Reaching the Masses

The rain gods played spoilsport. The AC stopped functioning. So were
people deterred from attending the 33rd annual convention of the Computer Society of India
(CSI)? Not really. The convention drew about 800 delegates to participate in the
pre-conference tutorials, keynote addresses, lectures, and technology presentations which
were held at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi during 16-20 September. And about
20,000 people from different walks of life converged at the three day-long CSI exhibition
at Indira Gandhi International Stadium in New Delhi to check out the offerings of over 60
companies.

CSI is a non-profit body with over 15,000 members which meets every
year to share views, concerns, and information in the IT field. The idea this time was to
focus on business needs and technology requirements of the emerging generation. "IT
for the New Generation" being the theme this time.

The CSI forum holds significance this time as it was held during a
crucial phase of developments on IT front in India. The IT Task Force has recently
outlined a connected India in which IT has been acknowledged as the enabler which will
make India a global economic power. It is understood that to realize the vision outlined
by the Task Force needs a well-coordinated effort by the vendors and the different IT
organizations, apart from the government’s role as a policy framer. The effort on the
part of CSI was to bridge the gap between the IT vendors and the users.

Looking from the convention point of view, CSI was an interesting mix
of topics like IT applications, networking, E-commerce, software tools, artificial
intelligence, and human computer interaction. The plenary sessions had some interesting
speakers. Pramode K Verma, managing director, business development, customer care
solutions, Lucent Technologies, speaking on the convergence of computers, communication,
and business; and Prof. V Rajaraman, IBM research professor of IT, supercomputer education
and research centre, IISc, Bangalore sharing his view on the emerging trends in
supercomputing. These and several other discussions were aptly rounded off by a
thought-provoking panel discussion which had three prominent bureaucrats in Ravindra
Gupta, Sudhindra Kulkarni, and AV Gokak, two industrial captains in Som Mittal and RS
Pawar, and a social worker in Bunker Roy on the panels. And the discussion was led by
mediaman Karan Thapar. The panelist set the tone outlining some objectives for India to
become a global IT superpower in the next few years. In the ensuing discussion, the top IT
bosses agreed that government regulations were the greatest threat to the growth of IT in
the country. While the government must create a conducive environment for IT growth, India
can become an IT power only through a concerted effort among the government, industry, and
society.

The CSI exhibition on the other hand was inaugurated by Krishan Kant,
the vice-president of India. The number of visitors clearly indicated the level of
interest that IT is generating among both professionals and young minds. Though the three
day exhibition saw quite some hitches—the AC conking out in parts of the exhibition
area, knee-deep rainwater keeping out visitors from entering the premises of the
stadium—the 20,000-odd visitors who braved both heat and rain to be there showed an
encouraging level of interest among the public. The exhibition as such was a cornucopia of
IT products, cutting-edge technologies, and up-to-date services. Though the venue for the
exhibition left much to be desired, judging the CSI ’98 convention by the response,
the tutorials and conferences were well organized. It safely was a success. But, as put
beautifully by one of the panelists Bunker Roy, "We cannot continue keeping
technology in the hands of a few in the cities. To be an economic superpower, technology
has to be demystified and percolated down to the mass in the towns and villages of India.
We are nowhere that today." While it is encouraging to see wide representation in the
convention from speakers from as far as Kerala, Karnataka, Meerut, Pondichery, Hardwar,
Darjeeling, Gwalior, Srinagar, and Rourkela, CSI has to go a long way to take IT to the
grassroots.

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