VICE (2013) s06e12 Episode Script

The Big Fix & Silicon Valley of India

1 SHANE SMITH: This week on Vice: America's failing infrastructure.
(TRAIN WHISTLE BLARES) DAN SLANE: There's only two ways to grow your economy: You increase employment or you increase productivity, infrastructure does both.
Things do break and closures do happen, when they do, it costs our economy some billion dollars every year.
SHANE: And then, the new booming Silicon Valley in India.
Oh, I can actually see my arm.
It's brown, because we're in India! - MAN: Yes.
- (LAUGHS) Oh, that's great.
ANUPAM MITTAL: Indians have tasted blood, and Indians will become the leading digital entrepreneurs in the world.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) (CROWD SHOUTING) They're saying that, right now, it's time for change.
(SHOUTING) One of President Trump's key campaign promises was fixing America's crumbling infrastructure.
I'm asking both parties to come together to give us safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve.
(APPLAUSE) ISOBEL: It's estimated to take an additional four trillion dollars in funding to repair or replace roads, bridges, and vital systems across the country.
MAN (ON RADIO): Riverside Bridge over I-5 just collapsed.
We have vehicles in the water.
ISOBEL: But more than a year into the administration, the government's still divided on how to fix this problem.
Thomas Morton, who lives here in New York, didn't have to travel far to see the state of our infrastructure.
Everyone's talking at me I don't hear a word they're saying Only the echoes of my mind Jesus Christ.
(PEOPLE CHATTERING) People stop and stare Hi, it's Thomas.
It's rush hour at Penn Station, New York's busiest and least aesthetically appealing railway center.
The trains I take pass through here, along with the trains of half a million others every day, which is connected to New York and the rest of the Northeast by one little tunnel built in 1910 and in drastic need of repair just like the rest of America's infrastructure.
(SINGER VOCALIZING) THOMAS: Amtrak's North River Tunnel has two tracks the only rail lines under the Hudson connecting New York City to the rest of the country.
This bottleneck gets even worse at winter, when ice forms in cracks left by Hurricane Sandy and 100 years of general wear and tear, forcing Amtrak to periodically shut down the tunnels and defrost their catenary electrical line.
(TRAIN HONKS) We're actually looking around the wire, usually there's some icicles.
Once we see them, we stop, and we knock it down.
JOHN KREMP: This icicle here could trip out the catenary, could knock the wire down, a train could come in, then you'd have 600 people here, stranded.
And you got no power, and people are freezing on the trains for hours.
If we keep up with the ice, it won't happen.
If we don't, it'll happen a lot.
Oh, oh! Well, look at that right there.
There's a perfect spot.
- (ELECTRICITY CRACKLING) - MAN: Hey! Whoa, whoa, whoa! - Hold on! Hold on, guys! - Careful, careful.
Everybody all right? - That's what happens.
- THOMAS: What happens? - Right? - Yeah.
(MAN SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY OVER RADIO) THOMAS: Ice scraping and other emergency maintenance keeps the North River Tunnel in service, at least for now, but it's a Band-aid solution to the complete overhaul the tunnel needs to make it through its second century intact.
This thing needs to be rebuilt, essentially, from the inside out.
So, the idea here is to build a new tunnel, shift all the traffic into the new tunnel, so that we can then come back and rebuild these so that when all is said and done, you have four tracks under the Hudson.
THOMAS: A four-track Hudson rail line is one of the goals of the Gateway Program.
While the new tunnel is still waiting for full funding, the old one puts as much as 20% of the entire country's GDP in jeopardy every time it has to be closed, which is frequently.
NEWSWOMAN: Chaos and confusion at Penn Station last night.
Transit problems at Penn Station, again.
THOMAS: The North River Tunnel needs federal money to help cover its estimated 13 billion-dollar price tag, a number that goes up by over one million dollars every day they put off digging.
Fortunately, the guy we elected president made a big deal out of allocating big money to big infrastructure projects just like this one.
We need to pass a one trillion-dollar infrastructure plan to build new roads and bridges and airports and tunnels and highways and railways all across our great nation.
THOMAS: Turning that big promise into an actual plan was delegated to businessman and former member of the US-China congressional commission, Dan Slane.
