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The need to make artificial Intelligence more accessible in India

From CBSE to SBI and Apollo Hospitals, AI is entering ordinary peoples' lives


AI or artificial intelligence. Machine learning. Cloud computing. Augmented reality.

Does your head spin a bit while reading this sentence above? Did you take one look at this jumble of tech terms and declare in your mind that it is “too geeky" for you? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t.

It could be just a matter of communication—instead of throwing tech terms at people, if you make regular people understand what something like AI can do to make their lives better, they may accept it better. And that may be the most important step in India’s tryst with artificial intelligence, as per the overwhelming sentiment att Nasscom’s Experience AI summit  Thursday afternoon.

“AI is going to be as ubiquitous as electricity, it will become such an integral part of everything,” exclaimed Arundhati Bhattacharya, CEO & Chairperson of Salesforce India and the former head of State Bank of India. “You just need to buy into the story.”

Arundhati reminisced how she walked the talk during her days heading the nation’s biggest bank. Despite having around 22,000 branches and close to 60,000 ATMs, the legacy bank did have an image of being “my grandpa’s bank.’

Enter Arundhati and some basic use of technology, including AI and VR.

Seven branches in big Indian cities were chosen for a carefully planned makeover—all the ATMs and other machines were kept right in the front, with the entire branch looking quite different from the typical "Sarkari" feel. There were huge screens you could type in questions and get answers on anything from opening an account to the amount of loan one could get, 3D walk-throughs for homes and colleges (depending on whether you wanted a home loan or an educational loan). In addition, one could get an Aadhaar id scanned and open a bank account in under 20 minutes.

“Unless you can quantify it to something people can see, perceptions won’t change,” she argued, referring to how digital and technology suddenly opened the eyes of officials and customers who were wary about it till then.

“You have to bring it alive with examples,” agrees Sangita Reddy, joint MD of Apollo Hospitals. She gave the test case example of how digitising patient records, all documentation and linking it to artificial intelligence-linked data available on similar cases and clinical examples from all over the world make the whole consultation and diagnosis simpler, faster and much more effective for doctors and nurses.

“The patients’ survival rate is ultimately better!” Reddy exclaimed, “We have to concretely make people see…by communicating in a simple language they will understand. The reality is that AI doubles employee productivity—it can augment and not displace jobs.”

With AI already dramatically changing the tech landscape around us, perhaps communicating it effectively, and ensuring that its benefits trickle down to the lowest level, becomes particularly crucial. Recently, the United Arab Emirates made countries around the world stop and think twice, when it appointed a cabinet minister for AI.

While a minister may still take time in Atmanirbhar Bharat, a significant milestone was made last week when CBSE launched its "AI For All" initiative, a four-hour learning programme to demystify and create a basic understanding of artificial intelligence. 

“AI has the power to drive faster economic growth, address population-scale challenges and benefit the lives and livelihoods of people,” remarked Shweta Khurana, director-APJ at Intel, which is providing the curriculum for this open-source content initiative.

The programme can be accessed online and is open to a student or a professional as much as a stay-at-home mum. CBSE hopes to introduce, familiarise and simplify AI to 10 lakh Indians through this in the first year.

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