Accelerating the Application of Artificial Intelligence

The recent visit of OpenAI CEO, Sam Altman, whose company deals with artificial intelligence technologies and has created ChatGPT, to India and his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi coincides with three important developments. Firstly,  Sam Altman’s interaction with the Prime Minister and industry leaders comes at a time when India is Council Chair of the 25 nation Global Partnership on AI (GPAI). Secondly, India is in the process of drafting Artificial Intelligence (AI) regulations through the Digital India Bill, which has been under work for the past one year now. And thirdly, Altman’s interaction while focusing largely on artificial intelligence (AI), also touched upon the need for its global regulation, which is especially significant because the Indian government is looking for conversational AI tools to assist in its administrative tasks. India is pushing to put digital technologies at the core of its inclusive development, in part through widespread internet access and one of the world’s most affordable data pricing schemes. From aid for the farmers in learning about different government schemes, to understanding customer grievances, improving the delivery of health and security services, the government is looking to AI as an enabling solution to help with citizen-focused duties. Altman has lauded India’s efforts in building technology such as UPI, Aadhaar, and the India stack.

When it comes to AI, information, there is a lot of noise and it is clickbaity, but the discussions around AI’s implications must be coherent with initiative coming from the government.  The most critical things about AI technology is safety and security and it is important to start considering how AI touches the rest of the portfolios, – AI & cybersecurity, AI & open source, AI & space, etc. So there is a need to look at it not just by itself, but as part of a holistic technology ecosystem.

India has been a paradox. The country developed advanced digital computers quite early and has highly advanced and cost-effective space programmes. Yet until just a few decades ago, the nation lagged in its digital transformation and accessibility. In fact during his interaction with CEOs, Altman also alluded to a lack of infrastructure in India, claiming that it would be impossible to create a tool like ChatGPT for a user in India since doing so would necessitate the development of a specific type of infrastructure.

On the other hand, India possesses unique strengths related to AI technologies, not the least is that Indian companies were ranked second in AI adoption in the Asia Pacific region. AI involving big data analytics, machine learning and data analytics are enhancing performance in key sectors of education, healthcare, agriculture, and governance. India’s thriving start-up ecosystem has dozens of unicorns deploying AI-powered tools in their core services.  Globally, India is on top for skill penetration and an AI-ready market valued at $6.4 billion. There are over 4,500 Artificial Intelligence startups in India with different types of applications and parameters. India’s public and private sectors have produced AI-powered tools that improve the delivery of health and security services. For instance, AgNext Technologies deploys AI-based solutions across the global agricultural value chain. Data Science Wizards (DSW) is a Data Science platform and solutions company that provides AI and data analytics platforms and solutions to enterprises for data-driven decision-making. E-khool LMS was founded to create a one-stop advanced AI integrated learning management system useful for schools, universities, corporate and training academies. Synapsica has developed spine AI algorithms, can identify key vertebral points, listhesis, pathologies, and variations and generate preliminary reports in just a click.

Across India, 25 Technology Innovation Hubs (TIH) are promoting the development of emerging technologies to empower national initiatives in crucial areas. Over 500 technological products, including dozens of emerging technologies have been established using TIHs. India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) had earlier launched its Bhashini programme to enable easy access to the Internet, digital services and more content for all Indians in their own languages, using AI powered tools. Numerous startups such as Gnaani, Reverie, and Devanagiri have made powerful strides in addressing language challenges

According to the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, AI has the potential to add approximately US$ 957 billion or 15% of the current gross value to the country’s economy in 2035. AI expenditure in India is estimated to surge at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39% between 2019-25 to reach US$ 11,781 million by 2025.

PM Modi has been on point in terms of trying to establish top-down guidance on AI policy. He has spoken several times of the goal to make India a global leader in responsible AI for social empowerment and inclusion, “We want India to become the global hub of AI… Our bright minds are already working towards it.”

Leadership in India has been taking steps towards policy formulation around AI. With National Programme on AI in place and a National Data Governance Framework Policy and one of world’s largest publicly accessible data sets programme, which aims to modernise the government’s data collection, to improve governance and to enable an Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data-led research and start up ecosystem in the country.

During his India tour, Altman stated that AI adoption would lead to job losses. Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Rajeev Chandrasekhar believes that although AI is disruptive, it is unlikely to create any threat in the job sector in the immediate future because its application for the time being is task-oriented and not based on reasoning, “It is possible that over the next five-ten years the AI becomes intelligent enough to start replacing human workforce in certain sectors after 5 years. It is possible… But as of today, the application of AI is on tasks. It creates more efficiency — of course, at the very lower levels of intelligence and overly repetitive tasking, it may replace jobs in the coming years

Overall AI employment in India is estimated at about 416,000 professionals. Though he also suggested that AI would also create new roles. Through FutureSkillsPRIME, India’s Information Technology Ministry, MeitY is aiming to upskill/reskill IT professionals in emerging technologies. Aside from being Council Chair of Global Partnership on AI (GPAI) for the current year, India has been collaborating with the United States through the USIAI and with Germany through the Indo-German Science and Technology Centre (IGSTC) on AI related research. 

These initiatives will prove to be key for what is a society-changing technology. A broader thought around AI is ofcourse around security. As these AI enabled systems become more and more capable, what are we willing to allow and how are we preparing for a scenario in which there is a ‘super intelligence.’ The challenge of course is in putting up the ‘guard rails’ in anticipation even as the potential of AI is unleashed, and stewarding a system that we are not smarter than.

Vaishali Basu Sharma
Vaishali Basu Sharma
Vaishali Basu Sharma is an analyst of strategic and economic affairs. She has worked as a consultant with India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for nearly a decade. She is presently associated with New Delhi based think tank Policy Perspectives Foundation.