Slane produced a list of 50 infrastructure projects for the Trump transition team to consider, prioritized by their urgency and national importance.
My plan was to search out the most critical projects that we could start with, then define how many jobs would be created by those, what the economic development benefit was, so that I could go up to Congress, give them the estimates, and then the following year, go back and give them the actual numbers.
- That was the plan.
- Why did they approach you for an infrastructure plan? Because I knew a lot about China.
I studied what China did when their economy would start to dip.
They switched over to infrastructure, they started building railroads, hospitals, power stations, all over Eastern China.
Billions of dollars that they poured into their country.
And then, when the economy picked up again, they stopped.
And I saw the power of of infrastructure.
Our economy for the last 10 years has been stagnating.
There's only two ways to grow your economy: You increase employment or you increase productivity, infrastructure does both.
THOMAS: Unlike China, however, the United States hasn't tapped into the full economy-saving power of infrastructure since the middle of the last century, both in terms of building new stuff and keeping the old stuff in working order, and it shows.
JEFF MADSEN: Now, we just inspected this bridge last year.
There you can see the extent of the deterioration.
You see the hole? That's called the floor beam.
That actually is a fracture critical member.
"Fracture critical" means if one member fails, - the bridge can fail.
- THOMAS: Okay.
JEFF: There's a hole on these pretty much every floor beam all the way through here.
The dates on these, that's just when they were noticed or That's how we keep track of it every time when we come back.
The next time, we'll look at that writing and decide whether or not that hole has actually grown or not.
THOMAS: Has this bridge undergone any major renovations? JEFF: This thing was built in 1940-something.
Everything that's done to this bridge from now on will be a Band-aid.
So it's kind of like throwing money into a car that's not worth as much.
Yes, exactly.
Throwing money into a 20-year-old car.
The National Bridge Inventory has a zero-to-nine scale, and this bridge is rated a four, which puts it in "deficient" category.
We will close it when it gets lower than a three.
If they were to lower the weight limit or close the bridge, where where would be the nearest crossing? It's the only one within a hundred miles or so, either direction.
THOMAS: How much time would that add to a trip? JEFF: I'm guessing probably about four hours at a time.
THOMAS: Multiply those four hours by just the six trucks we've seen crossing the bridge in the 20 minutes we've been here, and you've already got one full 24-hour day worth of lost time and wasted gas.
Then multiply that by the rest of the trucks on this route every day, and multiply that by the number of bridges in similar shape statewide, and finally multiply all that by 50 states and 365 days a year, and you can see how the American trucking industry claims to lose some $60 billion annually just to lousy infrastructure.
But a big old chunk of American shipping is still done by exactly that, shipping.
Though it's initial engineering was done by Mother Nature, the man-made infrastructure on our country's waterways is as old and dilapidated as it's terrestrial counterparts.
The Army Corps of Engineers operates a network of locks and dams that allow cargo boats, barge, and pleasure craft alike to navigate the country's rivers, both upstream and downstream, from one elevation to another.
This is Locks and Dam 52, on the Ohio River, and this is America's single busiest lock.
It's coming up on its 90th birthday.
That's very old, and things do break and closures do happen, when they do it, it costs our economy some billion dollars every year.
How much of this job is just waiting around on something to happen? I don't know.
Some of its waiting.
It's the Army.
It's "Hurry up and wait," but the river dictates this job.
THOMAS: We arrived at Locks and Dam 52, smack in the middle of another closure, which by this point has become routine.
NEWSWOMAN: A leak in the busiest lock and dam on the Ohio River.
And once again, river traffic is at a halt at 52.
JESSE: Now, usually the water would be up to the top of the wicket, when we get it all the way closed off, but last night, we're trying to raise the dam all the way to the pier, we got ahold of the wicket, and it came up sideways.
When we let go of it, it washed over a couple of other wickets and went down river, so we lost that one.
so we're gonna regroup.
We don't know exactly what shape it's in until we dive on it, pull 'em out.
It's a 1927 dam, so at any time we could have a catastrophic failure, which is gonna cost more money.
It's a budget nightmare, I'm sure.
We're kinda falling apart, but THOMAS: The whole point of locks and dam system is to prevent the river water from becoming too shallow for a boat to pass through it.
