India isn’t exactly a hub for cutting-edge research in Artificial Intelligence (AI). There are still misconceptions about the fact that Machine Learning, Data Science, and Artificial Intelligence spells to loss of human jobs, hence the hesitation. That is probably the reason, India hasn’t spelled out its long-term vision regarding the implementation of Artificial Intelligence. But recent developments have shown that contrary to everyone’s belief, people willing to work in the field of AI, get the support they need. Be it on Government level or on a personal level. The focus is on areas such as agriculture, healthcare, education, and infrastructure. There are also moves to channel global Artificial Intelligence talent and resources to develop solutions that can benefit millions at the grassroots.

The scope of Artificial Intelligence in India

Globally, no one is doing AI innovation for the social sector, India can lead here. That’s indeed the overarching vision in the first major blueprint on AI that was released this month—a discussion paper from government think-tank NITI Aayog, titled National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. The priorities are as evident as they can be. India’s agriculture is weirdly inefficient, as it employs just a little under 50% of the total population but contributes only around 18% to the GDP.

In the US, for instance, less than 2% of the workforce is dependent on agriculture.

Access to healthcare is poor—India’s life expectancy (68 in 2015) is among the lowest for BRICS nations, and so is its hospital beds per thousand people, a KPMG report said last year.

Artificial Intelligence, is like the new age wheel or fire, which can revolutionize the entire landscape of industries. It has the potential to transform every sector as and when needed. From something as basic to Agriculture to Healthcare and defense, it has the potential to do it all. 

While Artificial Intelligence is commonly understood as a piece of esoteric high technology that could get too powerful for our own good, it’s really a suite of technologies like machine learning, pattern recognition, big data, neural networks and self-improving algorithms, many of which have been around for a while and have been maturing with time. So, AI has always been there, without actually causing the issues that we think it would cause, it is just that we are more aware of it now than we were before.

What has changed?

 

What has changed in recent years in the promise of Artificial Intelligence is the coming together of very advanced computing power with highly sophisticated algorithms and networks that collaborate to recognize patterns, discern meaning from vast sets of data and train themselves to get better at these tasks.

For the enthusiasts, the big question in AI might be when we will achieve machine super-intelligence, or Singularity, the point at which machine intelligence explodes to vastly surpass human intelligence. To the pessimists, AI is also considered the last development or invention, humans will ever make because apparently, it would lead to the destruction of mankind and rise of the machines (It’s an actual perception of a group of skeptics).

But for a country at India’s level of socio-economic development, the suite of AI technologies can be applied effectively to relatively prosaic concerns. And it’s already happening. States like Andhra Pradesh, have started embracing this technology. The state govt. with the help of Microsoft is using the technology to monitor and curb the drop out rates of students from schools. Not just Andhra Pradesh, a few other govts. are beginning to test drive the technology, but still, there are miles and miles and miles to go before India actually embraces the positives of the technology.

Challenges Ahead?

 

  • Stakeholders buy-in: NITI Ayog has glorified the importance of AI but the real question remains, will the government recognize the urgency.
  • Policy Action Gap: The present government has been accused of poor execution and probably one of the reasons, corporates and organizations are also hesitant in taking this technology ahead in India.
  • Bureaucratic Delays: India is already delayed in the adoption and thus, execution of AI. But now if it has to catch up, it needs to move fast. So, does India’s bureaucratic loopholes allow the desired pace?
  • Falling between stools: The implementation of these policies do not need to change hands from one ministry or one administration to another. It should rather take a more central and directed route so that the execution time is shortened and made more efficient and effective.
  • Funding Constraints: There is no surprise that this technology will need funding, proper funding for implementation and execution but the question at large is, Will our government address the need and give the required funding? With the next elections, slowly coming in, is Artificial Intelligence a plan that fits in their schema of things? Question to be pondered upon.

In academia, I still believe it is a high time people started equipping themselves with the knowledge of the various constituents of Artificial Intelligence. Things might seem a little slow right now, but the reality AI is just around the corner and once it is out, it would mean a plethora of opportunities for trained professionals, so being ready for what is about to happen gives you the necessary first mover advantage.

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