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View from India: New chips on the block

Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and new chips are opening out previously unexplored avenues.

Vertical-specific AI and deep learning chips are doing the rounds for facial- and speech-voice recognition. AI is being used to understand multitude gesture exchanges. Market drivers for AI, deep learning, machine learning and IoT include computer vision and neural computing, high bandwidth demands, image and video computing, and the broader move towards wider, increased digitisation.

AI has been making inroads into such diverse professions as healthcare, retail, education and automobile. Income tax is a relatively new vertical to tap AI solutions. The direct tax panel has submitted a report to Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman suggesting how AI can scale up the tax-compliance and administration processes.

For instance, the voluminous tax data of a company can be mined using AI. AI tools such as machine learning, along with automation, can be integrated into backend operations, gleaning key data from tax documents. Robotic process automation can be leveraged for repetitive tasks or the typical desk work activities.

Naturally, AI goes beyond the realm of income tax. It is expected to become increasingly personalised and drive mobile apps to take decisions between devices and human-device usage. In the future (and possibly not very far off) the apps will initiate actions as users speak to them. The interface will have a certain level of intelligence, which is of a personal nature. This will go a step ahead as the interface becomes sophisticated. At that point, the interaction will become increasingly minimal, making it more of an ambient experience.

Non-IT professionals in medicine and fashion designing are strengthening their core base using AI, machine learning and data analytics. Besides that, researchers are whetting opportunities by tapping AI and machine learning algorithms to make predictions across verticals. Big Data, too, is part of the offering as it helps extract patterns or some sort of cycle emerging from the predictions. 

AI along with machine learning is being leveraged for automated solutions by insurance companies. When we look at medical insurance, wearable health devices are giving an added dimension to insurance.

As AI is a predictable tool, specialised service firms customise AI tools, predictive modeling and machine learning algorithms for a diverse range of industries, largely unknown before.

A focus on digital skills has already begun to do the rounds of corporate India. IT companies are upskilling the digital skills of their middle-level employees. The purpose is to deliver a suite of innovative agile business model solutions to clients. It means core IT tasks are happening in-house.

Another upward trend is that of full stack developers, who have a bright future in India. That’s because companies are going lean and are opting for smaller teams to cut down cost and time. They prefer hiring one professional with a varied skillset. More so, as companies are scaling up productivity through agile and scrum methodologies. The need of the hour is professionals who can operate in cross-functional environments and handle seamless technologies for which developers work on both back-end and front-end operations of an application.

Full stack developers fit the bill with their diverse coding skills and a command over multiple programming languages. This is particularly suited for product-based companies as well as startups. Moreover, incentives are being rolled out for startups in India.

As the demand for full stack developers increases, companies and industry bodies are coming forward to upskill their staff to make them industry-ready for various programming languages.  

Previously, developers set out learning to build every component of an application. New technologies have since appeared to simplify software-related processes. This has led to full stack developers. 

According to the 2019 Experis IT employment outlook survey, October 2019-March 2020, India's labour force is expected to reach 160-170 million by 2020, based on the rate of population growth, increased labor force participation, and higher-education enrolment, among other factors. The fast-paced evolving technology and changing nature of work due to technological disruptions has made it critical for India to capitalise on its demographic advantage.

The corporates are now recognising the need to re-engineer the skill ecosystem to meet the demands of Industry 4.0. to stimulate a sustainable development process and transition to a formal economy. Now more than ever, technical skills are hard to find and soft skills are hard to train.

New product and process development is the hot IT skill that is expected to contribute significantly to headcount of the IT workforce over the next six months (both IT and non-IT companies). While IT companies expressed stronger hiring intentions for testing and quality assurance; new product and process development; .Net and Java Spring, the non-IT companies intend to hire most for new product and process development; enterprise resource planning (ERP); Java Spring and .NET. 

In terms of practice areas, software product development and application maintenance services will lead the demand, according to the survey. The other practice areas that will be in demand are Big Data, hardware and networking management and legacy applications.

With online services and transactions on the rise, tech startups are scouting round for data scientists and IoT hardware developers. Besides this, the startup capacity has to be able to meet the global requirements.

Organisations are opening up to data modeling as it measures the manner in which they manage the data flow that happens in and out of the database management system. Through data modeling, developers can gauge the work requirement depending on the data flow. Based on this database ecosystem, managers are beginning to take data-driven decisions. Such decisions are required as it helps in detecting opportunities, both new ones as well as missed opportunities. Data-driven companies are more customer-centric. 

Database management is important in the Indian scenario because of the Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric system. This national identity system has fast-tracked India into the realm of data-rich nations. Aadhaar’s database now forms the basis of many services. On the one hand, service delivery costs have become scaled down. On the other, the huge quantum of data generated through Aadhaar calls for comprehensive database management.

Professionals need to understand a variety of data structures, including stacks; algorithms (i.e. searching and sorting); computability, and computer architecture extending to memory and distributed processing. Along with this knowledge, the professional should be able to handle database management and implement the techniques offered by these technologies.

It’s also raining chips in India. The thrust is on chip designs. Going back in time, chip business had become commoditised and innovation in the chip industry saw a slowdown. Now silicon is back.

What’s new in the chip space is integration of AI, machine learning and IoT with silicon. This makes the software and hardware features more tightly woven. Due to this, the applications can run more efficiently.

There is a market for this and the demand will only increase as India works towards its vision of creating Smart Cities, along with the upward trend of smart homes and smart devices. Chips with these technologies can help in making predictions and interpreting data. Domain-specific chips are on the rise, too. This is happening across verticals including mobile phones, auto and aerospace.

Differentiated and high-end devices are specifically built for IoT applications, whose focus in on connectivity, security and tracking. AI chips can handle the AI tasks efficiently, aside from operations such as testing and bug fixing. AI chips find applications in autonomous vehicles and robots. For its part, machine learning chips will enable machine learning applications to perform with less power.  

Chips and algorithms can be verified with emulation, an integrated system of systems. Due to the China trade tariffs, India is emerging as a sought-after hub for chips. The growing demand for purpose-built chips has urged professionals to fine-tune their design expertise in analog design; physical design; digital design; ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) design, and ASIC verification and performance architecture.

Generally, a combination of automated systems, algorithms and software engineering skills are integrated into chips. In short, chips can be designed to change the manner in which connected devices communicate. The run rate of venture capital (VC) funding of domain-specific chips has accelerated over five times in the past year. 

Manufacturing is also set to take a quantum leap as IoT,  robotics,  AI and 3D  printing will shape the shop floors into intelligent ones in the future. Several verticals are using automation as well as robots on their shop floors. Auto companies have taken early steps in this direction. Slowly, this has caught up with other industries. Now, it is here to stay. For instance, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd has already leveraged the potential of robots by integrating a robotic weld line into many of its tasks at the factory in Nashik. Smart solutions such as intelligent plant framework are used to track machinery and productivity on the floor in real time. This is in the case of the Godrej Company. 

We are heading towards smart factories of the future, where automated robots will perform many roles in the shop floors across several manufacturing companies. Chatbots have already taken the place of the customer interface in some retail companies.

Ultimately, job creation is one aspect of it and making the atmosphere favourable for growth is another. Both aspects should synchronise in order for new avenues to grow and prosper. Wherever possible, entrepreneurs should be encouraged. Digital finance inclusion and aggregator e-commerce firms should proportionately benefit people.

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