While many of the 100-year-old parts still work fine, like this vintage jazz-era steam engine.
- Whoa.
- MAN: Back in the 1920s, they were ingenious when they built it.
THOMAS: the parts that don't can 'cause some serious headaches not just for the lock tenders, but for all the boats upriver.
All those are those towboats.
- Damn, how many is that? - MAN: A lot.
- THOMAS: That's normal? - (MAN SPEAKS) THOMAS: Well, what's bad traffic like, if this is normal? (GROANS) THOMAS: I hope they've got some good books.
Closures of 52 have lasted as long as 18 days, and the consequent boat jams aren't just irritating, they're also expensive.
Even having one boat wait here for 15 hours has been estimated to cost its company $80,000.
JESSE: We just have a lot of traffic here.
This is the busiest lock in the United States.
It's busier than the Panama Canal.
Everything's coming through here.
This is America's economy.
THOMAS: Lock 52 is supposed to be replaced with a state-of-the-art dam back in the '90s, but it's still under construction, and this is just one out of a whole network of locks and dams on one river.
The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that it needs a minimum of five billion dollars worth of repairs to keep the entire inland waterway system navigable over the next 20 years.
And for corn farmers like Paul Jeschke and the rest of our agricultural heartland/breadbasket, there really isn't an alternative.
These elevators are right in the best place you can possibly be.
They have the cheapest transportation for export.
That is why we're so incredibly worried about the locks and dams going down.
Who who absorbs the cost of that? PAUL: That either has to be paid for by us getting the lower price for our grain or paying more from the other inputs that we buy.
The only source of that money, in my opinion, ultimately is the farmer.
THOMAS: Even when the waterway's older infrastructure is working, the scale at which shipping technology and output have grown in the last hundred years has far outstripped some of its capabilities.
We're about to pass through Lock 21 with a towboat, pushing 150-foot barges.
What these young men'll do is break off nine from the 15, push those through, and then the boat will push the other six through.
And they'll rejoin until the next lock.
(RADIO CHATTER) Most of the United States' locks and dams aren't big enough for larger barge tows to pass through altogether, so they have to be split up and reassembled at every lock along their route.
So now that the boat's in the lock, the deckhands are going to break apart the two sections of barge.
Kind of amazing how low-tech it is.
The guy at the top of the line is called a "mule," because that job used to be done by mules.
No disrespect, but I just feel like they could give him a better title at this point.
As slow going as the waterways can get, they're still far and away the most efficient and really the only sustainable way of shipping cargo at this scale.
If this were all to be shipped by a train or trucks, - how many would this take? - With a 15-barge tow loaded at 9 foot, that would be 225 jumbo hopper cars on a train, 870 semi trucks.
- Whoa.
- So that'd be 11 and a half miles, bumper to bumper, to move what's in these barges.
THOMAS: That's crazy.
Once the barges make it through all the locks and dams to the bottom of the river, they still have one more piece of faulty infrastructure to contend with before their goods can be shipped abroad the Port of South Louisiana, also on Dan Slane's infrastructure fix-it list.
DAN: This is the major export port for the United States.
When you think about 31 states, most of them are shipping grain and agriculture down here.
I mean, it's unbelievable.
It's also pretty nice for France to sell it to us for so cheap.
(LAUGHS) THOMAS: What's going on down here? The major problem here is the silting at the mouth at a place called the Southwest Pass.
And the Corps doesn't have the resources to keep it open to a level of 50 feet draft.
That's the new ships coming through the Panama Canal.
So in 2016, they had to lower the draft to 41 feet.
For every foot you lower, you lose a million dollars of cargo.
When you multiply 7,000 ships a year, the number is astronomical, making us less competitive in a global environment.
So the river becomes less viable to the ships that are being used.
You're gonna have less of the tax revenue 'cause people are gonna take their ships elsewhere.
It's just a downward spiral.
THOMAS: Slane was pumped to see the administration tackle this downward spiral, until it became clear that his list of infrastructure priorities was not itself a priority.
When did you realize that the administration was not taking your advice? February of 2017.
My list was shelved at that point.
