The only way to grow output today is to partner with machines
ASHUTOSH SHARMA, secretary, Department of Science and Technology
In his latest Mann ki Baat, PM Narendra Modi touted Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a technology that can be “harnessed to better the lives of the underprivileged, the marginalised and the needy.”
In this year’s budget, the government doubled the allocation for the Digital India initiative in part to support the cyber physical systems mission. Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, department of science and technology, spoke to
Malavika Vyawahare to explain what an AI revolution means for India. Excerpts:
What is AI?
AI is the future of mankind. Machine learning has two aspects; analysis and decision making. The machine has to have access to all kinds of data, it has to choose what is most relevant and and arrive at decisions.
This involves having access to data and also communication. The next generation of communications 5G is radically different from 4G because it is catering to not just people-to- people communication but also people-tomachine and machine-to-machine communication.
Once you have made a decision, it has to have an action arm. If there is a road cleaning robot. If it gets data that some stretch is dirty, it can go there and clean without human intervention. I call it a cyber physical system.
What is driving the revolution?
If you look at countries that are economically advanced, they have the inverse problem (than India) . They do not have too many young energetic people, so the problem for them is how do you grow? Only way is using AI. Our problem is how do we deploy AI to grow further. Some jobs will disappear; jobs that are repetitive will disappear. The only way to grow output today is by partnering with machines that not only do the job of manufacturing but also decide what is to be manufactured, where the demand is.
What kinds of industries will be impacted first?
It is already being done in the financial sector.The IT industry is undergoing a transformation in that direction. It has been shown that machines can predict as well as the top radiologists. We do not have enough radiologists. Here you are creating a new opportunity, you are now able to serve a population that was not served. That is the opportunity for countries like India.
Delivery of education is a good example. Education is not effective and people are not there. We can have AI teachers.
But wouldn’t that close the door for people getting jobs as teachers?
We will have to reinvent the role of teachers. So we have teachers that focus on different aspects, things that require a human touch.
So we are poised to become big consumers of AI technology. What about producing it?
Even assuming that you are not producing as much of AI in machines here, it does not mean it would not contribute to our economic growth. We should develop more AI, manufacture machines that use AI, but also deploy it. Companies that do not localise their products don’t do as well. We need advances in fundamental AI but we also need that in tailored applications.
What are we doing in India to embrace AI?
The mission on cyber physical systems will be launched next financial year. We have made a modest beginning. We have devoted about ~100 crore this year. This needs to be scaled up. There are 3 aspects: one is the AI layer that is digital. The second layer is physical, like machines and sensors and the third is domains. We will develop centres of excellence. Also, developing human resources at different levelsin high schools, the polytechnic institutes, in advanced research institutes — they can work on technologies that can be taken to the market.