Can Artificial Intelligence transform India?

Robocop amed afer Hemanth Karkare

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has enormous potential to shape India’s future. It can indeed revolutionise the country. Sectors where AI can greatly improve things include healthcare, education, poverty alleviation and security.

Of the many technologies that are on the horizon, perhaps none has as much history as AI. Although its academic origins are traced to the 1950s, appearances in science fiction throughout the past century have helped embed AI into the mainstream consciousness. These appearances also lead to heightened expectations — some technologists argue that the type of intelligence in these systems is “assisted” or “augmented” rather than “artificial”, but recent advances in computing have certainly accelerated the potential of the technology.

What exactly is AI? In general, AI is the practice of designing computer systems to make intelligent decisions based on context rather than direct input. Consider a computer playing chess; this may not strike many people today as AI, but it certainly fits the definition of a system that has been given rules and calculates probabilities and decisions on the fly based on the moves of the opponent. The most common application of this technology is in the field of virtual assistants, which are gaining traction in the workplace. This could include tools specifically designed for businesses (such as Amy Ingram from x.ai) or mass-market products (such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana).

The other interesting application that many use on a daily basis is Netflix, which provides highly accurate predictive technology based on a customer’s reactions to viewed content. Today, AI can accomplish tasks that are repetitive and automatable. If we use this to augment what humans can do, AI could impact society, business and culture in unimaginable ways.

Accenture, the global consulting firm, recently came out with a report in which it estimated that AI has the potential to generate $957 billion dollars for the Indian economy by the year 2035. The report identified universities, start-ups, large companies, policymakers, and multi-stakeholder partnerships as the five major pillars for realising India’s AI potential. According to a PwC report, AI will contribute as much as $15.7 trillion to the world economy by 2030. Given India’s strength in technology and structural advantages in availability of advanced data, we must exploit our AI potential.

To achieve revenue from this new technology area, we need a comprehensive, well thought-out and well-funded plan and policies. To forge an AI revolution, India must adopt a deliberate policy to drive AI innovation, adaptation and proliferation in sectors beyond consumer goods and information technology services.

The emergent scale and implications of the technology make it imperative for policymakers in government to take notice of it. Early lessons of AI success in the United States, China, South Korea and elsewhere in the world show that public and private funding models work well for AI research. India should consider adopting these. It is heartening to learn that the decade-long plan of developing an ITMS (Intelligent Traffic Management System) using AI is finally taking shape. The Ministry of Home Affairs has cleared the path for appointing a private consultant to develop the solution which has the potential to relieve Delhi of its traffic woes and eventually that of other large metros, too.

To begin with, we should focus on the social sector -– education, health, nutrition, where emerging technologies can help us improve the quality of our life and enhance our human development index position. These are also the sectors where maximum jobs can be created.

The government should identify public sector applications like detecting tax fraud, preventing subsidy leakage and targeting beneficiaries, where current advances in AI could make a significant impact.

India must also view machine intelligence as a critical element of its national security strategy and evaluate models of defence research in collaboration with the private sector and universities. With China making rapid progress in AI-based research, it is imperative that India does not lag behind.  

Workforce issues

The sequential system of education and work is outdated in today’s economic environment as the nature of jobs shifts rapidly and skills become valuable and obsolete in a matter of years. The National Education Policy must make radical recommendations on alternative models of education that would be better suited to the AI-powered economy of the future. However, we all know that previous technical revolutions have consistently led to net gains in jobs.

According to McKinsey, 60% of all occupations have some duties that could be automated to some degree. Therefore, automating a subset of duties does not directly correlate to job loss, but there is no doubt that some occupations are at risk as companies turn certain tasks over to AI. It is therefore required from education and skill development stakeholders to not fret and fume, but prepare the workforce of the next decade and arm them with the right skills so that the youth of today is prepared for an AI-infused job market.

Policymakers need to make AI a critical component of the Prime Minister’s flagship programmes — Make in India, Skill India, and Digital India — by offering incentives for manufacturers, creating regional innovation clusters for manufacturing automation and robotics in partnership with universities and start-ups, incorporating market-based mechanisms for identifying the skills that employers will value in the future.

Artifical Intelligence and automation ought to be the new drivers of employment, especially for India’s $150 billion IT industry, which employs over four million people. Indeed, AI can be a gamechanger in India’s march from a ‘developing’ to a ‘developed’ nation.

(The writer is Regional Director, CompTIAIndia)

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Can Artificial Intelligence transform India?

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