Their approach is to take most of the infrastructure, dump it back onto the states, and they know that the states don't have the funding, the states are not gonna raise taxes, and it's a way to coerce the states into using public/private partnerships, having Wall Street finance infrastructure.
The conflict is Wall Street wants the maximum return on investment.
When you have an asset that is the public good, you want the minimum return on investment.
So, this is their plan, it's going nowhere, and nothing will be built.
Unfortunately, the Trump plan, as you have heard, is a sham.
The president has said he wants to spend $200 billion.
I'm not quite sure where those dollars are coming from.
We're not gonna be part of this budgetary flimflam and pretend you can pay for roads and bridges just out of thin air.
I could've started with infrastructure.
I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road, so we'll be having that done pretty quickly.
THOMAS: Whether Trump intends to get to infrastructure quickly or down the road or if these words are somehow supposed to mean the same thing, not having done it right out of the gate may have been a big oopsie.
DAN: I tried to convince them to come out of the box on January 20th to do infrastructure.
In my opinion, it is the single biggest mistake the president made.
And I think if he had done that, he would've been invincible in November.
TRUMP: We're gonna get this infrastructure going, $1.
5 trillion investment in American infrastructure.
- (APPLAUSE) - We probably have to wait till after the election.
For decades, it's been Indian engineering talent that's helped make Silicon Valley the center of technological development and innovation worldwide.
But recently, India's best and brightest have been increasingly developing opportunities right in their own backyard.
Krishna Andavolu traveled to what may become the world's next tech capital Bangalore, India.
So, what is telemarketing? WOMAN: Selling products over phone.
VIMITHA: Selling products over ? - PEOPLE: Phone.
- VIMITHA: telephone.
Social graces.
What are social graces? "Good morning.
" "Thank you.
" You want to do the inbound call with me, you say ? "My name is Sayed.
I'm calling behalf of Alik.
" VIMITHA: "I'm calling you on behalf of Alik.
" "My name is Acha.
How can I help you? - VIMITHA: "How may I help you?" - "How may I help you?" "Uh, good morning.
Welcome to Dr.
My name is Krishna.
How may I help you?" VIMITHA: Perfect.
KRISHNA: This is a call center in Bangalore.
Call centers were among the first outsourced tech companies to appear in India, and they're still here.
- (PHONE RINGS) - Good morning.
This is Krishna.
How may I help you? The location of BFW in Bangalore? Call center work has been outsourced from America to India for decades, but this call center is different.
- Hello? - KRISHNA: Because many of their clients are actually Indian.
DARSHAN CHINNAPPA: When we actually looked at the growth of India, there were a lot of domestic companies that were actually that were growing.
You decided to do just the domestic market, just companies that are in India.
Correct, and that actually did wonders.
KRISHNA: The fact that Transact Global has found success by serving largely its own market, is an indication of just how far the market has come.
India's IT sector has evolved so far out of its call-center beginning, that it's now a $150 billion industry.
This is the corporate headquarters of Mphasis, one of the biggest IT services firms in all of Bangalore.
Why did India emerge in Bangalore specifically as sort of the site for this kind of growth.
We've always had, in India, a fairly large STEM population, right? We've had a history of mathematics and science and engineering, and medicine.
Back in the '80s, IBM was launching the PC, Microsoft was launching their desktop operating system, and computers were going mainstream, so there was an opportunity for the Indian talent to be taken to where the work was, which was the United States.
As telecom infrastructure became more stable, - Mm-hmm.
- that led to this development of the offshore services.
That provided a much faster way to write software, because if you can do it pretty much 24 hours a day.
And then came Y2K.
KRISHNA: What was the problem with Y2K that India had to face? NITIN: The problem was the Western world had written programs that couldn't handle "zero, zero" at the end.
How do you make sure that the computers don't fail when they come across a "zero, zero"? - And that's the year 2000.
- That's the year 2000.
NEWSMAN: Some members of Congress are worried that the computer glitch will lead to dangerous problems on the world's infrastructure.
NITIN: That's when a lot of our Indian companies that were young and nascent showed the world they had the ability to fix problems and do it in a way that it can actually afford to.
And over the last 25 years, this has kind of become a massive hub for global companies to build software that essentially runs the world.
KRISHNA: Indian tech workers are a worldwide phenomenon, with 850,000 entering the global workforce every year.
