[op-ed snap] Growth in the machine

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Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Applications of AI

Mains level: This editorial talks about the “still emerging” AI technology which has so unique advantages for India compared to other countries. This raises attention for India to harness AI for boosting growth.


 Context

Getting the ‘Developed’ tag

  1. India has perhaps now only a limited window of a decade to get into the developed country tag or stay perpetually in the emerging group of economies.
  2. To get to the developed country status, this is one factor that has to change dramatically.
  3. This begs the question: How do we get India’s productivity to spike in 10 years?

India is trailing behind US and China in AI

  1. AI — the simulation of human intelligence and learning by machines — has been talked about by many as the productivity booster we have all been waiting for.
  2. While India is expected to be a player, it is far from being among the leading actors in AI.
  3. According to PwC, of the $15.7 trillion increase in global GDP in 2030 attributable to AI, $7 trillion will be in China, $3.7 trillion will be in the US and Canada.
  4. Accenture pegs the number for India to be below 1 trillion in 2035.Without question, the race for AI dominance is between the US and China.

AI-relevant advantages unique to India.

Three are particularly worth noting and give me reason for hope. It is hard to find another country ready with these many deep value-creating AI applications.

(A) Versatile platform:

  • With a billion-plus people populating the unique-ID system, Aadhaar, and the India Stack of digitally enabled offerings built on top of Aadhaar, the country has a platform for growth unlike any other in the world.
  • It can, in principle, catalyse innovative applications, nurture an entrepreneurial ecosystem and generate a massive amount of data that can train algorithms and help develop more intelligence — the “I” in AI.
  • To be sure, there are plenty of challenges to overcome: Getting the right participants, stakeholders and talent base to come together, providing capital and ensuring privacy, security and usability of the data.

(B) Key actors:

  • The good news is that India has an early start here.
  • The global AI majors are active in India and view it as one of the world’s most promising digital growth markets. This puts India in a clear third place behind the US and China and ahead of Europe.
  • Europe’s more stringent data protection rules and regulations and slowing digital momentum will further constrain the interests of innovative companies.
  • With economies of scale working in India’s favour, this could create a virtuous cycle of private sector AI investment and innovation activity.

(C) Abundant applications:

  • The technology can address long-standing societal and human development problems of the kind that abound in India.
  • Think of tackling dengue and Chikungunya, two of the more formidable mosquito-borne public health crises. It is essential to get data on its incidence early and predict its path.
  • Project Premonition, for example, an AI project of Microsoft, uses mosquitoes themselves as data collection devices.
  • AI can be used for myriad other purposes stretching across farming, transport, infrastructure, education and crime prevention — all productivity-boosting and job-creating applications ready and waiting across India.

India moving Forward on AI

  1. The budget for Digital India was doubled; the IT ministry has formed four AI committees; the government’s think tank, the Niti Aayog, is tasked with coordination across AI initiatives.
  2. The Niti Aayog, for its part, has just announced an AI partnership with Google and has released a white paper, National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence.
  3. If done right, it can spike productivity, save lives and produce new livelihoods — jobs that the country’s youth desperately need.
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