India Must Act Now If It Wants To Play A Role In Shaping The Future

This blog has been authored by Ms. Debjani Ghosh, President-Designate, NASSCOM. 

PWC published a very comprehensive AI analysis in June 2017 highlighting that the global GDP will be 14 per cent higher in 2030 as a result of AI.  The report estimated AI to drive GDP gains of $15.7 trillion with productivity and personalisation improvements, making it the biggest commercial opportunity in today’s fast changing economy. Hence, it’s absolutely not a surprise to see the race for AI leadership significantly heating up amongst the developed nations.

China just announced its very ambitious plan to become a global AI leader by 2030 leveraging its technology and research prowess, and building a domestic industry worth around $150Billion.  According to the official statement, China is committed to taking the initiative to firmly grasp the next stage of AI development to create a new competitive advantage, open the development of new industries and improve the protection of national security.

The writing on the wall is pretty clear for all to read…if AI is the future, China wants to be the one shaping the future.

Again, not a surprise. As per the PWC report, the greatest economic gains from AI will be in China (26 per cent boost to GDP in 2030) and North America (14.5 per cent boost), equivalent to a total of $10.7 trillion and accounting for almost 70 per cent of the global economic impact.

Another country that is making a strong and serious commitment to AI is Canada.  Infact, I found the Canada plan very well thought through across all the building blocks important for leadership from skill development to research and innovation to building strong connects between industry and academia to accelerate the commercialization of research.  I do believe there are some excellent learnings in it for India.

That brings me to India and our progress laying down the plan to build India’s leadership in AI. The race to AI development for India seems to be happening primarily in the start up ecosystem and in few of the institute labs. While there is some brilliant research and innovation in development, I do believe we need a much more serious commitment top down to make India a serious contender in AI, thereby making India a serious contender in shaping the future.  

What’s needed is a 360 AI national plan to help us leapfrog to the leadership position. And, we need it urgently as time is not on our side.  Can it be done?  Of-course it can.  But it will need very strong top-down commitment and a robust partnership between Government, Industry and Academia to make it happen.

While there is a lot of expertise available to shape the in-depth plan, my high level recommendation to the Government would be to ensure the following must-do’s:

–    Join hands with industry and academia to drive relentless approach to talent and research development – make India the hub for the best AI design and development talent globally.  This will require a serious relook at current curriculum, pedagogy and learning processes from K12 to university and investment in building new capabilities. For example, Canada has set up a dedicated institute for AI, the Vector Institute, with strong Gov’t and Industry support. The Vector Institute states that its goal is to be a world-leading centre for AI research; graduate the most machine-learning PhDs and masters students in deep learning and machine learning globally; and become the engine for an AI super cluster that drives the economy of Toronto, Ontario and Canada. As per press reports, the institute not only received around $100 million support from the government but is also partnering with 30+ companies to realize its vision.  

–    Prioritize meaningful funding for research and innovation in AI across academia, start-ups and large companies to scale AI research and innovation 100X

–    Build a very strong connect between industry and academia to ensure the innovation leaves the labs and has a real chance at commercialization and adoption.  All participants need to be accountable to drive commercialization and adoption as against discovering innovation.

–    Focused investment to scale the AI focus and investment in startup India

–    The Government must walk the talk by being an early adopter of AI across government functions

–    Build a strong leadership tone and rally cry ala Digital India which can galvanize the country into action.

That said, ownership cannot be just Government. Industry has to do its part too and urgently.  As a country, we have been spending far too much time discussing the impact of automation on jobs, instead of figuring out how we take charge to create new jobs and leverage the innovation in technology to accelerate India’s economic growth and development.  We really need to stop the debate about the future of IT.  The FUTURE IS IT. Period.  We now need to figure out what role will India and Indian industries play in shaping that future.

Every minute we lose has a huge cost of missed opportunity attached to it. Instead, what we should be singularly focused on figuring out how the current industry business model, skills and jobs will change, and what needs to be done proactively to prepare for it so that we are building new skillsets and jobs needed to establish India and Indian IT as a key player in AI.

Whether we like it or not Artificial Intelligence will drive the most disruptive transformation in the history of mankind. Just as Electricity changed the world for ever, AI will do the same to create the future.  Tech and business leaders are rallying the ‘AI first’ mantra across industries and Jeff Bezos summed it up perfectly by saying that AI is Renaissance to Technology, Business and Society.

If AI is the future, India must have a role in shaping it.  We cannot wait for it to happen and then figure out how it applies to us. We must leverage the brain power we have in the country, to help us leapfrog and become leading contender for AI development and innovation.  

I am a strong believer we have the leadership and the building blocks required for success.  The key question facing India is do we do it or not?

This blog was originally posted here

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