ARENAS OF NEW KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION AND INDIAN PUBLIC POLICY
NFSI 2020 Lead-up Events
Event 1: A Lecture by Prof. Shubha Ghosh on Making Without Taking
The Working Group 3 (Arenas of New Knowledge Production and Indian Public Policy) of the international conference New Frontiers in Sanskrit and Indic Knowledge, kicked off its events on 2 November 2020, with a very thought-provoking online lecture by Prof. Shubha Ghosh (Crandall Melvin Professor of Law and Director, Intellectual Property and Technology Commercialisation Law Program Director, Syracuse Intellectual Property Law Institute (USA)).
Prof. Ghosh presented his paper ‘Making Without Taking’ on which he is working and in which he explores perspectives on IP (Intellectual Property) rights based on the Bhagavad Gītā, one of the most influential texts from Indian culture. The talk was anchored around the Bhagavad Gītā verse—
karmaṇyevādhikāraste mā phaleṣu kadācana।
mā karmaphalaheturbhūrmā te saṅgo'stvakarmaṇi।।2.47।।
‘You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the action’s sake and do not be attached to inaction.’
This verse provides a middle way between the two paths of pravṛtti (action) and nivṛtti (renunciation/inaction) by urging the agent to act but to not be motivated by the results of the action.
However, this verse, Prof. Ghosh, reminds us, drawing from the interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi, does not mean we ignore the consequences of our action or be indifferent to the results. In Prof. Ghosh’s words “The lesson is to serve humbly…Our duty is to act in the world as we find ourselves in it and to seek not rewards, or fruits, or consequences, but the humility of serving.”
As one can immediately spot, this view conflicts with the idea that invention and creation are goal directed, i.e. they are done with specific ends in mind; for the result. Further, when such inventions are protected by IP laws, it appears that those actions are not only motivated by the rewards but also entail a right to the reward. This, ‘make and take’ attitude seems antithetical to the teaching of the Gītā. Prof. Ghosh offers some “accommodations and a path to reconciliation” by drawing our attention to the recognition given to communal development in IP laws and policies. He also mentions how theories supporting ‘partial appropriation’ of the gains of innovation can be used in this reconciliation.
Prof. Ghosh makes a very pragmatic assumption that “individuals will pursue their narrow self-interest.” However, “…over time, how one conceives of one's interest might evolve to include broader constituencies and relationships that extend beyond one's immediate material concerns.” Meanwhile, Prof. Ghosh suggests that “legal rules should be constituted around ethical norms, such as the nuanced consequentialism [he identifies] in the [Gītā].” Under this ‘nuanced consequentialism,’ the owner of the intellectual property is situated in “a network of relationships which creates duties and obligations” rather than assuming the primacy of their (the inventors’) rights. In this way, IP laws can be (and are, as shown by the legal cases quoted as examples by Prof. Ghosh) sensitive to the consequences.
The talk was followed by an interactive session in which participants presented their comments and questions. One issue which repeatedly came up in the interaction session was that of common or shared innovation. Prof. Ghosh answered all the questions as comprehensively as possible and at the same time provided further points about which the participants could continue thinking.
The conference and the Working Group 3, could not have asked for a better beginning. Such attempts at bridging ancient Indian wisdom and modern ideas is a sure way to enrich both of them. Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth is grateful to Prof. Ghosh for accepting our invitation and presenting his ideas.
Event 2: UN Secretary-General’s Report on Digital Co-operation: Takeaways for India—A Panel Discussion
As part of the lead-up events to the 4th International Conference on New Frontiers in Sanskrit and Indic Knowledge (NFSI), a panel discussion was conducted on what India should take away from the UN Secretary-General’s report on Digital Cooperation. The event, held on 16 November 2020, was conducted by the Working Group 3 which is focusing on the sub-theme ‘Arenas of New Knowledge Production and Indian Public Policy.’
The panellists were Dr. Badri Narayanan (Professor, Centre for International Trade in Forestry, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle), Dr. Sanjay Bapna (Professor and Chair of the Department of Information Science and Systems, Morgan State University), Dr. Harsha Singh (Senior Fellow, Council on Emerging Market Enterprises, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy) and Ms. Anubha Sinha ( Senior Programme Manager, Centre For Internet and Society, Bangalore). Dr. Badri Narayanan also acted as the moderator for the panel.
The discussion began with Dr. Badri Narayanan setting out the topic in broad terms. He stressed on how digital content management is particularly important in the post-COVID world. Given that most offices have decided to do away with (or at least reduce) their physical spaces, and that schools are also going online, we have been ‘fast-forwarded’ into a situation which we would have been in 10-15 years, had things taken their normal course.
