Artificial intelligence is one of the most profound things we’re working on as Humanity. It is more profound than fire or electricity. ~ Sundar Pichai, Google
Niti Aayog’s decision to embrace the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is significant and should be attributed as a driving force so far as India’s economic development is concerned. The strategy document shows that India has the strength and competence to place itself on the global AI map, ensuring social and economic growth of the country in tune with the national philosophy of development.
To that extent Niti Aayog decided to focus primarily on five important sectors: agriculture, healthcare, education, infrastructure, transportation and mobility. However, while appreciating AI as transformative technology, the strategy paper identified also the shortcomings of the project to achieve success because of high resource cost, absence of an enabling data ecosystem, lack of expertise in research in AI and absence of collaborative approach in this field.
Being given to understand that research on AI is in its infancy in India, the paper proposed to establish two centres, a) Centre of Research Excellence (CORE) which will provide due importance to core research and enhancing its applications, and b) International Centre of Transformational AI (ICTAI) that will monitor application-based research.
In order to ensure that the AI project yields tangible precipitates, Niti Aayog proposed a plan of action. It includes developing an institutional framework with initial funding of Rs 7,500 crore, extending for a period of three years. The project also emphasized the urgent need of creating a Cloud Computing Platform (AIRAWAT) and setting up a Consortium of Ethical Council at Core.
At an online global summit, a comprehensive discussion was held in October last year at the behest of the Government of India. It was called RAISE 2020 (Responsible AI for Social Empowerment). More than 100 luminaries and experts from 145 countries expressed their views on socio-economic development and the position of India as a global leader of AI. India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information technology participated in the summit.
The term “AI” in common parlance conjures up sci-fi’ fantasies of Isaac Asimov or Satyajit Roy’s famous Robu or gives rise to apprehensions about robots taking over the world. The media depictions of AI are not transparent enough and it is difficult to predict its evolution.
Be that as it may, AI is a term used to describe machines performing human-like cognitive capabilities such as learning, conceptual understanding, reasoning and interacting. It has the capacity to make many forms including technical infrastructure (e.g. algorithm), production process, and endused products.
About three years back, to address the challenges of poverty reduction, improvement of economic development, the efficiency of public and private sector organisations including management of public policy by the use of AI, a workshop was held at the behest of World Bank at Google Community Space in San Francisco.
The team examined the pros and cons of AI and related technologies, and explored the role of machines in economic research and also its limitations. Suffice is to register that AI is rapidly making inroads in business and also for economic development. It should be considered as the roadmap to the future, if guided by the right, effective and meaningful management approach. It can yield innovations that would eventually improve our lifestyle.
“For more than 250 years the fundamental drivers of economic growth have been technological innovations. The most important of these are what economists call general-purpose technologies – a category that includes the steam engine, electricity, and the internal combustion engine.
The utmost important general-purpose technology of our era is artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning”, say Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcafee. India is poised to march forward with artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and machine learning (ML) with data analytics in a cogent way. India and Japan have evinced interest in bilateral exercises on research in the area of robotics and Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV ).
Hopefully, the venture would be the beginning of a new era. In point of fact, robotic or robot-assisted surgery intertwined with advanced computer technology is being used by skilled surgeons for intricate cardiac, neurological, orthopaedic, gynaecological and paediatric procedures. Replacements of joints, kidney and open-heart surgery by robots make medical procedures smooth and comfortable.
The surgeon manipulates smaller surgical instruments and the robot replicates the movement of the surgeon’s hand, enabling him to operate precisely, and with greater dexterity. AI has the potential to automate tasks from driving cars to medical surgery. It is seen by experts as an engine of productivity and economic growth.
First, it will lead to an increase in labour productivity due to innovative and skilled workforce-related technologies. Second, deployment of intelligent automation, a virtual workforce, will definitely enhance the production process
efficiently. Last but not the least, AI will foster economic progress by distilling new innovation techniques, affecting numerous sectors and create new revenue streams as well.
A study report on the macroeconomic impact of AI, prepared by PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) highlighted the increase of global GDP by up to 14 per cent. The report entitled ‘Rewire for Growth’ by Accenture (the global business consulting giant) estimates that AI has the potential to increase India’s growth by 1.3 per cent, add and $957 billion to its economy by 2035.
As the post-Covid-19 economy begins to rebuild itself, AI should be perceived as an immense opportunity to leap forward by opening new value and growth-oriented frontiers, beyond physical barriers of capital and labour.
AI is expected to generate 15.7 trillion dollars in global productivity, functioning in consonance with human decision making by 2030 according to the study. As far as India is concerned, it is imperative to capture the opportunities of AI and join the fourth industrial revolution. To that extent Niti Aayog has rightly taken a pragmatic approach in this direction. It will have a profound impact on both society and economy.
At the same time, continuous training of personnel is necessary to get digital, skilled manpower. AI is not replacing humans but doing tedious jobs, connecting data, doing preliminary analysis and focusing on intricate cases to resolve ambiguous information in Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). There seems to be a global consensus also that AI technologies have the potential to revolutionise production and address global challenges.
A widespread misconception is that AI systems and robotics will gradually replace humans in one industry after another. As a matter of fact, AI will augment human capabilities. It is a kind of emerging symbiosis between man and machine in unlocking what is called the third wave of business transformation.
(The writer is a former Reader in Chemistry Presidency College, Kolkata and was associated with the UGC and UNICEF)