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NITI Aayog aims at ‘AI for All’

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Anna Roy, a 1992-batch officer of the Indian Economic Service and advisor at NITI Aayog, who was instrumental in bringing out the paper on National Strategy on AI, sets the roadmap in ‘AI for All’ mission

In the domain of Artificial Intelligence (AI), NITI Aayog has been developing India’s National Strategy on AI and is also reportedly in the advanced stages of creating the National Data and Analytics platform. NITI Aayog has been working along with the academia, government departments and agencies and technology companies to define the best practices for the usage and implementations of AI.

Roy says, “The core focus of NITI Aayog is to collaborate on devising implementation framework for solutions based on emerging technologies; work to identify best practices and propagate solutions across the country; identify suitable financial support channels for funding pilots based on emerging technologies in different states, as well as establish centres of excellence.”

Sharing more about the discussion which NITI Aayog is having around the National Strategy for AI, she says, “The government is working on an objective of the #AIforAll strategy. We are looking at high impact areas that India could bet on. The world is certainly looking at AI, but does India need it? If yes, what are its unique applications?”

In her deliberation, she pointed out that the maximum AI deployment has happened in sectors with commercial interest. The government needs to play a bigger role while aiming at inclusiveness. Although in comparison to its global counterparts, India is a bit late to the AI party; however, the energy and enthusiasm of the Indian government is at its peak.

Internationally, there is a race between China, the US, and Russia in the AI space. It is clear, for instance, that China doesn’t just want to develop AI solutions for itself, but also set global standards. International commentators have also noted how the gap between the US and other countries on the defence front is reducing as its rivals adopt AI solutions rapidly.

Urging the Indian startup ecosystem to build AI solutions that are ‘Made to work for India’, the government has now geared up to formulate guidelines and policies for AI utilisation in different industries. As the first step towards streamlining AI utilisation in the country, the Task Force constituted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has recently released its report on the adoption of AI in the country. The report has suggested building an AI policy with a five-year mission with a targeted investment corpus of US$ 184 million (Rs 1,200 crore) spread across different initiatives under various government departments.

Talking about the areas where AI utilisation can add significant value and retain the competitive edge, thus preventing the future loss of jobs, she mentions, “Manufacturing, FinTech, healthcare, agriculture/food processing, retail/customer engagement, aid for differently-abled/accessibility technology, public utility services, education and national security.”
The most important challenge in India is to collect, validate, standardise, correlate, archive and distribute AI-relevant data and make it accessible to organisations, people and systems without compromising privacy and ethics. Data is the fuel that powers AI and there is a need for creating ecosystems that could encourage free flow of data and information. “These are the areas where the Indian government must focus to play a prominent role. If implemented well, these guidelines pertaining to different sectors can certainly lead to an improved quality of life for Indian citizens as well as generate employment and growth,” states Roy.

Challenges
Only four per cent of AI professionals in India have worked on emerging technologies such as deep learning and neural networks. Serious research work in India is limited to less than 50 researchers, concentrated mostly at institutes like IITs, IIITs and IISc. Moreover, India ranks 19th globally in the country wise H-Index, she points out.

A new opportunity
There are three foundation pillars for AI in India: technology advancements, collaboration, and adoption. As there are fears around AI eating up jobs, Roy believes that it will not be the reality, which is also the reason why NITI Aayog’s document focuses on skilling. She also said that jobs are changing; 46 per cent of the Indian workforce will be engaged in entirely new jobs that do not exist today or jobs that have radically changed the required skill sets. There will be a demand-supply gap of two lakh data analytics professionals by 2020. Demand of AI specialists in India will grow by 60 per cent by the end of this year.

The NITI Aayog discussion paper recommends incentivising creation of jobs that could constitute the new service industry – jobs that would ideally be a part of the AI solution development value chain, but require a relatively low level of expertise, so as to create employment at scale. For instance, work like data annotation can employ a large quantum of human resources.

In the area of AI competence, the papers have also recommended building research capabilities which will be the key to India’s ambitions of becoming a global leader in AI. The paper has suggested the need of setting up a simplified and agile two-tiered structure. The other one is through recognition and standardisation of informal training institutions. According to the discussion paper, tech-hubs like Bengaluru have many traditional IT training institutions establishing courses in new-age technologies, yet they are not standardised.

Marketplace for data
NITI Aayog has proposed creation of a multi-stakeholder marketplace. A three-pronged, formal marketplace could be created, focusing on data collection and aggregation, data annotation, and deployable models. There could be a common platform called the National AI Marketplace (NAIM). The benefits envisioned are to incentivise unlocking of data, reducing asymmetry of information, encouraging specialisation, and explore co-funding of annotation of large data sets with wide application in sectors of focus.

A good governance structure for marketplace is also needed. “We want to promote startups, so we have proposed International Centres for Transformational Artificial Intelligence (ICTAI), wherein startups can develop AI tools. A lot of startups will come up in data annotation, data generation. That is why we have proposed the marketplace,” says Roy.

Roy said that implementation is the key for success of AI in India. “Consultation has been done on the strategy, and now we will be looking at implementation,” she says. Each recommendation would have to be taken up on its own – it would need consultation with the academia, government agencies, and other stakeholders. For rolling out AI projects, one needs to consult with local bodies as well. “This is a macro matter – whether it is a civic body or a state body will depend on what problem we are solving. The government is extremely keen to take AI as the thrust area. The ministry has submitted a report on AI and is looking forward to implement AI in all governance and across the industry. She also assured the government’s full support for the AI industry and to build and maintain a startup ecosystem that promotes innovation,” she says.

NITI Aayog’s approach
Providing a background of prevailing gaps and India’s positioning vis-à-vis other countries, Roy suggested recommendations to overcome these gaps. She emphasised the implementation plans for all recommendations, establishment of timelines and funding requirements for actions and undertaking of proof-of-concepts (PoCs) in sectors of focus.

“Niti Aayog will act as a platform for cross-learning and reaching out for project-specific help. It will need further state governments’ support to help unlock data sets of value, shape direction of research and collaboration and fund research institutions such as ICTAIs and COREs. India provides the perfect playground for enterprises and institutions globally to develop scalable solutions which can be easily implemented in the rest of the developing and emerging economies,” concludes Roy.

(She was speaking at the recently held Express Computer and Amazon Internet Services Pvt Ltd conference in Delhi)


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