'AI will be soon embedded in Aadhaar, UPI, DigiLocker': IT minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Exclusive interview/ Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MoS for electronics and IT

56-Rajeev-Chandrasekhar Rajeev Chandrasekhar | Rahul R. Pattom

Q/ How important is AI and its role in business?

A/ The new wave of AI platforms is breathtaking in its velocity and scope of adoption. It is important to know that AI as a technology has been around for many decades… but was missing that ‘something’ to get it to critical mass―perhaps computing power or models to get it to be useful. Just to place in context, almost three decades ago, my master’s thesis was on AI and robotics!

However today, that early AI has evolved into sophisticated learning models from neural networks to AGI. ChatGPT is one such tool that is expanding in a variety of ways and at unprecedented velocity. That AI is going to disrupt many conventional technologies and businesses is obvious. Take search engines, for example. The long-standing dominance of Google is being challenged now. Take the potential impact on entertainment and media industry. In recent times, south Indian movies have been expanding audiences and revenues dramatically through OTT and dubbing. AI and simultaneous, automatic natural language translation―the Digital India Bhashini platform that the Narendra Modi government is investing in and building―could significantly disrupt [this] content creation space.

I have said that AI will be the kinetic enabler of digital economy and tech innovation. It will also deeply improve governance and digital government. In governance in particular, AI can and will play a transformational role in improving design and efficacy of government programmes, from bridging the digital divide to civic delivery in a more effective manner.

Under IndiaAI, we will also soon be launching three AI Centres of Excellence, and the largest public accessible datasets program called the India Datasets Program. These datasets present India’s consumers with a huge opportunity for the next generation of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms and if leveraged properly, is an estimated opportunity of $200billion to $500 billion. Even the government can use it to create better targeted policies [while] AI researchers can look at technology solutions. For example, in education, AI can help identify which district is lagging behind in what subject, or other parameters, so that the government can talent-pool the teachers depending on that.

IndiaAI has tremendous applications that will make the next generation of governance, health care, agriculture and innovation more impactful, efficient, targeted and with more lasting outcomes, making India a global leader in the field.

Q/ AI and machine learning are evolving from the west, while China has also made announcements. Where do you think the Indian tech ecosystem figures in this scheme of things?

A/ These are early days in AI, but India is rapidly growing its footprint in this area. Our chairmanship of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) is a recognition of India’s leadership in this critical area.

According to a recent Nasscom Report on State of Data Science and AI Skills in India, India currently ranks first in terms of AI skill penetration and AI talent concentration, and fifth in AI scientific publications. India’s AI Skills Penetration Factor has been reported to be 3.09, the highest among G20 and OECD countries. More than 1,900 AI-focused startups are building innovation in the country, primarily in the areas of conversational AI, NLP, video analytics, disease detection, fraud prevention and deep fakes.

The government wants to catalyse this sector, therefore, in addition to the India Datasets Program, we will also be launching a comprehensive programme called the IndiaAI and you will see AI deeply embedded and layered on the India stack―Aadhaar, Unified Payments Interface (UPI), DigiLocker, CoWIN and more.

Q/ There are worries over AI being both a job-killer as well as a privacy-killer. Do you eventually see governments having to crack down with legislation?

A/ On jobs, our government’s view is that digitisation in general and AI in particular is not reducing the number of opportunities but is creating newer opportunities which require different types of skills and upskilling. Our focus should be [on] the new skills that are required in this new landscape. PM Modi has recently announced a 08,000-crore three-year-plan for skilling focused on exactly this―preparing young Indians to be skilled with industry-ready, future-ready skills.

On the issue of privacy and the impact of AI, the government is coming up with the Digital Data Protection Bill and the Digital India Act (DIA), and among the issues that laws will deal with are issues like algorithmic accountability and ethical use of emerging tech and guardrails that prevent misuse of AI.

Our government strongly believes that while the good of technology should be promoted, there is a need for clear guardrails to protect digital citizens from its harm, misuse and exploitation. The DIA will be built to ensure this.