Blockchain Technology: Prospects and Challenges

[op-ed snap] AI superpower or client nation?


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | indigenization of technology & developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AI (artificial intelligence)

Mains level: Applications of AI & its future in India


AI set to transform civilization

  1. Google’s CEO compares AI (artificial intelligence) with fire and electricity in terms of their role in human civilisation
  2. Industrial revolution moved the centres of physical power from human and animal bodies to machines
  3. With the locus of intelligence now also getting disembodied, AI systems are set to transform our economic, social and political organisation

Tendency of monopoly

  1. Intelligent systems typically tend to centralise and monopolise control
  2. Sensing that an AI economy will radically concentrate income and wealth, many global digital industry leaders have called for assured basic income for all
  3. Globally, just one or two concentrations of AI power may rule the world. Currently, these are in the U.S. and China

India’s position

  1. India stands nowhere in the AI race
  2. It is fast squandering its great advantages of high IT capabilities and a big domestic market required for data harvesting
  3. Any country’s AI therefore largely exists within it’s huge, domestically owned commercial digital/data systems
  4. In the U.S. it is with Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft — and in China with Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent
  5. India has no such large domestically owned commercial data systems
  6. And any chance that these could develop is being nipped by allowing takeovers like of Flipkart by Walmart

The dominance of US companies

  1. Soon, Walmart and Amazon will own between them perhaps the most significant set of India’s consumer-behavioural and other economic data, over which they will develop various kinds of AI
  2. In time, such AI will allow them to control practically everything, and every actor, along various economic value chains linked to consumer goods
  3. All the wonderful AI applications that we read about, which the Niti Aayog’s new AI strategy is also replete with — whether of increased agriculture output, precision medicine or tailored learning — are basically shop-windows of global digital/AI corporations
  4. It is just like they allured us with all the unbelievable Internet and mobile applications, provided for ‘free’
  5. These AI applications may give us spectacular one-off benefits here and there, but by gathering further data from each new instance it is the AI engine owned by a Google or Microsoft that becomes ever more intelligent about India’s problems and solutions

India needs to be a developer and not client

  1. A big nation like India cannot derive satisfaction from rapidly becoming a client country for AI, whether as ready users of AI applications in different areas or by offering out-sourced R&D for global digital/AI corporations through start-ups existentially eager to be bought out

Measures required

  1. Technologies should flow freely across the globe, and we must welcome global technology companies to help India’s digital development
  2. Data-based sectoral platforms, like in e-commerce, urban transport, agriculture, health, education, etc., should largely be domestic
  3. India has a right to provide such domestic protection through policy, especially if India begins to treat its collective social/economic data as a strategic national asset
  4. Such policy protection alone will ensure that we have large-scale data-driven Indian companies able to develop the highest AI in every sector, by employing huge Indian data to solve (equally huge) Indian problems
  5. Once enough AI proficiency and strength has been developed domestically, it should then be used to go global

Way Forward

  1. There is no other route to becoming an AI superpower
  2. With its highest IT as well as entrepreneurial/managerial competence, and a huge domestic market, India is among extremely few countries that can make it
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