An AI-driven future for India: Technological transformations need to be managed wisely

February 19, 2020 1:30 AM

Technological transformations need to be managed wisely, otherwise, it will lead to greater skill gaps and inequality.

ai, artificial intelligenceIndia needs to write its own AI story.

By R Selvam

AI, 5G, 3D-printing are emerging as technologies of the 21st century and India cannot be a spectator as other countries take lead. Already, China and the US have emerged as the biggest players in these fields.
According to PwC, AI development will add $15.5 trillion to global GDP in 2030, of which $7 trillion and $3.5 trillion benefits will accrue to China and North America, respectively. These technologies will revolutionise socio, economic, educational, industrial and political development of countries.

Thus, India needs to write its own AI story. The FY19 budget proposed to establish a National Program on AI, i.e., AI for All with a focus on healthcare, agriculture, education, infrastructure development, transportation, etc. AI has the potential to add $1 trillion to the Indian economy by 2035.

Currently, the adoption of AI is slow and limited in India. Only 22% of the business firms use AI, whereas AI usage was 78% globally in 2017 (especially in China and the US).

Further, the real crises is the major socio-economic inequality and wiping out of millions of jobs. AI will replace 40-50% of the jobs (30-40 million workers) in the US in the next 15 years. McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 50% of work is automatable with a reduction of 20- 25% of employees by 2030.

NASSCOM has predicted, 46% of the Indian workforce needs new skill-sets by 2022, and there would be a 60% rise in demand for AI and machine learning experts. India requires computer vision engineers, robotic process automation engineers, cloud architects, language processing specialists, 3D modeling engineers, etc, with additional 2 lakh data analytics specialists by 2020. But the existing 80% of the Indian engineers are unemployable in these sectors due to the poor standard of education.

India produced 2.6 million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) graduates in 2016, next to China. But only 4% of AI professionals had experience in deep learning and neural networks and only 1% of the data had been analysed. As per the Global AI Talent Report 2018, India has only 386 of a total of 22,000 PhD research scholars globally.

In UK, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge have been identified as centres for AI innovations with a plan to develop 1,000 government supported PhD researchers. China has launched five-years university program for a minimum of 500 teachers and for 5,000 students. Chinese universities like Peking, have established a strong research partnership with Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent in the fields of science, medicine, law, transport, etc. In India, the research ecosystem is still in the embryonic stage, except IITs and IISc.

In the US, the private sector and in China, the government play a major role in AI research & development. Germany has established the world’s largest AI research institute. The French government, in collaboration with academia, industrialists has set up an international institute for AI (The PRAIRIE Institute). Japan has a AI supercomputing facility for big data analytics and assimilation. UAE created a ministry of AI, while UK has created AI councils.

Hence, the traditional Indian IT industries require a major revamp to build AI and machine learning capabilities along with natural language processing for diverse Indian languages. AI should be taught in schools, colleges, and universities with strong research.

India needs to create gladiatorial start-ups with government funding like the Chinese ecosystem. Close coordination is necessary amongst the government, academia, research organisations, industries, trade bodies, and venture capitalists.

Finally, the government policies should aim for Mass entrepreneurship and mass innovation to carry out a fundamental shift in the economy from manufacturing-led growth to innovation-led growth. These technological transformations need to be managed wisely in India, otherwise, it will lead to greater skill gaps, inequality and polarisation of the labor force.

The writer is IAS officer and Mason Fellow

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