company have played such a seminal role, could you share your views and vision for this next generation of digital infrastructure, where we are minimizing the planetary footprint while maximizing the gain to people?
A: So data is indeed the new oil but this new oil is fundamentally different from traditional oil.
Traditional oil was extracted at select places. Thus, it created wealth only for a few countries. In contrast, the new oil that is data can be generated and consumed everywhere and by everybody. It has the potential to create value equitably across sectors, geographies and across economic classes.
Every person can be a user, creator, and owner of data. Therefore, the new oil has been completely democratized and decentralized. And here, India has a unique advantage, demography. We are a nation of 1.35 billion people, and will soon become the world's most populous nation overtaking China, and also the world's youngest nation. Our second major strength is that India has built the digital pipeline - a world-class digital infrastructure that has reached all our cities, towns, and almost all our 600,000 villages. Again, thanks to Prime Minister Modi's Digital India vision.
A person in the remotest village can today learn from the latest developments from around the world, consult and collaborate with people across continents and share her views or his views on global platforms. Jio, I am proud to say, has taken the lead in this. Jio has ensured affordable high-speed data connectivity, which is a prerequisite to the digital revolution.
Today, our entire country is fully transitioning from the 2G era to the 4G era. We are in the process of creating an equally affordable ecosystem of devices to enable greater adoption supported by the faster rollout of optic fibre cloud and data centre infrastructure. The next step will be the connectivity of machines, devices and vehicles which is the Internet of Things (IoT). This will involve many components like different kinds of sensors, smart devices, edge computing, cloud computing and AI and with the 5G rollout next year in India, this is now as India we are well on our way to having one of the most advanced digital infrastructures, in any economy in the world.
As these underlying technologies mature, we will be able to reinvent all sectors of our economy digitally, whether it is financial services, commerce, manufacturing, agriculture, education or healthcare. Most importantly, in addition to FinTech, the grassroots sectors, such as agriculture, education and healthcare will transform into more efficient, more affordable, more accessible to all Indians thanks to these digital technologies. So, with this, India will make great strides in FinTech, edtech, health tech, and industry 4.0.
Digital technology, I believe, is a great leveller, a great democratizer. It is the greatest gift to humanity and as the name of this forum suggests. Its future possibilities are truly infinite.
Q: I actually feel these days that as an avid science fiction reader that the future is now already here. So how do we balance this protection of national interest, at the same time, reap the benefits of this absolute sort of wonderfully globally connected young population with their ideas and take advantage of the global transfer and collaboration of ideas and solutions?
A: So, both data and digital infrastructure are strategically important, not only for India, but for every nation, and the entire world, because all 7 billion of us are in together, as we have seen in all the multiple phases of COVID that we have gone through over the last two years.
So coming to data, I think that every country has the right to build and protect its own strategic digital infrastructure. However, this revolution is inherently global, it has made the entire world more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. And I believe that collectively as a human race we can progress much more by being interconnected and interdependent.
Therefore, I believe that we need uniform global standards so that cross-border transactions, collaborations and partnerships are not hampered. We need ultimately, and I hope India can lead the way to UPI for uniform payments interface, India's Aadhaar can lead the way to a uniform Aadhaar for all the 7 billion people so that every person on this earth is uniquely identified in India leads the way and that's the opportunity.
The third thing that I think is very important is every citizen’s right to his privacy, which has to be safeguarded. Therefore, we have to work to have the right policies, the right regulatory framework, to balance the imperatives of creating the next-generation infrastructure of harmonizing it and integrating it with the world and regulating it in a way that we don't stifle innovation, but protect the end-user and all the citizens of the country and the citizens of the world. Again, I have to say that India is putting all the most forward-looking policies and regulations in place. As you said yourself - we have Aadhaar, we have Jan Dhan accounts and we have our UPI interface. We are on the verge of introducing a data privacy bill, which I look forward to, and also the cryptocurrency bill, which will come here.
So I think that we are on the right track and what impresses me the most is that as a society, we are proactive, we are open and we are vibrant. And as a democracy, we can really be at par with the most developed economies in terms of our thinking and in terms of benefit to all our citizens.
And India, I believe, is now well on its way to transforming itself into a leading digital society. Having put digital infrastructure in place, having put the regulatory framework in place, armed with these two enablers, India's young and super talented entrepreneurs are now ready to fly.
I believe that we can achieve much faster economic growth, progress and prosperity for all our people and contribute to the rest of the world.
Q: We talked about crypto, we talked about Web 3.0 and the Metaverse and this boundary-less global world, what do you think will be the next convergence? What will propel the growth of fintech and I actually want to say human tech?
A: Absolutely I think that the opportunity in terms of conversion is - in my view, finance is at the heart of everything, and we have not digitized finance to its full potential. I believe we are at very early stages of sporadic digitization and the opportunity, as I see all these technologies emerging, is the opportunity to make sure that we actually adopt a decentralized model of finance.
We have evolved over the last 100 years in organized finance through a very centralized model and I still believe that there will be centralized government and central bank policies, but there will be a path to very decentralized technological solutions, where finance will be enabled and available to everybody. Today we have a world - it's still a world where people like large companies get your finance, small companies don't get easier finance, the same thing with people and I think that that will change.
I also think that what will happen is that convergence like - as I see, real-time technologies are there and there is no reason like it's great that we have moved from T+7 to T+2 and T+1 but I am a big believer in real-time. So everything will settle in real-time. Smart contracts will become real. Blockchain is a technology I believe in and it's different from crypto and I think that smart token is making sure that you are creating transactions that can never be changed. It is a very important framework for trust-based transactions and a trust-based society, which is a prerequisite for all of us.
So, I think that the convergence of real-time, the convergence of the distributed ledger and blockchain technologies, smart tokens, the convergence of physical and digital through IoT will enable and will redefine the decentralized financial sector in a way that we have never imagined. I think this is happening in the coming 10 years and, again, this will be a prerequisite to great economic growth, because this is how and we have just seen it now, in terms of saying that how we could never imagine that India would have startups, that would be funded.
Even just five years ago, if you would have asked - like today, there is more money chasing people and we are short of ideas and I am sure that all our young people will come up with more and more ideas because there are still many, many problems to be solved in the world. I think that it is time for GIFT City, the infrastructure in the vision with GIFT City was created, not only to enable technology and innovation in India but also to be a gateway to the rest of the world, in terms of trying to take innovation in India and export it to the rest of the world. And I am sure that our young people will do that.
I am always inspired by what I learned when I interact with our 30-year-old at Reliance. And Reliance is just a proxy of what is happening in India, and I really see a bright future ahead. I would like to convey my very best wishes to every aspiring young Indian entrepreneur, innovator, digital change agent to really bring India to its full potential and wish you and all the viewers a very happy, safe and prosperous 2022.
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