National or not?

National or not?

Another year passed, and we all think how fast it went by. This year sure felt faster than others if you were doing business in the technology industry in Turkey. The government made its presence felt both as an enabler and an obstacle.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the rest of the Cabinet really do want Turkey to get ahead in technology production and usage. The colossal Fatih Project, which aims to get each and every student connected to cloud via computer tablets, is the sure sign of how technology-loving the government is. However, they are making the same mistake as other governments before them did. You can’t get “technological” just by buying products.

You have to produce technology to be really “technological,” and that’s exactly where we are having great difficulties. Fatih Project is a great step forward when you think about how crowded many classrooms are in Turkey. When the project will be online, children will be able to go to their homes after school and repeat the same classes if there would be any need to. However, to be able to do that, there must be content. And producing content is the second area where Turkish institutions are having difficulties. 

So how can Turkey get more technological without producing technology and the necessary content to use with those technologies? It seems to me that it can’t. 

Serhat Ayan of questions the recently completed tender for the “National Tablet” production. The tender for the first 4,000 was won by General Mobile, a Turkish firm. However, Turkey doesn’t produce any touch screens, processors or hard disks. Furthermore, Turkey doesn’t have any operating systems which don’t use open source. Pardus is our pride, but it is open source software. 

Ayan asks, if we don’t produce any technological parts or software, how can we call it the National Tablet? After all we would only be producing the plastic parts and assembling the product in Turkey. 
The same can be said about the first National Satellite or any other high-end technological product that we call “National.” I am afraid the same will happen with the National Car and the National Plane. In my opinion, we should either stop calling them National or start producing some silicon-based products. 

In the midst of this National Technological Product naming craze, Minister of Economy Zafer Çağlayan said new incentives are under way to get the attention of big firms that could make direct investments or invest in research and development in Turkey. Çağlayan said their mouths will drool when they hear the new incentive scheme. 

Years ago I did an interview with the head of research at Toshiba, Dr. Katsuhiko Yamashita. He said the Turkish government offers fantastic monetary incentives, but it doesn’t affect Toshiba’s decision for direct investments. Similar deals are proposed everywhere and multinationals, like Toshiba, don’t really need them, Yamashita said, adding that what they’re really after is knowledge. Yamashita concluded that whenever Turkey has technological capability that can’t be found somewhere else, Toshiba would come to invest heavily. 

I would agree with Yamashita. Unless Turkey develops unique capabilities and makes investment a more transparent process, we will wait a long time for direct research and development investments. 
It seems Turkey should invest in technology production no matter what. Otherwise we will be still calling foreign technologies National just because we assemble them.