Time for India to tap the full potential of Artificial Intelligence

Published: Jan 22, 2020 04:15:50 PM IST

As a new decade gets underway, artificial intelligence will play a bigger role than ever before, and it is time for the government and companies to tap its full potential responsibly.

As the world steps into a new decade in 2020, it could well be one where artificial intelligence makes quantum leaps and transform human lives. A recent study conducted by the consultancy firm, PwC, reckons that artificial intelligence could contribute over $15 trillion to the global economy as a result of productivity gains and increased consumer demand driven by AI-enhanced products and services. In 2019, on the learning platform, Coursera, AI came out to be the most demanded subject with nearly two million enrolments, firmly indicating the growing demand for AI in the 21st century.  

At the Forbes India Forbes India Celebrating AI Innovation roundtable, in association with Microsoft, held in New Delhi on December 12, a panel discussion deliberated upon the growing influence of artificial intelligence, and how AI could be used more responsibly by the government and companies. The panel for the roundtable included Ramanan Ramanathan, NITI Ayog Mission Director, Atal Innovation Mission, Vijay Debnath, General Manager, Centre for Railway Information System - Infra and security, Sangeeta Gupta, Chief Strategy Officer, Nasscom, Sameer Dania, Global Head, Business Development - Platforms at Tech Mahindra, Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad, Consultant, Keshav Dhakad, Group Head & Assistant General Counsel - Corporate, External & Legal Affairs (CELA), Microsoft India, and Saurabh Kumar, product manager, AI at Lenskart.

Almost, all the experts unequivocally agreed that the next decade poses one of the best opportunities to reap the benefits of Artificial Intelligence. "Artificial intelligence is here to stay now,” said Ramanan Ramanathan of NITI Aayog. “Artificial Intelligence has been there for a long time, it's not that it is new, but this is the perfect time where all of these have become affordable, accessible, available and advanced. And therefore, there is this unique blend of data that is flowing in from multiple directions, which is enabling you to do pattern recognition, whether it is image processing or data processing, or even audio sensory perceptions, and so on.”

Sameer Dania of Tech Mahindra reckons that while the technology is available and rather affordable, businesses aren’t equipped enough to challenge AI to its full potential. “Now, quite often when you walk up to a customer, the customer tells you I have data, you tell me what you can do for me. And that's virtually like an empty canvas and you could paint it either which way. So that's the case when it comes to AI,” says Dania. “So, you have the hammer, you're looking for the nail.”

Sangeeta Gupta, the Chief Strategy Officer at Nasscom meanwhile believes that India already has a huge advantage when it comes to tapping the potential of AI in the coming decade, thanks to the numerous AI focussed startups that have sprouted in recent times. “We have some very exciting AI startups that are now emerging out of India,” Gupta says. “And I think if we can provide an environment where we can nurture them more, India has a game to play in the AI space.” Gupta also noted that while India has largely played the role of a technology exporter for many decades, when it comes to AI, it has been at the forefront of adopting it, rather than emerge as an export market. “We've done well as an export market, but I think that is significantly changing today, whether it's banks in India or retail companies or health care, you're seeing more of them looking to adopt AI. So, I think the whole adoption for India is changing.”

Yet, even as companies have been at the forefront of adopting AI for their needs, Vijay Debnath, General Manager, Centre for Railway Information System, reckons that there exists a challenge in changing mindsets when it comes to adopting AI. “The government is trying to adopt it. AI is a very good tool to generate some policy alternatives and implement them in the field, such as with dynamic pricing and dynamic routing,” says Debnath. “It may not be to the level where we are completely automating the whole process of top to bottom, but it can give out a lot of options to improve the process.”

Meanwhile, besides mindset concerns, another area where questions have been raised is the accuracy of results and the use of AI responsibly. Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad, consultant, and industry expert reckons that AI must be developed to inculcate the best of human thinking and technology, especially in the backdrop of issues such as deep fakes. “You have to develop software which is not based on human ways of thinking because human ways of thinking are just a very small subject of personal ways of thinking. Now if you develop based on other types of thinking and combine it with human beings then many more solutions which are more optimal as a practice to this can be developed,” says Prasad.

That’s where there’s a need to look at responsible AI practices and frameworks, reckons Keshav Dhakad of Microsoft. “First, we need to ask ourselves what makes AI different from other technologies and why is Responsible AI important? It’s because the pace of innovation around this technology itself is incredible as we see in even the most recent breakthroughs in AI innovation from Microsoft. Microsoft was the first to reach human parity in machine reading (2018), machine translation (2018), general language understanding (2019). And secondly, it’s the proximity of these AI technologies to human intelligence and how we experience the world around us. We take a human-centered approach to AI design and development at Microsoft, which is always in service of people and grounded in the 6 principles of Responsible AI - fairness, inclusiveness, reliability and safety, transparency, privacy and security, and accountability.”

Meanwhile, easier access to AI has also meant that companies are also beginning to adopt it seriously. Saurabh Kumar, the product manager, AI at Lenskart says that his company has already managed to secure a 98 percent accuracy in their services, using AI. “The biggest breakthrough we are trying to achieve is to recognize the face shape of a person and then recommend the frames and whatever eyeglasses or sunglasses they're wearing based on the face shape. We have used a lot of libraries and we are building our algorithm. And once that is cracked, we can just tell people what their ages are, what their agenda is in real-time.”

Meanwhile, concerns that AI would take away jobs are also unfounded says Ramanathan. “AI is going to create many jobs. Supposing you have augmented virtual reality, how much it can boost the tourism industry. With great AI technology people can see what it means to come in and visit the Himalayas or the Ganges or any places in India and when they eventually visit, it's going to boost the tourism industry in a big way. So every field that we talked about whether it is construction, agriculture, will all become the beneficiaries of AI and create new jobs, smart buildings, smart classrooms, and smart cities. So, the potential for job creation is enormous and just like computing, communications, technology revolutionized new job creation, AI is going to do that.”

Others agree that AI is unlikely to take away jobs. If anything, it would only lead to newer jobs. “AI will not replace humans,” says Gupta of Nasscom. "It's about augmenting human intelligence and it will take away the drudgery of a lot of jobs that people are today doing I think like every other technology, this will have its ups and downs. And the more we can learn on each space while keeping these principles in place, I think that is the path for us.”

So, what does AI mean for India as it embarks on a new decade? “I think that AI has a tremendous opportunity in India to do good," says Ramanathan. "We have a billion people with a million challenges where a million challenges are a million opportunities where you can use AI for good and for solving the problem. And we have unique conversions points of technology growth in the country. Demographic dividend as well as a fast-growing economy and if you don't use AI at this point for the good of this country, it will be an opportunity lost.”

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