V Kamakoti committee on Artificial Intelligence only skims the surface

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The report of the ‘Task Force on Artificial Intelligence for India’s Economic Transformation’, constituted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and headed by  V Kamakoti of IIT Madras is finally out (dipp.nic.in/whats-new/report-task-force-artificial-intelligence). It is a set of preliminary recommendations, and not as detailed as perhaps the subject demanded or even some of the other task force committee reports on other subjects. It focuses specifically on three policy questions: 1) What are the areas the government should play a role? 2) How can AI improve quality of life and solve problems for Indian citizens? and 3) What are the sectors that can generate employment and growth by the use of AI technology? It could perhaps have tackled a couple of other exceedingly important questions. For example, what are the policies needed to turn India into an AI research powerhouse, and not merely an user of AI solutions? Or for that matter, how does one guard against the dark side of AI, a topic which is being debated by many of the world’s technology titans as well as researchers. Perhaps those questions were not part of the brief given by the ministry to the committee. But the committee members – who are all eminent people from different fields – could have expanded their brief as well.

Despite that, there is a lot to praise about the report. It clearly identifies 10 important domains – Manufacturing, Fintech, Healthcare, Agriculture/Food Processing, Education, Retail/Customer Engagement, Aid for the Differently Abled/Accessibility Technology, Environment, National Security and Public Utility Services. It also highlights some of the work being done by AI focused tech companies and start ups which are working in these areas.

The good part of the task force report is that it goes on to make some very concrete recommendations on each of these areas, which the government can follow up. Apart from specific pointers on each of these 10 domains, the report also makes some other suggestions. It calls for the setting up of an Inter-Ministerial National Artificial Intelligence Mission funded to the tune of Rs 1200 crores over 5 years. (The report’s recommendations are all for a 5 year period). The main task of the mission should be setting up Centres of Excellence, setting up a generic AI testbed for developers to use as a validation platform, creation of interdisciplinary large data centre etc. The report also seeks setting up of Digital Data Centers, Market Places etc, for creating standards for development and deployment of AI solutions. Other suggestions include tax and other incentives for boosting use of AI; AI based curriculum for education and skilling; and leveraging international relationships and participation in AI based international standard setting discussions.

The main problem with the survey is that it gives a glimpse of what the government should be doing – it just does not delve deep enough into the subject. In areas like national security, ethics in AI, and even in creating centres of excellence, it seems to skim the surface.

The problem is that AI is a multi dimensional issue. One set is about how to use AI to improve services and get an edge. The other is on AI research and standard setting, which is what will differentiate one country from another. The second part cannot be segregated from the first one simply because the country which will become an AI research powerhouse will also set the standards, and also use the best of AI in creating solutions for its citizens and its industry. Currently, the US and China are locked in a battle to be the leaders in AI, and other countries are trying as well. India has been slow to react, being content more to be an user of AI solutions rather than creating AI solutions on its own. The task force had a golden chance to rectify that by recommending how we could join the race. Perhaps it was not its brief to answer that question – but there was no reason why it could not have expanded its brief.

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