Wake up to AI opportunity

Niti Aayog’s strategy paper on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which outlines the opportunities offered by this rising technology and the challenges posed by it, calls for special attention from governments and policymakers. The endeavour of Artificial Intelligence is the development of intelligence in machines, either by feeding into them capability for specialised tasks or, increasingly, giving them the capability, such as sensors and large amounts of data, to learn on their own, called Machine Learning. The Niti Aayog paper presents the need to create a favourable AI ecosystem in India and identifies the sectors that need to be focused on, like agriculture, education, healthcare, infrastructure and transport. The economic rewards and social benefits will be great, as will be the disruptions caused by AI. The paper estimates that AI might account for about $1 trillion, or about 15% of GDP, by 2035. The cost of not adopting it in areas where it matters will be much higher. 

The application of AI will be transformative in many areas. In agriculture, farmers could get reliable advisories on the best sowing and harvesting dates, fertiliser application and other related activities. Last year, some farmers in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were prompted to experimentally use an AI-enabled app and it is said to have given good results. AI has important applications in disease diagnosis and public health activities in places facing shortage of health facilities and medical expertise. Its uses in education have also been significant. While the benefits have been explained, the more important part of the Niti Aayog paper is its recommendation of policies and programmes to promote AI. The environment in India poses serious challenges. Improving human resources is most important. Though India has more science and technology graduates than other countries, the quality of graduate programmes and their preparation is poor. There is no significant AI research or expertise in the country now even as demand for AI and machine learning specialists is rising. Steps should therefore be taken immediately to train enough number of people in AI, Big Data and associated specialities. The paper proposes setting up of a number of centres of research and studies for this. 

Countries like the US, China and Japan have made major advances in AI research and applications. India is in danger of being left behind. Niti Aayog thinks the country has great potential to be an AI powerhouse, and even envisages a situation where it can provide AI services to 40% of the world. It may be seen as another technology wave, after the software outsourcing revolution. The Karnataka government should take note of this, because Bengaluru is best placed to lead the AI revolution, too. 

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Wake up to AI opportunity

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