What The AI Task Force Missed: Factoring In China’s Infallible AI Education Plan

Indian Artificial Intelligence Task Force’s report for economic transformation covered a gamut of topics and focused on the country’s policies which can play a pivotal role in strengthening India’s position globally. Despite laying down some sound recommendations, the task force, headed by Dr V Kamakoti was panned for lacking vision and strategy. While the report identified 10 important domains, it did not shed enough light on India’s overall preparedness for implementing these AI solutions. Though there was a concrete mention of an AI-based curriculum which can help in reskilling, the report lacked depth in subjects such as ethics in AI or national security.

The recommendations also failed to cover key challenges India should tackle to beef up its analytical and data capabilities, such as data availability and privacy protection. Also, as pointed out by industry experts, when it comes to policy-making India seems to be toeing China’s line. But China puts AI at the core of its nation-building agenda and has invested significantly in building the entire ecosystem.

China Takes The Lead In AI By Launching A Slew Of Educational Initiatives

China’s universities produce the most number of research papers and the country’s Ministry of Education set itself up an ambitious goal to train AI talent. A recent news report highlighted that China plans to establish over 100 “AI+X” specialisation categories by the year 2020 in the fields like Physics, Maths, Biology, Psychology, Sociology and Law. The action plan will also compile 50 seminal teaching materials, 50 state-level online open courses, and open 50 additional AI teaching and R&D centres over the coming decade.

According to another report on China’s plan to stem the AI talent gap, The Affiliated Elementary School of Peking University has already introduced primary students to genetic algorithms and neural networks through explainable graphics and games. This is pegged to be a part of a larger initiative to promote STEM and AI courses in elementary and secondary schools. According to reports, the Tongzhou District Experimental Primary School has added 75 AI-related courses, including a winter boot camp to teach students how to file patents for robotics, and help them build awareness for intellectual property protection.

Close on the heels of this development, Peking University, the Ministry of Education and Sinovation AI Lab recently announced plans for Global AI Talent Training Program for Chinese Universities. As part of the plan, the trio will reskill 500 teachers and 5,000 students over the next five years. As part of the mandate, the staff will have a computer science background and would be affiliated with an AI institute.

Lessons India Can Learn From China In Educating The Next Generation

A key oversight in the AI roadmap was how regarding directions as to how India can create an educational infrastructure and build partnerships with private players. According to a tech blog, while building AI capability sounds promising on the surface, a lot needs to be done to meet the high demand for AI talent. Bengaluru-based outbound hiring firm startup Belong states that due to the exponential increase in the adoption of AI and automation across organisations, demand for AI professionals has increased. This trend will continue in 2018 with a higher demand for AI and robotics professionals despite the onslaught of automation.  

There is an uptake in online courses and India Inc is rushing to upskill in areas like machine learning, cloud computing and big data. Enterprises have set up accelerator programs in an attempt to foster talent and get solutions from vertically-focused AI startups which are powering emergent technologies. But can online education meet the demand for this highly rigorous and challenging field? According to ML researchers, the online training trend cannot substitute the engineering skills required for AI and ML which are cultivated after years of research and training.

A Recent Post Highlighted Core Subject Areas India Should Focus On To Develop Its Educational Infrastructure:

The task force report doesn’t cover the preparedness of India and issues to be resolved such as analytical skills and data availability. To counter the talent gap, India should start training the next generation in subjects that can help build a foundation for AI, for example, subjects like Maths with a special emphasis on statistics, probability, algebra and calculus and physics. Other subjects which can promote AI teaching are programming, designing, robotics, engineering, computer architecture, database management, cryptography and program analysis, among others.

In terms of beefing up the data infrastructure, the AI Task Force is chalking out plans to establish data banks and data exchanges to facilitate the availability of cross-industry data and information. It is also working towards policy framework to enable development and deployment of AI-based products and encourage industry-academia participation. However, India can catch up with its global predecessors if it doubles down on its building a STEM-based educational infrastructure, especially at the school level.

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Richa Bhatia
Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.

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