A primary source for this talent are the country's 23 Indian Institutes of Technology.
They're among the most competitive engineering schools in the world.
BHASKAR RAMAMURTHY: The IITs were set up in the '50s as institutions for engineering, education, and research, modeled after MIT, Cambridge, and other things.
- So this is India's sort of best and brightest engineers? - This is, yeah.
People get in here, and after they've finished their undergraduate, they're sought after by all kinds of companies Google, Facebook, the banks.
What are the most sort of popular or competitive programs? Computer science.
Nerds that are smarter than me.
(INDISTINCT CHATTER) KRISHNA: These kids all scored the best - on the entrance exam? - Yes.
Right? So even better than everyone at IIT, - these are the kids who are the best of the best? - SEKHAR: Yes.
What is it like teaching them? (BOTH LAUGH) KRISHNA: Do you think one of these kids is gonna do something - (SEKHAR SPEAKS) - (BOTH LAUGH) KRISHNA: But it seems, for some of these kids, their dream is no longer to work in the US.
Instead, they'd prefer to innovate right here in India.
There is an inherent sense of wanting to contribute to India's GDP, and there's a lot of emphasis on entrepreneurship and starting on your own.
KRISHNA: This push towards entrepreneurship has become the primary focus, as basic software engineering skills are no longer enough.
In response to this shifting landscape, a number of startup incubators have sprung up to nurture creative ideas out of mathematically built mind.
Science and technology are the backbone of Indian education.
but if you want to go from a back-end coder to a front-office visionary, you gotta learn how to sell.
So I've come to an incubator for startups called Commence Mint which coaches would-be disruptors in the art of the pitch.
How important is the pitch? Pitch is the moment of truth.
Just having an engineering degree is not enough.
If you're gonna build the business builders and the job creators of tomorrow, they have to think about the world as a market.
- Hi.
- Hello.
- Hello.
- Hi.
Good afternoon to you both.
We are coming from a company called Oceo Water - Fix My Gadgets - Nativebag ChangePay.
MAN: Uh, you know, the (GULPS) a lot of gadgets are getting introduced to India.
-MAN: So how we how we how we are actually we are creating a basically, a customer convenience through this web portal.
We'll just go through a video to where you can understand how to pay using ChangePay.
(WOMAN SPEAKS ON VIDEO) - (WOMAN SPEAKS) - I would love to work on that.
- KRISHNA: You do this all the time, right? - SUBHASH: Right.
KRISHNA: What is sort of common about the sort of shortcomings of how people tend to pitch ideas like this? Yeah, I think it's the big one is "How do you tell a story?" This is what you gt from people who know too much.
They've been an expert in delivering projects, making products in a very corporate environment.
but I think we have to also come up with a solid business model which is innovative.
Hello, I'm from MusicMuni Labs.
I'm Gopal.
We are a music technology company that teaches kids music education.
It works very simply.
You just put it in front of you and you start singing.
It tells you if your frequency is off - SUBHASH: Mm-hmm.
- or if you're off the beat.
We show you detailed breakdown of how can you improve, and you can track your progress all time.
In India, you have so much diversity in music, and my motivation is to build digital infrastructure for the Indian heritage.
This is cool, 'cause it's sort of like a very, very culturally Indian things becoming, potentially, like a globally useful product.
But also, it takes a non-music person - to figure out a new way - To do music.
- to do music.
- Yeah, right.
It didn't take a very social Zuckerberg - to figure out the social network.
- Right, right.
SUBHASH: He's got the stars in his eyes, as you can see.
(LAUGHTER) KRISHNA: For many of these would-be entrepreneurs, the hope is to one day join the fast-growing list of Silicon Valley-sized success stories who make up much of India's nascent venture capitalist culture.
I'm at a golf club in Mumbai, and I am playing a round with one of the top VCs in the country.
He's been named one of the 50 most influential business people in all of India, and he's funded some of the most successful online ventures that this country's ever seen.
So, what was your big first success back in India? - Nice.
- CADDY: Nice shot.
ANUPAM: I was sitting in my office and met one of these sort of fellows who does the traditional matchmaking.
KRISHNA: Like arranged marriages? ANUPAM: Yeah.