Secondly, there is the problem of sharing digital content among different countries and also different types of stakeholders. Big-tech corporates, smaller companies, social organisations and governments, all have to harness the same data to different ends. This, in turn, calls for some standardisation and regulation.
The UN Secretary-General’s report stresses on the follows key points to ensure the above: Global Connectivity, Digital Public Goods, Digital Inclusion, Digital Capacity-Building, Digital Human Rights, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Trust and Security and Global Digital Cooperation. The members of the panel spoke on different aspects of the above points.
Ms. Sinha’s talk focused on the topic of Digital Public Good. She offered a very thought-provoking definition of ‘Public Good’ as something that does not deplete when used. She cited certain types of data like open A.I (Artificial Intelligence) models, connectivity architectures, certain algorithms used to process data as functional components of Digital Public Goods. With such Digital Public Goods, she pointed out the need to formulate a privacy protection framework but at the same come up with IP (Intellectual Property) protection policies. She also cautioned that certain types of digital systems were not qualified to be called Digital Public Goods and should hence, be judiciously kept outside the scope of the report.
Dr. Singh’s detailed talk focused on global digital co-operation on the areas of trade and e-commerce. He pointed out that the UN report does not take up the issue of trade in a significant manner. He too stressed on how the consumer is increasingly opting for online purchases, a choice escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In such a situation, there is a problem concerning the jurisdiction of agencies that govern e-commerce trade. Such trade possesses a peculiar problem for regulatory agencies because it erases the notion of ‘international boundary’. He pointed out that corporates can bypass regulations given this peculiarity of e-commerce. Moreover, technology changes so fast that by the time such agencies come up with norms, the technology for which it is meant would have changed or would have been replaced by an entirely new one. The other problem with such regulation is that the problems are not uniform across counties (some countries are technologically advanced and are in trade relations with countries which are not). Thus, it is vital to create a level playing field to prevent economic exploitation. As an example, he pointed out that if different countries have different perspectives on data then it makes the very idea of cooperation difficult. Another example given was on the question of whether digital services should be taxed. The answers are so varied in such matters that it makes it difficult to bring everyone to the common table.
To overcome these hurdles (which are by no means the only ones) he recommended that we must be open-minded and recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the other parties, that we must be flexible in our approach and be intent on collaboration.
Dr. Bapna’s talk focused on the role of AI in digital co-operation. The first observation made by Dr. Bapna was the lack of inclusivity when it comes to regulating AI technology. He gave an example of how a meta-analysis on 84 policy documents on the ethical use of AI found that the majority of such documents were from the United States of America. Even in prior efforts to standardise or regulate AI technology, there was a noticeable absence of international organisations. Most of the institutes were private companies. The importance of being digitally inclusive is not just because it has social value but also because it has implications for the technology itself. If the policy is not inclusive, the data may not be inclusive, this, in turn, affects the AI model and makes it inaccurate and either fail or give out biased results. In some cases, if the data is too little then training the AI system is difficult. Given that in some countries very little data is available on most parameters (like income, consumption, health etc.), a non-inclusive policy will leave such countries behind in the digital world.
Dr. Bapna also highlighted the need to make common people aware of AI technology and its ethical implications. There is also a need to bring in contextual awareness in the developers of AI technology too. For example, if an AI system built for facial recognition is trained only on certain types of faces (say, belonging to one race) then it may fail when it is put to use in a scenario in which it has to process a more diverse set of facial features. This in turn may lead to some discriminatory practises. Dr. Bapna called for some accountability with regard to AI algorithms. Of course, such a question brings with itself a host of other questions like how should an AI algorithm be audited (perhaps the problem is a difficult one given that an AI system is a black box) and also who is the person/institute/entity to perform such an audit.
After the panellists set out their initial statements Dr. Bapna opened the floor for discussion and question-answer session. An interesting metaphor used by Dr. Bapna, and which one generally hears in such contexts, was “Data is the new Oil.” This highlights how vital a resource it is and how crucial it is for countries to ready themselves to deal with this resource. However, one wonders whether an alternate metaphor could serve a better purpose, viz. ‘Data is the new river water’. Unlike oil deposits which are fixed in one place, river water flows from one place to the other just like digital content. Likewise, a dam built by one country or state on a river affects the people living downstream in a different country or state (like on the river Indus or Kaveri). In this way, the second metaphor captures, more effectively, the problems faced by those working on the issue of digital co-operation. Since we are more familiar with dealing with problems related to sharing river water, one is tempted to think that we can analogically export those solutions to solving the problem of digital cooperation. After all, just like over oil, many a battle has been fought over the waters of rivers too!