Outlandish AI projects have been driving innovation in various countries, including the US, China, and England, among others. Some established companies like Alphabet, Facebook, and Alibaba have also actively invested in moonshot projects that have caused disruptions in their respective areas.
Today, due to the potential use cases of AI in our day-to-day lives, there is a big opportunity to explore and revolutionise the way we perform our tasks. However, despite the likelihood of making breakthroughs, many countries do not show interest as these projects are expensive. Besides, the right intent and lack of necessary skills are some of the prime requirements that can hamstring highly ambitious plans.
India, after being an IT hub for years and now beginning to create a space in AI, must consider taking ambitious initiatives. This brings us to the question: Is India ready for AI-based moonshot projects?
Need For Moonshot Projects In India
Unlike other countries, India is home to people of many different cultures. As a result, challenges in the country are unique, which can limit the widespread use and experimentation of several technologies.
Case in point: There are numerous languages that people speak in India. Thus, existing virtual assistants solutions such as Alexa and Google Home cannot cater to every need of everyone. Global companies that provide such consumer electronics would not prioritise specific needs because it might not immediately bring revenue to the company. Therefore, Indian companies must take similar projects to address some of these challenges, even if there might be no clear business value in sight in the short-term.
ISRO has been the leader in taking moonshot projects along with other commercial businesses. More recently, the failed Chandrayan 2 mission consisted of an AI-powered vehicle named Pragyan. The ambitious project shocked people when the lander was approx 2 km away from the moon when it lost its signal. The enthusiasm to witness the lander on the moon from across the world indicates the excitement around ambitious projects like these. Despite the unsuccessful venture, people are now looking forward to the next attempt – Chandrayan 3.
Undoubtedly, funding for such projects has always been a constraint in India, but there is no shortage of aspirants in the country where the median age of the population is 26.8 years. And not just enthusiasm, the country has now been one of the significant contributors in the AI space with several ML-based business-related solutions. There is a shortage in ML-based consumer products, but this should not be a constraint as the idea of moonshot projects does not emphasize on immediate revenue. If a project of this nature becomes successful, a new sector will potentially get created, which can then open up numerous opportunities in the future to make it profitable.
Role Of Large-Scale Indian Businesses
All around the world, moonshot projects are funded either by a consortium of organisations or wholly by a firm. For instance, the self-driving car of Waymo was only supported by Google to build and democratise autonomous vehicles during its inception in 2009. Even today, autonomous vehicles are not grounded and seem years away from achieving their goal since the current AI is not artificial general intelligence (AGI). Imagine how ambitious Google was in 2009 to start building autonomous vehicles. Although started by Google, external investment may be needed to expedite the innovation further.
A similar approach is required in India by big Indian companies to make groundbreaking innovations. It cannot always be the government that funds for such projects, which is the case with ISRO. And it seems that India has started to move in that direction with Haptik – an NLP-based company – that has announced its latest initiative called Conversational.ai. It is an independent research unit of the company for moonshot projects outside the core Haptik business. Founded in 2013, the company provides SaaS products for businesses across the globe.
Conversational.ai was started with the mission to take the world beyond the barriers of language or literacy. “We understand that there are difficult problems that require fresh thinking from the ground-up to solve in NLP,” wrote Aakrit Vaish, Co-Founder of Haptik. Backed by Jio, the company was able to take such an ambitious initiative to gain new ground in the highly complex unstructured NLP landscape.
Failures are inevitable with moonshot projects, especially AI-based initiatives, as the technology keeps changing. The continuous evolution of AI will only bring more opportunities to be explored, and India needs to jump on this bandwagon. With such a vast population, there is no shortage of skills, especially in the IT and analytics industry – all that is needed is a little support from businesses.