By Atta-ur-Rahman
A key reason for the subjugation of the Islamic world during the last several hundred years is its failure to embrace science and technology. Without realising it, we have become economic slaves of the West. Stand on the street of any Islamic country today and you will see $5 million cars pass by. Where did these vehicles come from? They came from the West and even if they were assembled locally, all the critical parts – engines and gear boxes – were manufactured in the West. Where did the money to pay for them come from? It came from our meagre hard earned resources. How meagre are these resources? The total GDP of the 57 Islamic countries taken together is less than that of a single technologically advanced country in the West such as Japan.
In countries such as Pakistan, feudally-dominated parliament has ensured that minimum investments are made in education and science, so that the feudal stranglehold over the economy is not put in jeopardy by the educated masses. Corrupt governments are kept in power with support of the external world powers who do not want new Koreas and Japans to emerge from within the Islamic world. The potential threat of the emergence of Iraq to Israel led to one of the biggest hoaxes in the history of man – the “weapons of mass destruction” – that also led to the destruction of Iraq. Iran is now being threatened in a similar manner.
The answer to our ills lies in larger investments in education and the sciences so that we can manufacture and export technologically high value-added products that will allow us to defend ourselves from external aggression. This requires visionary leaders who give the highest national priority to education, science and to implementing national policies needed to migrate from the present natural resource-driven economy to a knowledge economy.
The nature of wars has drastically changed, particularly in the last few decades. Human intelligence is being supplemented by powerful artificial intelligence and wars will, in the future, be fought by machines far more intelligent in planning and deception than human beings. On February 10, 1996 IBM’s “Deep Blue” beat the Russian grandmaster and world champion, Garry Kasparov, at chess, thereby becoming the first computer to defeat a human world champion. That was 30 years ago. Since then we have seen many advancements in this rapidly developing field. Artificial intelligence is finding its way into planning war strategies and we, puny human beings, are being left far behind.
Secretly sophisticated aircraft and submarines now have “contaminated chips” that can deactivate weapon systems or other controls by an external coded electronic signal embedded in them. They are almost impossible to detect because of the complex electronic circuitry involved. The sophisticated war weapons that we purchase may be sitting ducks in a real life war situation if the enemy was informed of these signals by the government from where the aircrafts were purchased. China has therefore decided to build its own armaments industry instead of relying on unreliable and expensive imports.
Science is leading to many amazing developments that are finding their way into war machines. For instance, ‘smart bullets’ have been developed that can hit an enemy hiding behind a wall. The Exacto programme was initiated by the US defence agency Darpa to develop a smart sniper system that included a guided smart bullet. Exacto was successfully test fired in 2014 showing that the bullet could alter its course mid-way during the trajectory to correct its path and hit a moving target. In 2012, Sandia National Laboratories announced the development of a self-guided bullet prototype that could track a target illuminated with a laser. The bullet was capable of correcting its trajectory 30 times a second and hitting a target from over a mile away. Russia too has not been lagging behind. Last year, Russia announced it was developing a similar ‘smart bullet’ designed to hit targets at a distance of up to six miles.
The machine human interface is also being developed at a fast pace. Exoskeletons are already available that can increase human strength and speed by several orders of magnitude and future wars will be fought by such super-human soldiers. Work on impregnating powerful memory chips in the human brain to greatly enhance our intellectual capabilities is also going on at full speed. Early in February 2017, innovative billionaire Elon Musk (founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Inc.) repeated his idea that human beings need to merge with machines. He considers a direct brain/computer interface an absolute necessity for us to evolve as a species and to keep up with the machines that we are creating. He feels, otherwise, we will become useless and irrelevant.
One of the most amazing developments in new materials is that of metamaterials. They have the remarkable ability to bend light which can make airplanes, tanks and submarines invisible. Nanotechnology is also impacting medicine, industry and defence. A paper made of nanocellulose has been developed which is so strong that bulletproof jackets can be made from it in the future.
In all these developments, Pakistan remains a bystander. This is because of the abysmal state of science in our country. The Ministry of Science and Technology has an annual development of about Rs1.8 billion which is staggeringly low. India’s current science budget is about Rs850 billion which is 470 times greater than that of Pakistan. Given the six fold population difference between both countries, Pakistan’s development budget for science should be about Rs140 billion.
Fields such as biotechnology, space sciences and renewable energy saw the sharpest increases in budget allocation in India. The country also recently set the world record of launching 104 satellites in space from a single rocket and is aiming to send missions to the moon. It will also begin mining for Helium-3 on the moon to meet its energy needs. At the annual science congress in January, Modi called upon the Indian scientists to help the nation become one of the world’s top three science powers by 2030.
Our budget will be finalised in the next quarter. Our leaders must give the highest national priority to education and science if we are not to be buried under the rapid technological progress that India is making, which is reflected in its economic growth. The prime minister needs to honour his promise to the nation of allocating at least 4 percent of our GDP to education. We should also allocate at least 2 percent of our GDP to science if we are to stand with dignity in the comity of nations.