Artificial Intelligence? Seems like a little tune in the distance to the common Indian mass, I suppose? Leaving behind the AI enthusiasts, the general population of the country may not have even heard the tune, or, even if they heard of it, many of the gloom merchants must have shooed it away as a no-no to revolution.
However, every Indian—from a teenager to a housewife—is terrified of that stomach-lurching feeling that comes when their smartphones go missing, because that tiny device connects us not only with the people in our contact list but with the world. Our smartphones and several Apps that we install use artificial intelligence in some way or the other.
So if you can’t imagine your life without the daily dose of internet surfing, ordering things online and discovering new songs on your favorite music-streaming App; if you are a bad navigator and constantly rely on Google maps to find your way to your destination; or if you love following what’s hot in Facebook and Pinterest, then a tiny heads up, folks; you are already deep into the morass of AI. This proves how little we know about artificial intelligence, but how fast is its root tangling us up.
John McCarthy, who originally coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ in 1956, rightly quipped: “As soon as it works, no-one calls it AI anymore.”
AI is the technology of making a machine so intelligent that it begins to think like a human—the science that outpaces reality, defying man’s right to be the smartest being. With the help of complicated algorithms; audio- and vision-processing systems; natural language-processing and inference engines; machine learning and expert systems, intelligent machines, as they were once known, can not only think but also sense, comprehend and take actions like a human (refer to figure). A more colloquial definition of AI, thus, would be “AI is the study of intelligent agents: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals”-Wiki.
Artificial intelligence is a fascination, a science that is taking the world by storm and is expected to lead to the industrial revolution 5.0. But, unlike you might have presumed, AI is not new. Astonishingly, Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese mythologies have mentions of artificially intelligent beings in their scriptures. However, the beginning of modern AI can be traced back to 1936 when Turing designed the first machine that used an algorithm. Artificial Intelligence as a science was formally introduced in the Dartmouth conference in 1956, where John McCarthy coined the term ‘Artificial intelligence’.
In case of India, though the first program on AI in India was conducted as early as the 1960s by Professor H.N. Mahabala, research in AI actually took off in 1986 when the Government of India launched the Knowledge-Based Computing Systems (KBCS) program in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program. Several projects have been undertaken by Indian scientists since then. Some of the earliest projects on Artificial Intelligence in India are: the project on Machine Translation for Indian Languages by IIT Kanpur; Optical Character Recognition project by ISI Kolkata; flight-scheduling expert system, Sarani, developed by CDAC, Mumbai; a speech synthesis system developed for Indian railways by TIFR; an image-processing facility developed by IISc using AI and vision techniques.
The complete history of AI is more intriguing, but let’s move ahead.
If iPhone is not your cup of tea, Siri must have escaped your attention. But, let me have the liberty to assume that you already have crossed paths with Alexa. Both are voice-powered personal assistants that help you fish for information, schedule appointments, add events to calendars, shop, set alarm and so on. If you are tech-savvy and a car lover, a Tesla should definitely be on your things-to-buy list because it comes with adaptive cruise control, emergency brakes, autosteer, auto-park and Summon (recalling the car from a parking space!). Chef Watson, an artificially intelligent platform that can help you cook a delicacy with whatever’s available in your kitchen, is a foodie’s delight, while Netflix and Amazon Prime can keep a binge-watcher forever entertained by suggesting a host of movies and series. For the business-minded, Adext is the means of finding the most profitable audience for any ad and Grid is the artificially intelligent tool to build a website from scratch. Besides finding life on other planets—e.g., the Mars 2020 rover mission is a part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program—artificial intelligence can save our own doom-laden planet too—e.g., Microsoft is turning high-resolution imagery into land cover maps, which can be used to make sound decision on how to use and preserve a piece of land.
These are a few of the innumerable ways how AI is making our lives smarter and, hence, easier.
With aggressive initiatives like Skill India, Make in India and Digital India, the Indian Government is desperately trying to increase human capital on a national scale and attract global manufacturers’ attention while providing specific emphasis on the younger population. India ranked the third biggest AI-focused start-up hub among the G20 countries in 2016. The market for AI is exponentially growing since 2011 at a CAGR of 86% higher than the global average. According to a report by Analytics India, startups raised an all-time high capital in 2018, registering a 368% growth from 2017 (first graph), with an investment of USD$ 529.52 million in the applied technology sector and AI, Machine Learning and Data Science being the major domains and sub-domains (second graph).
