State of AI in India

What have been the main recent policy trends and developments in the AI sector in India?

Following several years of continuously accelerating GDP growth and an ongoing focus on digital inclusiveness, the Indian government is now devoting more attention to a consideration of how rapid advances in Artificial intelligence (AI) technology can be leveraged to address the unique economic and societal challenges faced by the sub-continent. So, what have been the main recent policy trends and developments in the AI sector in India? What is the long-term potential for the country to emerge as a globally significant center of expertise in AI? And how best might IT professionals contribute to this ongoing process?


National AI strategy

Over the last year or so the Government of India has become much more aware of the potential of AI and established several committees and taskforces to study the implications of AI technologies for the sub-continent. The Ministry of Commerce was the first to set-up such a committee -- which released a report in December 2017 -- and the Ministry of Defence has also established a high-level taskforce to study the impact of AI on national security.

Another very interesting recent development is the 'National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence' report, prepared by the government's premier policy think tank NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India). As co-author Arnab Kumar, Manager, Frontier Technologies at NITI Aayog, explains, India's strategy for AI is premised on what can be seen as an '#AIforAll' approach based on 'inclusive technology leadership, where the full potential of AI is realized in pursuance of the country's unique needs and aspirations' -- and which, amongst other things, seeks to establish India as the 'solution provider of choice' for emerging and developing economies. 

According to Kumar, to date the adoption of AI has been driven primarily by commercial considerations, leading to sectors like financial services, autonomous vehicles and telecoms becoming the early leaders in AI implementation. In contrast, he says the Indian government approach is to ‘focus on sectors that offer the greatest externalities.’ "Efforts from the private sector may neither be financially optimal nor efficient on a standalone basis in these sectors, and hence sustained government intervention to tackle the existing challenges and constraints is needed. Hence, India's approach to implementation of AI has to be guided by optimization of social goods, rather than maximization of top line growth," he says.

In recognition of this difference, the strategy report focuses on five sectors: healthcare, agriculture, education, smart cities and infrastructure, and smart mobility and implementation. As well as recommending a two-tier focus on both core and applied research -- via a Centre of Research Excellence (CORE) and International Center of Transformational AI (ICTAI) with a mandate of developing and deploying application-based research -- Kumar reveals that the government is also keen on pursuing 'moonshot' projects, ambitious explorations that 'aim to push the technology frontier and that would require the pursuit of world class technology development and leadership in applying AI technologies to solve some of the biggest challenges.'

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