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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

September - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature

Wheres Indias Bell Labs?

Dr.Santanu Das
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Dr.Santanu Das
If we look at the electronics industry, there have been three fundamental innovations in the last 100 years - the development of vacuum tubes, the invention of the transistor, and the invention of the laser. All the other modern innovations in electronics are the derivatives of these three fundamental innovations. All three were developed in the U.S., with Nobel prizes awarded to those scientists responsible for the transistor and the laser. This, I believe, is due to a culture which emphasized individualism, and at the same time tolerated and respected differences. This is a culture which rewarded independent thinkers who were responsible for these innovations.

Unlike the education system in the U.S., which also has its weaknesses, the Indian education system does not emphasize problem solving methods and the students in the class always insist on getting “notes”. I experienced this “notes culture” when I was a student as well as while I was a lecturer at Jadavpur University in Calcutta. I believe this is due to the lack of emphasis on research-based studies right from the grass roots level. I still remember the emphasis on “learning by rote” which was practiced in the schools I attended.

I feel that a culture which provides its citizens an open atmosphere to think freely – a culture which tolerates dissidence – is needed to generate fundamental innovations. Bell Laboratories had this culture and that is the reason it was able to make so many fundamental contributions to science and engineering.

On the other hand, a startup needs “lonely stars” like Steve Jobs who are able to take technology ideas from Bell Laboratories or Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, and exploit those ideas for developing new products and processes, and go to the market quickly with ideas and products which nobody has thought of before.

If we now move to countries like Japan and Korea, what we observe is that these countries have been able to take established ideas or product concepts, for example DRAM, and go to the market with superior or more cost-effective products. For this to happen, an organization or a country needs a culture of discipline, a culture of quality, attention to details, and a culture of continuous improvement. That is the reason why even though Intel came up with the idea of DRAM, today the Koreans and the Japanese dominate that space.

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