How can India equip itself for technology-led transformation?

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New Delhi | Published: May 25, 2018 2:24:46 AM

The government, private firms, start-ups and academic institutions have been advancing innovation and development in these technologies.

India has witnessed a wave of transformation brought about by disruptive technological innovation, which has served to provide connectedness and economic inclusion to large sections of the population. The advent of mobility devices, Cloud and Big Data platforms, and online social platforms powered by high-speed networks and plummeting hardware costs have helped thrust India into the current technological age.

However, the next phase of technological evolution will be characterised by rapid strides in emerging areas like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), drones, virtual and augmented reality (AR and VR) and blockchain. In case of a technology like AI, the widespread nature of use-cases where AI can be applied has turned it into perhaps the most significant ‘general purpose’ technology that cuts across business functions and industries.

The government, private firms, start-ups and academic institutions have been advancing innovation and development in these technologies. For instance, the Artificial Intelligence Task Force—constituted under the ministry of commerce & industry to shape India’s AI roadmap—released its findings and recommendations to the government. Flagship programmes like Make-in-India and Digital India aimed at bolstering India’s manufacturing sector and digital transformation, respectively, will rely heavily on advancing capabilities of AI, machine learning (ML), IoT and others to push towards an Industry 4.0 ecosystem.

While global giants and domestic IT players have been steering their portfolio towards emerging technologies—by introducing AI, ML and IoT platforms, and embedding them within existing products—start-ups have sprung up through a more specialised route, with offerings in AI, robotics, automation, blockchain, etc. In fact, over 30 blockchain start-ups were founded in India in 2016 alone, according to a 2017 PwC fintech report.
Within academia, reputed technical institutions like the IITs have seen teams create patented AI-based solutions, such as in healthcare, to predict the onset of conditions like diabetes and cancer. Some institutions have taken steps to set up centres of excellence for technology research and innovation, and redesigned courses and funded infrastructure, software and platforms.

PwC recently conducted an India-focused research to understand the perceived impact of AI among business decision-makers and regular individuals. Over 58% of survey participants indicated that AI will aid causes like economic growth, health and well-being, education and cybersecurity, and 55% of business decision-makers believed that AI’s benefits such as generating growth and boosting productivity for firms will outweigh employment concerns. These show an overarching positive outlook for AI among people.

However, amalgamation of emerging technologies into existing processes comes with its own challenges. As these technologies rely on rich data, its limited availability and security issues are key barriers for emerging technology innovation. It is imperative, therefore, that the requisite infrastructure and know-how for dealing with cybersecurity threats be developed in advance.

The lack of skilled personnel in ML, deep learning, robotics, blockchain, etc, is another key concern for organisations, which might require efforts by individuals (self-development), organisations (training initiatives), academia (inclusion of new-age technology courses) and government (Skill India, subsidised coaching in technology areas) to overcome.

Other potential barriers include the need for responsible and explainable systems such as industrial and consumer robots and autonomous cars that are easily understood and trusted by humans, the need for seamless human-machine interaction models through applications where technology ‘augments’ humans rather than replacing them, and the need for interdisciplinary collaboration around setting policies and standards. This can ensure India leapfrogs in its quest for discontinuous growth by technology-led transformation.

Sudipta Ghosh, Partner & Leader, Data & Analytics, PwC India

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