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View from India: AI for an inclusive economy

Image credit: EU Automation

India has the potential to be a global market leader in artificial intelligence (AI). That’s because around 75 per cent of Indian IT companies have exposure to global customers.

India has approximately 500 million smartphone users. Smartphones are beginning to offer personalised services. AI chips are being integrated into smartphones for face recognition, as well as for improving the clarity and resolution of images. AI helps offer voice assistants on smartphones.  

“The country is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for smartphones and is already a leader in data usage. AI is integral for smartphones as well as data,” said Krishnakumar Natarajan, chairman, AI Application & Digi-Tech Summit & Expo 2020.

Besides smartphones, the other tech trends that are shaping the country’s AI landscape includes cloud computing. AI and cloud computing help companies manage data. “This has created an infinite amount of data which is curated at scale. The outcome is cloud-enabled data used to derive insights for delivering customer requirements,” reasoned Ramkumar Narayanan, VP and managing site director R&D, VMware India.

Another trend is the Internet of Things (IoT). Multiple interconnected IoT devices generate huge amounts of data. AI algorithms help in analysing data for real-time feedback and desired business outcomes. Nevertheless, what one needs to watch out for is AI bias which happens when AI led systems are fed with wrong or biased information.

A time has come when AI needs to be tapped for societal good. This thought is supported by the fact that the country has an ecosystem for it. “India is home to four million IT professionals. Given these numbers, it’s possible to gauge the scale of homegrown talent,” added Natarajan. 

When we look at AI in the Indian context, the Government of India (GoI) has become part of the AI journey. NITI Aayog, GoI’s policy think-tank, has come up with a National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence in India. GoI along with private players are applying AI solutions for governance and mass adoption.

For its part, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) wants to facilitate member companies to make progress as they explore various applications of AI. “CII turns 125 this year. We look forward to the next five years to impact 9,000 member companies to navigate through newer technologies and industry 4.0. It’s a strategic thrust from CII to help industries adapt to newer technologies,” said Ravi Raghavan, past chairman, CII Karnataka State Council.

Organisations need to take the AI route to scale up efficiency. This need has triggered new business models where AI-driven data is used to create a differentiated employee experience. “Moving forward, 65 per cent of global GDP (gross domestic product) is estimated to be digitised. AI forms the basis of this digitisation. The GDP is growing at the rate of 3-4 per cent per annum,” pointed out Narayanan.

It’s important to maximise the benefits of AI application. AI is bringing in new solutions which have brought a paradigm shift in our view of things. AI-based skills and machine learning algorithms are used for predictive analysis. Knowledge about AI should be democratised and technology should be leveraged without it losing its essence.

“Our company has GPU and cloud infrastructure for handling AI. We leverage AI for addressing fraudulent cases", explained Sunil Gopinath, CEO, Rakuten India. "AI forms the basis of the computer vision and face-recognition software used in fraudulent cases. AI removes the friction for better clarity during the face-recognition process. We also use machine translation as we operate in 60 countries”.

Both real-time and non real-time translation happens through AI. “Around 20-25 per cent of the annual sales come from AI-based solutions. As we evolve forward, we automate our processes,” added Gopinath.

Going back in time, AI is actually not new. “The intent to create a proxy for the human brain or to mimic the human brain was there a few centuries ago. The genesis of this idea got some encouragement in the 1940s when electronics began to pick up,” recalled Narayanan. A few spirited scientists thought ahead of their times, in terms of an electronic brain. This could be seen as the early promise of AI, a phase that lasted from the 1950s to the 1970s. The next two decades saw something of a lull. Its resurgence happened after the emergence of Moore’s Law, whereby the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every 18-24 months. This observation is used in the semiconductor industry. This has also encouraged the growth of small mobile data collecting devices. Moore’s Law has also benefitted the early days of AI development.    

The computer-led internet world has rebooted the AI revolution. Then times changed as search companies such as Yahoo and Amazon created data. This in turn paved the way for what is now known as customer behaviour. Search companies and e-commerce firms rely on AI to understand and fine-tune customer requirements.

When we talk of AI, we need to look at breakthrough companies like Facebook and Google. Both are based on neural network technologies that have evolved over the last three decades. The scale and convergence of hardware and the graphic processing unit (GPU) have helped these companies propel forward. AI-led data and AI-based connectivity have added to the overall growth.

Appropriately, organisations are re-imagining processes to transform the value chain. This will help enhance and accentuate customer experience. AI hackathons, collaborations and outreach programmes are being conducted in various parts of the country to raise the quotient of AI awareness. Venture capitalists (VCs) are already investing in AI startups.

These insights were shared at the AI Application & Digi-Tech Summit & Expo. The event was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), with ‘Shifting to Applied Intelligence’ as its theme.

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