View from India: National Programme on AI rolling out

India is all set to undergo a digital transformation. As indicated in the Union Budget 2018-2019, the Government is committed to digitalisation, which is a key force for India’s development strategy. The allocation under the Digital India programme has increased from Rs 1,426 crore in fiscal 2018 to Rs 3,073 crore in fiscal 2019.

The global economy is transforming into a digital economy, thanks to development of cutting-edge technologies in the digital space viz. machine learning, artificial intelligence, internet of things, 3D printing and the like.

As per the Union Budget, initiatives such as Digital India, Start up India and Make in India would help India establish itself as a knowledge and digital society. A national programme to direct the efforts in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) including research and development of its applications will be established by NITI Aayog, which is a National Institution for Transforming India and policy think-tank established to achieve sustainable development goals in the economic policy-making process using a bottom-up approach.

It’s a known fact that with AI, problem-solving will be redefined and it will give birth to articulate ideas and innovative solutions. Most important is that AI can communicate what is not there and will use technology to bridge the missing link. Learning will become autonomous and it will give rise to new collar jobs. As against this background, all hopes are pinned on the national programme on AI.

Combining cyber and physical systems have great potential to transform not only innovation ecosystem but also the economies and the way we live. To invest in research, training and skilling in robotics, artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, big data analysis, quantum communication and internet of things, the Department of Science & Technology will launch a Mission on Cyber Physical Systems to support establishment of centres of excellence. The digital journey continues as the Department of Telecom will support the establishment of an indigenous 5G Test Bed at IIT, Chennai. Once this is in place, India can leapfrog in areas of emerging technologies globally.

In an effort to provide broadband access to five crore rural citizens, the Government proposes to setup five lakh wi-fi hotspots in various parts of the country. Clearly, this endeavour needs to be backed by an ecosystem. This explains why a budgetary sum of Rs 10,000 crore for 2018-19 has been set aside for the creation and augmentation of telecom infrastructure.

As per a statement issued by Nasscom, the government’s financial allocation to the Bharatnet project along with the establishment of Wi-Fi hotspots in rural areas give a big boost to the rural digital economy and further help the country to bridge the digital divide. The proposal to review the outward direct investment will be of great relevance to the IT sector as it charts its global growth trajectory. In the context of the growing digital economy, the budget proposals include additional criteria for taxation that would be applicable to companies which may not have physical presence in India. This could be particularly relevant to the technology sector, as internet-driven businesses and cloud-based platforms blur geographical boundaries.

Besides this, technology will be an enabler in the education sector. As finance minister (FM) Arun Jaitley pointed out, technology will be the biggest driver in improving the quality of education. “We propose to increase the digital intensity in education and move gradually from blackboard to digital board. Technology will also be used to upgrade the skills of teachers through the recently launched digital portal DIKSHA,” said Jaitley. The government looks at teachers as an investment and a means to scale up the quality of education. Hence, on the anvil is an integrated B.Ed. programme for teachers. The Right to Education Act has been amended to enable more than 13 lakh untrained teachers to get trained.

Another highlight of the Budget is the Smart Cities Mission, which has embarked on a journey to build 100 smart cities with state-of-the-art amenities. Of these, 99 cities have been selected with an outlay of Rs 2.04 lakh crore. These cities have started implementing various projects like Smart Command and Control Centre, Projects Smart Roads, Solar Rooftops, Intelligent Transport Systems, Smart Parks worth Rs2,350 crore have been completed and works amounting to Rs 20,852 crore are under progress. This massive project itself will open out new avenues in automation, big data and analytics and cloud solutions.

Highlights of the recently concluded Nasscom webinar, ‘Union Budget 2018 — Impact on IT & ITeS Sector’ with Deloitte as knowledge partner, indicate a slew of measures to reinforce a continued reliance on technology. A case in point is the web-based Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), administered by Controller General of Accounts, for budgeting, accounting and expenditure and cash management for more effective fiscal management of Government. As for indirect tax proposals, the rate of customs duty on some products such as mobile phones, smart watches and televisions increased to provide fillip to Make in India. The government had in fact already increased the customs duty on mobile phones to 15 per cent in December 2017 and this is a clear move towards increased localisation efforts and backward integration.

In its attempt to improve the skill quotient, the government will set up a model aspirational skill centre in every district of the country under Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra Programme.

Another interesting facet of the Budget is infrastructure, which is all set to get a transformative push. The National Highways, which are stretching over 9,000 kilometers in length, are expected to be completed during 2017-18. To raise equity from the market for its mature road assets, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) will consider organising its road assets into Special Purpose Vehicles and use innovative monetising structures like Toll, Operate and Transfer (TOT) and Infrastructure Investment Funds (InvITs). This is projected to evolve into a highly digitised operation.

As we proceed along the infrastructure-digitisation trail, the system of toll payments physically by cash at road toll plazas is being fast replaced with Fastags and other electronic payment systems to make road travel seamless. The number of Fastags has gone up from about 60,000 in December 2016 to more than 10 lakh as of now.

“To secure India’s defence, we are developing connectivity infrastructure in border areas. Rohtang tunnel has been completed to provide all weather connectivity to the Ladakh region. Contract for construction of Zozila Pass tunnel of more than 14 kilometer is progressing well. I now propose to take up construction of tunnel under Sela Pass,” said the FM.

Infrastructure is the growth driver of economy and when it is backed by technology, one hopes to see a transformation.

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