You have not heard much about MetaKovan yet, but you soon will. MetaKovan is the name of a young Tamil man based in Singapore who recently bought an NFT (non-fungible token) in a Christie’s auction for more than $69 million. Metakovan aka Vignesh Sundaresan is a blockchain entrepreneur.
At a time increasingly dominated by the power of digital technology, India, as the biggest supplier of software talent, is entering a world that it could hope to lead in many ways. Few people understand the way in which Indian influence percolates the very spine and sinew of Silicon Valley, and not just in terms of the names of CEOs that are famous, Sundar Pichai at Google or Satya Nadella at Microsoft. It was an Indian, the late Rajeev Motwani, for instance, who wrote the page rank paper with Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Terry Winograd—the foundation of the Google search engine. Motwani was one of the earliest angel investors in Silicon Valley and sat on a host of boards, including that of Google.
India’s talent at producing and exporting software (and software developers) gives the country a unique advantage in the coming world of the metaverse, where our digital personas would be as important as our physical selves—upending many ideas of assets and egos.
At the heart of the metaverse concept—in which Facebook recently pledged to play a leading role along with its name change to Meta—lies the idea that our physical selves (and identities) are only one aspect of our being. We can extend and expand to an equally—many would say, more—potent ‘self’, the digital self.
This requires the patient construction, at a very basic level, of an extended digital identity. This needs an infrastructure ecosystem where we can replicate our lives, and selves, onto the digital world.
This essay argues that our country’s Digital India infrastructure—which is still evolving—paves the path for leadership in the world of the metaverse. Indians already operate the biggest digital identity-based system in the world where increasingly every aspect of the citizen’s interaction with the state is powered by the Aadhaar identity number. The country has the highest number of digital financial transactions in the world. Digital technology empowered the easy certification of tens of millions of Indians who continue to receive Covid vaccine doses every month.
Further, India is building a digital stack to provide health services via digital technology and a unique record that stores the medical details of every citizen. This is being integrated with private digital payments giants—for instance, Paytm has now integrated the National Health Authority’s Health ID. This means that Paytm users can now create their unique Health IDs—a bit like the health extension of Aadhaar—directly on the app and do everything from storing their personal health data, accessing healthcare providers and booking consultations. In the same way that Aadhaar has become the backbone of all digital interactions that need identification, the creation of digital health numbers promises to provide an all-purpose, all-weather health ID for everyone who registers on it.
These mechanisms are also changing the way people consider their identity and perform the role of a citizen. Digital India, therefore, is the preparatory infrastructure that is needed for the transition to a digital economy and to the metaverse. For the metaverse shall impact not only individuals but societies, governments and the very idea of nationhood.
The importance of Digital India is today seen as a process amplifier, a provider of interface solutions—making interactions and transactions easier and smoother. It is not yet understood that an architecture like Digital India is critical for the country’s engagement (and the engagement of Indians) with the metaverse.
The tools that would enable behavioural understanding within the metaverse begin with the instruments and structures of what we today call Digital India. The use of blockchain to make land records (and land transactions) much more efficient and corruption-free is one part of the puzzle, which also has the creation and sale of indigenous NFTs as another part.
It is perhaps time that the importance of Digital India is also understood through the prism of the metaverse. This age isn’t coming upon us, it is already here.
Vice President & Head of Research at Invest India, GoI’s national investment promotion agency