Feature Story

What India needs a proper policy in place to drive artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

“Never send a machine to do a human’s job.” This is the dialogue from the hugely popular 1999 movie Matrix with the oh so charming and suave Keanu Reeves. The movie depicts a grim future where artificial intelligence has enslaved humankind and controlling them through a simulated reality called the Matrix.

While most of us may not be realising, but we are using AI in our daily lives: from the searches on ecommerce sights which according to your searches throws up recommendations, or when you open your social media account and find the same product advertised on your page which you were browsing earlier or Google search, the examples are endless.

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about AI. All the major IT giants have already made their intention clear that AI is the future. Many countries like China, USA, South Korea etc. are already making AI a part of their policy strategy and are contributing in terms of investment and infrastructure. China in particular (with context to India) is betting big on AI and funds are pouring into AI-based startups. In all this rush to leverage AI where does India stand in terms of investing, infrastructure and policy.

Ashwin Ramachandra, VP and Head, Product Engineering Services, Sasken“The ability to apply AI is just limited by the application of the human mind today!”

Ashwin Ramachandra
VP and Head
Product Engineering Services
Sasken.

 

According to the latest research by research firm markets and markets the artificial intelligence (AI) market is expected to be worth USD 16.06 Billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 62.9% from 2016 to 2022.

“Artificial intelligence will transform many industries. But it’s not magic,” wrote Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist of Baidu in Harvard Business Review.

India market

A recent global survey conducted by UK based professional body Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), across select European, African and Asian countries ranks India amongst the top three countries in the world implementing robotic automation in their core business processes.

The study further asserts that more than two-thirds (64%) of finance professionals from India encourage increasing automation as it saves time, money and helps ease the indecision process in their organisations. Adoption of latest technologies to promote automation and artificial intelligence (AI) across different sectors of the Indian industry is a welcoming step.

“India has a lot of opportunity to improve on AI based R&D. While we have seen a couple of large AI based platforms launched from Indian based companies, the mainstream AI R&D and its application to everyday problems have some distance to go,” says Ashwin Ramachandra, VP and Head, Product Engineering Services, Sasken.

Sunil Paul, Co-founder and COO, Finesse

“India is a follower market, what you see in the U.S. today will start appearing here tomorrow.”

Sunil Paul
Co-founder and COO
Finesse

 

The application of AI is unlimited. Self-driving cars, which might have sounded absurd couple of years back, is on the verge of becoming a reality. In medical sector AI can accelerate diagnosis, and in surveillance and monitoring image and vision computing has been used. Other sectors which are already leveraging AI include agriculture, banking and finance, IT services, manufacturing, retail, educational services, utilities, construction, mining, e-commerce, healthcare, accommodations and food service, transportation, arts and entertainment.

Ramachandra exclaims, “The ability to apply AI is just limited by the application of the human mind today!”
Finesse’s co-founder and COO Sunil Paul informs, “Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies have been adopted in retail and banking as well for areas such as cross sell / up sell, Real Time Fraud Analytics etc. India is a follower market, what you see in the U.S. today will start appearing here tomorrow.”

“In Fin-tech KYC problems could be easily resolved by the smart recognition system in collaboration with existing UID database,” adds Atul Rai, CEO and Co-Founder, Staqu.

“It will happen but it will take time,” remarks Vishal Barapatre, Group CTO, In2IT Technologies, “Businesses today have evolved and embrace AI for bringing robust digital business models which further ensures a progressive future of India to emerge as a global leader in artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies.”

Challenges

While other countries like China are stealing a march ahead of India, we are still struggling with internet penetration which stands at 15.1 %, compared to China’s 48%, and 84% in USA.

Rai explains, “AI is not a product, it’s a software technology which could be wrapped over the existing software product ecosystem to reduce the costs and efforts. Furthermore, most of the AI innovations requires superfast hardware system which is not possible of the majority of smartphones being used in India right now.”

The lack of funding is also hindering the wider acceptance of AI in the country. The industry says that while majority of AI-based applications in India have been driven largely by the private sector and have been focused primarily in consumer goods, there is a need for the government adopt a policy which will help in driving AI innovation and adaption in other sectors too.

Atul Rai, CEO and Co-Founder, Staqu“There could be both positive and negative impact of AI in India (or even globally) as no doubt there could be some job loss …”

Atul Rai
CEO and Co-Founder
Staqu

 

“India needs to consider public and private funding models for AI research which have proven to be a success elsewhere in the world. The sequential system of education and work is outdated in today’s economic environment. The nature of jobs is shifting rapidly and skills become valuable hence the education system needs to ramp up to the changes,” Paul stresses.

He further adds that Modi’s Make in India program is the foundation of a manufacturing revolution, policy makers should look at the advent of industrial robots and their impact on transformation.

Another challenge that the country faces is the talent crunch. No doubt, India has technical and skilled workforce but technology is fast evolving and accordingly technical skills too have to evolve to stay ahead of the curve in the fast-paced digitally-driven world.