It occurred to me that, "Why not put this stuff up on the Internet?" And so that idea was born, and we started out with Shaadi.
com ANUPAM: There you go! KRISHNA: What were the next investments that you made? About 2011, I met a young guy called Bhavish, and he was looking at raising some capital for an on-demand cab service - KRISHNA: Mm-hmm.
- through your app.
And so I wrote hm a check in 2011, and today, of course, the company is worth close to $5 billion.
Would you say that the tech scene in India is at an inflection point in any fashion? Indians have tasted blood, and given the cultural advantages that India has in many ways, I think it's a foregone conclusion that Indians will drive the coming tech revolution.
You're already seeing it.
KRISHNA: As India's tech sector grows more sophisticated, its entrepreneurs are becoming more ambitious.
driving development aimed at saving our lives and the environment.
Oh wow.
I'm in, like, an operating room.
- PBC PAUL: Yes.
- Oh, I can actually see my arm.
Yo, it's brown, because we're in India.
- PBC PAUL: Yes.
- (LAUGHS) Oh, that's great.
Oh wo oh my god.
That's a thing! That's a real thing! - That's a real thing.
- PBC PAUL: Yes, yes.
KRISHNA: That's amazing.
While many technology companies here are focused on serving the world's economy, I've come to the garage of Altigreen, a startup that's trying to take a hands-on approach at solving some of India's problems.
In India, there are 1.
2 million people dying early every year because of poor air quality.
KRISHNA: So, what do you guys do? SHALENDRA: We allow people to take their existing vehicle bring it into our place, - convert it into a hybrid - KRISHNA: Aha! at a thousand dollars, saving 25% in fuel - and 25% in emissions.
- KRISHNA: Sure.
I mean, are you trying to compete with a Tesla? No.
Tesla is still selling $100,000 cars.
That doesn't work for India.
What we are doing here is we are democratizing the use of electric technology.
Entrepreneurship is exploding here, with over 5,000 verified startups currently operating nationwide.
Projections are so good, in fact, that the blue-chip prospects who originally left India to succeed in America are beginning to return.
I understand that most of you guys studied in the US or lived in the US at some point.
And so, like, why did you come back? Look at populations in India, right? You're building something that could potentially be used by a billion people.
And it's a lot like the Wild West the rules are being made.
Bangalore is very, very cosmopolitan now.
There are people from not just all over India but from all over the world.
People who have lived abroad and come back.
I had a job offer interest from Google New York, but I met some really nice people in Bangalore at that time, and I thought, "Why not give it a shot?" So, you gave up working at Google - to come back and do a startup? - Yeah.
Given the sort of the increasing amount of anti-immigrant feelings in the United States, did that contribute to your decision to move here? Trump coming to power has not been good for anybody, and I think that is sort of forcing the the growth.
Well, guys, to Bangalore, to coming home, to making something happen.
To many, the future of technology doesn't lie in Silicon Valley but in places like Bangalore.
Recent evidence suggests that this is already happening, as emerging economies like India's make up almost 60% of global GDP, according to the IMF.
Opportunities abound, and software, where all the valuation lies, is now our calling card as a country.
KRISHNA: Bangalore is a city primed to emerge as a global leader in tech with its nation's investment in education and innovation, paving the way for a potential overthrow of Silicon Valley as the center of the tech universe.
You think Bangalore would ever overtake Silicon Valley as the center of engineering production? - Could.
- KRISHNA: It could? ANITA: What Bangalore's got going for it is the scale of India.
- It's like one billion people, right? - KRISHNA: Yeah.
ANITA: So even if you got like one out of 2,000 being engineers.
- KRISHNA: Right.
- you've got a large population to pick from.
While the US and Europe continue to be the leading spenders, the central gravity of the global economy is seen to be moving east.
KRISHNA: How did you guys found companies? When I was 10 years old, I was very curious in electronics and technology, so I developed a drone which can detect and destroy landmines.
(CHUCKLES) Cool! CHANDRASEKHAR: Consequently, Asia will account for at least 25% of global ER & D spent before the turn of this decade, and that defines the age that we live in.
And I want to congratulate all of you who have made this possible, the fastest-growing segment in the entire IT-BPM industry.