With India emerging as a key player in the new world order, it has been cinching strategic partnerships with countries around technologies like AI and ML. With the curtain coming down on US President Donald’s Trump’s maiden visit to India, a stronger commitment to strengthen technology ties between the two countries was found wanting.
However, the technology sector had been a key focus area for both in the past. Buoyed by India’s investments in expanding its digital infrastructure, there had always been a large scope for the two countries to embrace frontier technologies and collaborate on enhancing capabilities for AI.
Taken independently, the two countries have had very different approaches towards AI.
The US’ budget for FY2020 allocated over $970 million to government agencies for non-defence AI research. In fact, this is the first time the country has acquiesced to agency-specific requests for expenditure on AI. This is in addition to routine measures taken to sharpen the country’s AI arsenal with clear, effective strategies.
While this could help the US maintain its global leadership position in AI, India continues to lag behind. The country is trailing when it comes to policy vision, execution, and expenditure on AI. And other than a research paper anchored by Niti Aayog and a national-level AI workshop attended by relevant stakeholders, there is little else by way of progress.
Even the long overdue Rs 7,000 crore financial boost for a national AI programme is a pittance given that it needs to be sustained till 2025, bringing down the annual spend.
While efforts in India will be directed towards developing a proper AI roadmap, the US looks to better leverage opportunities, and ensure collaborative opportunities with industry, academia and other nations. And this includes AI partnerships with India.
While a major share of this has been in defence, with India increasing its procurement of high-technology equipment, this alliance can go beyond military. With technologies like AI shaping new possibilities in areas like transportation, healthcare, and research, both countries have been presented with new opportunities for partnerships going ahead.
India-US E-Mobility Collaboration
Laying the groundwork for a first-of-its-kind partnership dialogue between Gujarat and Colorado, the US-India ‘State and Urban Initiative’ was launched in 2016 to facilitate knowledge sharing in support of an electric mobility transition between the two states.
This collaboration involved a diverse set of stakeholders, including auto manufacturers, urban development agencies, research institutions, and policymakers, who went on to share best practices and identified opportunities for further partnership.
While Colorado aims to increase the number of its electric vehicles to 940,000 by 2030, Gujarat is looking at 100,000 electric vehicles by 2023. Irrespective of whether they meet their targets or not, this kind of open communication between both states could set an example of how governments can work together to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the electric mobility revolution.
Partnership To Counter Epidemics Like Covid-19
With all countries – including India and the US – restricting itself to quarantine procedures and timely detection of the virus to contain its spread, establishing joint agreements on ways to combat such events may be the need of the hour and AI can bolster such a partnership.
World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a data repository carrying the latest scientific findings on Covid-19. Although it regularly updates this by scouring bibliographic databases, conducting this exercise manually can be exhaustive. AI tools can be enabled to handle this level of information in the most effective and accurate manner.
These tools can be equipped to collect relevant information from global sources and analyse it to make AI-based recommendations. There is also an urgent need for a comprehensive policy ecosystem to handle such issues at a global level. A coordinated and proactive R&D capability is also critical. This is where a stronger partnership between India and the US will be crucial.
India had pledged to abide by the obligations stated in the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) back in 1974 and since then, has been seeking opportunities to improve its capabilities in the field of biotechnology. Building on this, it had signed a 10-year agreement with the US in 2015. Under this agreement, both countries will develop lightweight protective suits effective in chemically hazardous environments. While this is a good initiative, there is a scope for further collaboration in the expanding fields of AI and healthcare.
AI Research & Development
The potential gains from cooperation on the competitive talent available in both countries are many. Various global companies – including those from the US – have established research and product development centres in India.
With the exponential growth at which AI is expanding, it will greatly influence the business landscape in the years to come, and both countries can drive this phenomenon with capacity building of enterprises. Such a scenario also throws open a vibrant community of startups and collaborative entrepreneurial opportunities on both sides.
India has remained an important market for the US, especially in recent times. During Barack Obama’s first visit to India in 2010, the US lifted export controls on high-technology equipment exports. Almost a decade on, it had further eased export controls for high-tech product sales to India. This was achieved by designating India as a Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) country – the only South Asian nation to be on this list.
The US vision towards Asia has largely been centred around China, but this is slowly changing. India’s rise in Asia, coupled with fragility in US-China relations, may drive the US to rethink its Asia policy.