India is embracing the use of artificial intelligence in a confident but steady manner. Government agencies, start-ups and large corporations are applying it to various functions and processes.
Most of the start-up ecosystem is heavily dependent on the use of new technologies including AI to achieve cost and organisational efficiencies. For the start-ups, using the technology is a natural step if not essential.
With good ideas, but low market presence they depend on AI-based insights to expand in the market. Larger organisations, however, are approaching the technologies with more care and caution. Not least because their size often hinders agility to change over to new systems. Such companies are deploying AI for specific functions of new business divisions.
Individuals are more digital these days than most organisations. Without our realization, basic AI is already managing our personal and work lives through emails, work processes and even entertainment.
However, India hasn’t invested in AI at the scale required. The key recommendation by a NITI Aayog paper on AI includes setting up collaborative structures between academia, government, industry to create AI-based solutions for economic and development challenges.
A three-way collaboration between government, industry and academia is required for India specific challenges. Since many companies don’t have the risk-taking ability to invest in AI-based pilot projects, a structure for collaboration is needed. This can’t be done by the government alone either. The industry has the capital but not the risk-taking ability. The government can take the risk but doesn’t have inherent knowledge.
Academia has the structure but not the talent. Tech companies are innovative, but they don’t always conform to regulation and are often misguided. But someone has to bring them together. Globally several countries are trying to experiment with structures that will allow them to bring the important stakeholders together including citizens.
The report recognizes this, “Many countries have instituted dedicated public offices such as Ministry of AI (UAE), and Office of AI and AI Council (U.K.) while China and Japan have allowed existing ministries to take up AI implementation in their sectoral areas. Not just national governments, but even local city governments have become increasingly aware of the importance and potential of AI and have committed public investments.”
What form can a structure like this take? Can there be a national body that brings everyone together? Will it be a Ministry of AI? India is yet to clarify its thoughts on this. What is clear is that India will need a body, perhaps not a ministry in the way we know it now. What is required is a coordinating and catalysing body that can guide, shape and enable the use of AI.
Some work has already begun with global organisations like the World Economic Forum (WEF) which is trying to get multiple stakeholders to grasp the importance of AI and related technologies. The Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) is a global hub created by WEF to improve the adoption of new technologies in a sustainable, responsible and collaborative manner, and to minimise their negative effects in the society.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the C4IR in October. Mumbai will host the centre for India. Other centres are in San Francisco, Tokyo and Beijing. The over 45 global corporate partners and members include Reliance Industries, Salesforce, Wipro, ABB and SAP.
For India, the C4IR has chosen to support and guide the usage of drones, artificial intelligence and blockchain. The private sector is already using technologies but its growth can be impeded if the government policies don’t keep pace.
C4IR is working with NITI Aayog on expanding access to data to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence in sectors such as healthcare, education, smart cities & infrastructure, and smart mobility and transportation. The Centre will support the creation of a National Data Marketplace for India through which available data across these different sectors can be collected and integrated for targeted decision making and analyses using artificial intelligence.
In each of these sectors, the information about various dimensions is fragmented across various bodies that capture and store the data. There is virtually no protocol or framework where this data can be annotated, pooled and analysed. C4IR will help bring all relevant stakeholders together to create governance frameworks, systems and processes that will allow government bodies, private sector and individuals to pool such data and be incentivised for their contribution. For example, in the healthcare sector information about diseases, prevention efforts and clinical trials are distributed across various agencies like private hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and government clinics. For smart data analysis, all healthcare data should be created, curated and stored under a common protocol.
Collaborative structures like these have the potential of transforming the way government and private sector collaborate. Technology can bring a strong bond of trust which will be essential for pooling information and applying it in productive ways.
Though AI by itself is an important tool, the changes it will trigger will be much deeper and beneficial for an emerging economy like India.
Writer is an economic analyst and author