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View from India: the decade of, and for, AI

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This coming decade, the application of artificial intelligence (AI) will find a new dimension. Quantum computers and data derived from AI algorithms will be leveraged to solve societal problems.

Discussions on AI, the ability to harness data and use AI to derive outcomes have been deliberated from time to time. We need to go that extra mile to use AI for solving pressing issues like Covid management. The Government of Telangana has conceptualised a Covid-19 data platform to predict the transmission rate of the virus besides spreading awareness at the district level. CCTV video feeds have gone live with image recognition algorithms to detect face mask violation.

“An AI-based algorithm has been created last year. This works as a predictive analytical tool to create alerts about the virus. As well, it has offered updates on the usage of ventilators,” highlighted Jayesh Ranjan, principal secretary, Government of Telangana.

The Government of Telangana has declared 2020 as the Year of AI and the government will use AI solutions for improving agriculture, urban transportation and healthcare. The aim is to make Hyderabad, capital city of Telangana, rank among the world’s top 25 AI innovation hubs in the next decade. Industry leaders and leading academic institutions pursuing AI-based research have been brought together under the umbrella. The collaborative approach has led to the initiation of Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) to promote AI research and offer solutions for society’s betterment.

“Three years ago, we realised that AI has a transformational power. We prepared an AI framework that will facilitate partnerships in various verticals like manufacturing and agriculture. Sensor-led smart factories and crop management are among the efforts,” recalled Ranjan.

The Government of India (GoI) has envisioned a National Programme on Artificial Intelligence. AI Research Centres are being established to take the vision forward. 

The Indian railways use AI for determining signal failures. Remote condition monitoring and non-intrusive sensors help monitor the signals.

Going forward, AI will be optimised for financial inclusion, amplifying healthcare, and strengthening academic learning and skilling programmes. “Complexities arising from shortage of food supply, variations in climate change, waste management and citizen services can be tackled with AI solutions. This is the decade of and for AI. AI will support augmented intelligence, which can form the basis for decision-making in large and small organizations,” said Sandip Patel, Chairman, CII AI Forum, MD IBM India and SA. AI needs to be adopted commercially for running smart cities, farm production and agriculture, among other verticals.

The AI-led data will help identify key challenges faced by the manufacturing sector. “AI will impact small and big businesses and impact all lives as well. The first part of the digital revolution was about procedural computing which transformed industries. We have moved to the second stage of the digital revolution. Now the thrust is on training computers to solve problems faced by people,” reasoned Kris Gopalakrishnan, chairman, Axilor Ventures. This will happen through the power of computing and AI algorithms. 

Prof Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India: AI is a disruptive technology that can play a significant role in realising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat or Self Reliant India. If AI-ML-Data Science is put to use, many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and startups can sustain themselves. Collectively, MSMEs and diverse startups can add to the India growth story in the global markets. Manufacturing, 3D printing, distributed computing and decision making in nano technology will be based on AI-led data. This can turn into a wealth of opportunities. Water and energy management can happen through AI. 

In the 1950s, researchers were boggled by the fact whether machines can think. We’ve come a long way since then. “We are in an era when AI is being used to develop algorithms and the core is big data. Data by itself is raw information that needs to be processed and converted to knowledge. This knowledge needs to be understood and looked upon as an intelligent decision making solution,” added Prof K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India: National AI Mission. The process happens through a human-machine interface. “The benefits of AI at scale will find meaning if it is backed by broad-base expenditure that can be used to access intelligent data. AI requires centres of excellence that will partner with academia to pursue application-based research that will benefit society at large,” felt VijayRaghavan.

Understandably, AI is worth several trillion dollars in the global economy and its value is estimated to be several billion dollars in the Indian economy. “India has the highest skill penetration rate at a global level. We need to scale up the government-corporate collaborations in AI. Several applications can happen through computational AI, such as AI-enabled chatbots and intelligent traffic-management solutions,” explained Abhishek Singh, CEO, National e-Governance Division, DIC, Meity, Government of India.

We need sustained trained manpower to build an AI ecosystem. Talent, right from the school level, needs to be honed. We need to introduce AI-ML-data classes into the school curriculum. Government led initiatives like Vigyan Jyoti, the literal translation of which is 'science light', Vigyan meaning 'science' and Jyoti being 'light'. The Department of Science & Technology (DST) has positioned the initiative as a level playing field. It is for meritorious girls studying in grades 9-12 to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. The Vigyan Jyoti activities include student-parent counselling; visits to labs and knowledge centres; science camps; academic support classes; resource material distribution and online academic support. The program is currently implemented by Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) in 58 districts, with the participation of about 2,900 students. DST has collaborated with IBM in 2020 to strengthen the current activities and expand to include more schools in the future.

Another national endeavour is the establishment of ATAL Tinkering Labs (ATL) in schools. ATAL Innovation Mission (AIM) has been initiated by NITI Aayog, a think tank of the Government of India (GoI). AIM has established thousands of ATLs in both government and private schools. This includes co-educational and girls’ schools (Grade VI-X), which serve as community hubs of innovation, wherein students are encouraged to apply the knowledge through DIY (do it yourself) kits on science, electronics, robotics, open source microcontroller boards, sensors and 3D printers and computers. 

Besides that, this year, Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO has announced that it will adopt 100 Atal Tinkering Labs across the country to encourage students to innovate across STEM disciplines.  

Going beyond the school level, every undergraduate programme should include courses in AI and ML. Students should be encouraged and made familiar with augmented capabilities and cognitive tasks, which can be tapped for societal problems. We need think tanks and policy makers to roll out schemes for using AI at large. India needs a robust AI ecosystem, where AI applications and innovations are protected through intellectual property (IP) rights. 

All this was discussed online at ‘AI for Industry - AI for All,’ an international conference on AI, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).  

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