There is a need for a new education policy, feels Barapatre, to focus more on vocational educational, skill development and retraining in order to create regional innovation talent for manufacturing automation and robotics while providing a boost to Indian start up ecosystem. “India further needs a national strategy and policies to push major reforms in the IT sector to overcome such challenges with initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India and Digital India,” he adds.

Absence of a specific policy regime

India needs to adopt a deliberate policy to ensure proliferation of AI technology to benefit various diversified sectors of the Indian economy otherwise such sectors will not be able to witness steady growth due to the rapid pace of technological progress globally.

In the absence of a specific policy regime for AI tech, Paul says, India runs the risk of falling behind the United States and China. AI technology has enormous potential to shape India’s economic and national security future yet India will find it difficult to realize the full power of AI while potentially falling prey to the detrimental effects of AI proliferation.

Barapatre apprises, “India can face severe problems in the absence of a specific policy regime with respect to AI tech including threat to national security, poor delivery of high-standard goods and services, poor organizational productivity and operational efficiency, traditional business models to rely upon, threat to data security, inadequate IT architecture to explore cloud-based computing platforms, which would altogether lead to significant decline in the Indian economy.”

Recently, a fear has also gained momentum that AI might lead to job loss. A study released earlier this year puts the loss from Robots and AI to five million jobs by 2020, and women are expected to be hit the most.

On this Rai opines, “There could be both positive and negative impact of AI in India (or even globally) as no doubt there could be some job loss but at the same time there will also be huge benefits. A lot of research is currently being done on this by both economists and AI researchers. It would be really tough to say what policy regime is necessary at this point of time and what not as India is still in its nascent stages of AI inclusion.”

Funding

When it comes to investment and infrastructure India is still a laggard. Research and development not only requires investment, a lot of it, but also time which in turn means having patience. And there is no surety that the product will even see the light of the day and merely fizzle away. How many are interested to take this risk and investment?

“In India, the investment scenario is currently focussed on lifting products that aid in the day to day activities of the users and also manage to generate huge revenue out of it,” comments Rai. He further argues that AI research and outcome of it requires long-term investment and combined with the nascent stage of internet adoption that India is currently in, makes investment into AI currently a distant aim.

There is an urgent need for funding from both the public and private sectors in AI technologies as India needs to learn from global powers to bring technological advancements faster than ever before. Funding academic institutions for research and also giving freedom to academia to fully participate in industrial research without any kind of interference.

Apart from public funding, AI-based research is also getting interests from the public sector. Google recently invested total of $4.5 million CAD ($3.4M US) in AI research in Montreal’s Institute for Learning Algorithms, and a new deep learning and AI research group in Montreal. It along with IBM, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook create a new AI partnership dedicated to advancing public understanding of AI, and formulate standards for future researchers to abide by.

Paul informs, “United States and Western Europe as well as some elite research universities are driving private research elsewhere in the world. India, however, has none of these resources and needs to turn to the public funding. India has yet to see its private sector make a significant global impact in AI.”

Among the few researches done in AI in India we can count Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) which has carried out researches in AI with mostly public funds and there is a spatter of few labs dedicated to AI at various public institutions of higher education and research.

Vishal Barapatre, Group CTO, In2IT TechnologiesIndia can face severe problems in the absence of a specific policy regime with respect to AI tech …”

Vishal Barapatre
Group CTO
In2IT Technologies.

 

However, Barapatre argues, “Funding can’t play it all alone; it needs a deliberate policy and strategic movements to invest more funds into AI-based research. In a developing country like India, having huge population and higher debt load, it becomes difficult to eliminate digital divide and invest heavily in AI Technologies. This is the reason why privately funded research in AI in India is relatively novel in comparison.”

Need of the hour to accelerate AI tech ecosystem

The industry is asking the Indian government to take up the cause so the country benefits maximally from the AI revolution.

First, let’s get a policy in place to drive AI innovation, adaptation, and proliferation into every sector and not a select few like consumer goods and IT services.

Second, incorporate AI in Make in India, Skill India, and Digital India programs by establishing policies.

Third, revamp education policy to focus more on practical training skills. There is a need to ramp-up focus in academics and R&D on AI and related areas to better prepare ourselves for an AI powered economy in the future.
Fourth, more emphasis on Public-funding in AI technologies and invest in research and innovation.
Fifth, help AI-based startups raise money and leverage cognitive technologies for better human-machine interaction.

Conclusion

But not everybody is enthusiastic about the whole AI thing. some of the greatest mind on this century Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have already made their displeasure clear about their reservations against AI. Then there is the most rampant fear that AI will lead to displacement of humans with machines leading to job loss. Fears apart, AI presents huge opportunities and for India to stride along with other countries need to set in place a policy to drive adaption and innovation in AI, along with appropriate funds in R&D.

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