If the present is this revolutionary, what’s in store for the future? Definitely something big.
According to a PwC report, AI is expected to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030—$6.6 trillion due to increased productivity and $9.1 trillion due to consumption side effects. Countries that will be most benefited from AI are China and North America (26% and 14.5% boost to GDP in 2030, respectively).
Accenture projects that the market for Artificial Intelligence in India will make US$957 billion by 2035—i.e., 15% of the country’s current gross value added (GVA)—with an expected annual growth rate of 1.3% (refer to graphs).
This was the statistical perspective; the complete picture is still vague though. AI may take any direction in the future—no one knows which.
Besides the commonly prevailing fears of AI jeopardizing the economy of many countries, leaving millions jobless and making the world overly dependent on machines, there’s another terrifying assumption that Indian think tanks have been toying with. What if they are left behind in the race? Needless to say, superpower or not, every nation comes across stumbling blocks when adopting new technology, and India, being still in its developing phase, is hardly an exception.
Some of the hurdles for Artificial Intelligence in India are:
Due to the age-old incompetent curricula followed in most of the educational institutes in India, there’s a lack of adequate talent to build and deploy AI systems at scale. Job roles and skills tend to change very rapidly. According to a recent study, only 4% of AI professionals have worked on trending technologies, such as neural network.
This scarcity of adept AI professionals has discouraged any scope of awareness on what AI is and how it can benefit businesses. Most of the public enterprises and government agencies find the technology unreliable and, hence, refrain from adopting it for their businesses.
Exorbitant price and low availability of computer infrastructure have made the development and deployment of AI systems strenuous. For instance, although rapidly growing, the Cloud infrastructure in India is less capable than that followed by developed nations.
This dearth of quality infrastructure has led many new AI startups to establish their businesses overseas, leaving their industry-related strategies and data out of reach from Indian researchers and enthusiastic public.
Industry-specific data from established startups can be used as guidelines for building new AI platforms and solutions. But, inaccessibility of such data makes it very difficult for new startups to make their mark amidst the already-growling giants, like Facebook and Google. This leaves the reins of AI in the hands of a few major players, outcasting the rest.
The answer is to develop a comprehensive, long-term roadmap for harnessing artificial intelligence in the economic growth of the country.
Pitching India as the AI “garage for the emerging and developing economies”, the Government think tank Niti Ayog has penned down a few strategies to overcome the hurdles that AI faces in India.
The development of an AI-based system is an extremely long process, involving a vast range of specialized sub-processes. Hence, it becomes difficult for a small/medium-sized business to incorporate all these processes by themselves and still deploy a product on time. A multi-stakeholder marketplace will focus on providing a level playing field, incentivizing the collaboration of various stakeholders and addressing information inaccessibility, thus helping in the smooth functioning of the entire process.
As already discussed, broadening the accessibility to informative data sets is imperative in the process of setting small enterprises. Though the Government has enhanced the accessibility of data sets through the Open Government Data Platform, the process has a long way to go.
The next big step is to encourage partnership between the Government bodies, industries, educational institutes and civil societies, so that different parties can come together to solve the technical and ethical hurdles that delay the growth of AI in the country.
The applications and benefits of AI in various fields should be made transparent for the general public. This can be accomplished by building a general platform to serve as a single source of truth about different initiatives and projects on AI. Government agencies, public sector enterprises and small/medium-scale domestic firms should be made acquainted with the benefits of AI through workshops, conferences and live demonstration of how to implement AI to augment business growth.
The Government must form various funding schemes to assist startups in their initial years of business. Besides this, the establishment of incubation hubs to assist in setting a standard startup ecosystem will be of much help.
The worst fear of man—the victory of machine over human—came true when AI-based computer, AlphaGo, defeated the world champion Lee Sedol in the ancient board game Go by four to one. Meanwhile, a few highly enthusiast technologists were amazing the world with their innovative AI-augmented, smart agricultural techniques, which will revolutionize the agricultural sector.
The future is enigmatic—no one knows what lays ahead of us. Either AI advancements will go haywire and meet its end abruptly one day or it will become big enough to enslave mankind or it will exist symbiotically with man and serve the purpose of the greater good. Whatever the outcome is, we should get updated when a new technology is on its way.
iNurture believes in the objective of intelligent nurturing, a vision to transform higher education through innovative models. It collaborates with different universities offering Artificial Intelligence Courses to bring this contemporary technology within the reach of young India.