Economic progress that in India was earlier propelled by capital investment and labor has been pushed into the sidelines as a result of a fresh factor of production – artificial intelligence (AI), something that’s opening up new sources of value and growth across the globe. Leaving aside the aspect that AI is simply another productivity promoter, policy makers and business leaders should appreciate it as a tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.
New technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML) have already ushered in an era of making networks intelligent and are changing business models. U.S., China, Russia and South Korea are already investing big bucks in developing their AI technologies and policy strategies. Apparently, in Germany they have already created an ethics committee to understand the man-and-machine relationship in case of automated driving.
India too is gradually picking up pace in advancing its AI technologies, the push chiefly coming from the Indian outsourcing industry and a move toward a digital economy. A recent global survey conducted by U.K. based professional body Chartered Institute of Management Accountants CIMA showed that India ranks amongst top 3 countries in the world implementing robotic automation in their core business processes.
Strategically, AI can drive growth in creating a new virtual workforce, complement and enhance the skills and ability of existing workforces and finally drive innovations. In healthcare, AI can deliver better health services, in education, edtech companies are using AI to deliver personalised learning experiences, in finance, we’ve already witnessed dramatic progress in digital payments and in agriculture, AI could deliver tailor-made advice to farmers to increase crop yields. With one of the world’s largest IT industry and a rapidly burgeoning digital population, we need to exploit innovations better.
With tech conglomerates in India already swiftly moving ahead in adopting AI and increasing number of colleges in India beginning to offer relevant courses, we need the capacity to harness the long-term prowess of AI. Some factors that propel this growth have been India’s start-up scene that has been quite lucrative getting the required boost from our government’s constant push for ‘Make in India’ and ‘Start-up India’.
Another important factor for India’s AI development has been big investments from marquee investors and business tycoons. Plus, I have a strong belief, because the magnitude of change AI will bring to a country like India will be far larger than its bigger counterparts, adoption will be much faster. There is a requirement for nearly 4,000 machine learning and AI programmers in Bangalore alone with our tech savvy PM acknowledging the fact that AI is soon going to dominate human lives and in the process create more jobs. With such rapid developments in the fields of IT and hardware, the world is at the threshold of a 4th industrial revolution driven by big data, high computing capacity, artificial intelligence and analytics.
But there are a few roadblocks that hinder AI’s swift progress in India. AI-based applications have largely been driven by the private sector. Here, what we need to realise is that both private and public sector investments are vital for the AI industry to grow. Despite several initiatives like Skill India and Make in India, government policymakers need to work towards making AI a critical component of our flagship Make in India, Skill India and Digital India programs. This can happen when we offer incentives to manufacturers, creating regional innovation clusters for manufacturing automation and robotics in partnership with universities and start-ups. Another crucial and I think the most important hindrance is internet penetration. We are struggling with internet penetration which stands at 15.1%, compared to China’s 48% and 84% in the USA. And finally, like I’d already mentioned above, India’s AI development is also paying the price owing to talent crunch. Technical skills have to evolve to stay ahead of the curve in today’s fast-paced digitally-driven world.
Our government must provide the necessary policy framework and incentives, including direct funding to select companies, start-ups and research institutions to ensure targeted capacity development. In order to not fall behind in the run-up to the AI revolution, we need to adopt aggressive policies to drive AI innovations and proliferation in sectors beyond merely consumer goods and information technology.