India’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy: AI for All

India ranks third after Singapore and Hong-Kong in the Asia Pacific region, in terms of artificial intelligence readiness. As AI is increasingly gaining ground in different areas, India has already laid out its AI policy strategy, which will not just leverage AI for economics but social inclusion as well

October 15, 2019

US$957 billion can be added to India’s GDP by 2035 and country’s annual growth can grow by 1.3 percentage points

AI strategy in India involves not just leveraging this technology for economic and military growth, but for social inclusion too, calling it, AI for All

India aims to establish the country as an “AI Garage”, a perfect playground for global enterprises and institutions to develop scalable solutions

Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), a premier R&D organization of the MeitY has undertaken robust research in AI

The world over, countries such as USA, UK, France, Japan and China have released their strategy papers on implementing one of the most disruptive technologies of this century – Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI, which has the capacity to learn from experience and perform tasks for humans autonomously, with its huge potential for economic and social benefits, is clearly going to define future economies and national security, making it one of the advanced technologies to shape global politics.

Studies have shown that AI has become central to economic growth, can revolutionise manufacturing, innovation and labour market productivity, and double the growth rates of most advanced economies. In India, NITI Aayog states that US$957 billion can be added to GDP by 2035 and country’s annual growth can grow by 1.3 percentage points by adopting AI. India too has rolled out its strategy to kickstart the AI ecosystem with its ‘National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence’ – a discussion paper by the Indian government’s policy think tank, NITI Aayog. 

Since the AI ecosystem is evolving, an AI strategy is meant to guide the inevitable wave of change. It needs to address some of the big questions such as: is the country ready to manage data ethically? How can the digital divide be bridged? Which innovations are worthy of public funds and partnerships? Bringing these questions to the fore is the most important step in ensuring that AI advances to create a better society. That is India’s aim as well.

NITI Aayog’s National Strategy

The foundation of India’s AI strategy, laid out in the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, is to leverage this disruptive technology not just for economic and military growth, but for social inclusion as well. The paper calls this concept “AI for All.” The strategy paper explains that AI in India can be leveraged to give access to quality healthcare and financial products to people in remote regions, provide real time advisory to farmers, build efficient cities and infrastructure to meet the demands of crowded urbanised cities. NITI Aayog has in fact identified a few priority sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, education, smart cities and smart mobility to encourage AI deployment. 

There are 1,566 AI startups in India – from developing warehouse robots and smart electric scooters, to managing retail analytics and customer health

India as an AI Garage

Most importantly, the AI national strategy aims to establish the country as an ‘AI Garage’, which means that AI technology developed indigenously in India can then be applicable for the whole developing world. The government’s AI mission is to provide a perfect ‘playground’ for enterprises and institutions globally to develop scalable solutions, which can then easily be implemented in the developing and emerging economies. The paper highlights the huge potential for India to become an AI or a solutions provider for 40 % of the world. 

India has to start developing AI tools for a range of applications such as reading cancer pathology reports, to tell farmers when to start sowing a particular crop or picking out students who are going to drop out of school. India hopes that with this ‘soft power approach’ to create AI for social impact, it will encourage other AI powers to collaborate more with India – which will consequently give India access to more diverse metadata essential for developing AI solutions for the world. 

AI Startups Power the Government 

According to data intelligence platform, Traxcn, there are 1,566 Artificial Intelligence startups in India – developing warehouse robots to manufacturing smart electric scooters using AI functionalities, to using AI in retail analytics and managing customer health. Some are helping the government to develop smart AI solutions.

For example, Punjab Police, along with Gurugram-based start-up Staqu is using the Punjab Artificial Intelligence System (PAIS), which taps into digitised criminal records and automated facial recognition to retrieve information on suspects. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) too has called for tenders to implement a centralised Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS).

The Andhra Pradesh government has started collecting information from a range of databases and processes the information through Microsoft’s machine learning platform, to monitor children to identify and curb school drop-outs.

Again in Andhra Pradesh, Microsoft collaborated with the International Crop Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to develop an AI Sowing App powered by Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite. It aggregated data using machine learning and sent advisories to farmers regarding optimal dates to sow. This was done via text messages on feature phones after ground research revealed that not many farmers owned or were able to use smartphones. 

The NITI Aayog AI strategy specifically cited this use case and reported that this resulted in a 10-30 per cent increase in crop yield. Karnataka government has entered into a similar arrangement with Microsoft.

India’s Role in AI globally

There are many areas where India can excel in AI on the global front. India has an excellent education system that trains qualified software engineers, which will be a major source of talent for big companies. Moreover, India can play a major positive role in developing key areas such as AI ethics.

The NITI Aayog report in fact recommends setting up a consortium of Ethics Councils in upcoming government research centres such as Centres of Research Excellence and International Centres for Transformational AI, which will focus on developing sector specific guidelines on privacy, security, and ethics. 

There is a lot of AI research currently underway in India as well, which can help to solve global issues. Starting with India’s higher education premier institutions such as IITs, which are currently doing a lot of research on AI and incubating AI-based startups. Many Indian and multinational companies are funding this research, for example, IIT Madras Research Park has AI funding from TCS, Ericcson, Intel ReResearch and GE Research. 

IIT Madras is also working on AI with several governmental organisations and departments like defence services, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Indian Railways, Chennai Transport Corporation, Port Trust Authority, banks, hospitals, HRD ministry, MeitY, and science and technology department. The Center for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), a premier R&D organization of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has undertaken robust research in AI, with a focus on image processing, audio assistance, education, health, agriculture, transportation, etc. As AI adoption gains ground, India sees itself in the future as a supplier of advanced AI solutions, which have been developed by solving the country’s complex and multi-dimensional economic and societal challenges, and at an extremely large scale.