NITI Aayog, back in June 2018, released the National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence, and now PM Narendra Modi launched the ‘AI for All’ initiative by CBSE. An approach towards fulfilling NEP 2020 objectives, the government seems keen to have youth ready for the future. But, why?
“I personally view ‘AI for All’ representing both sides of the coin: the equitable access to AI skills, as well as the equitable deployment of AI technologies. In a diverse country like ours, with citizens across different literacy levels and economic strata, both of these are extremely important,” said Vineeth N Balasubramanian, Head of AI Dept., IIT-Hyderabad.
Being the third-largest economy in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the second-highest number of engineering graduates, and the world’s highest data usage per smartphone — India’s low number of academic, corporate peer-reviewed AI publications do not justify its potential. Nevertheless, AI holds the potential to transform businesses and can add USD 957 billion, or 15 per cent of India’s current gross value, in 2035, as per the industry report. However, a clear lack of cutting-edge skills in the market is visible, thereby retarding India’s growth engine.
Image Credits: AI Index Report 2021
A Timely Act
First, because of being a low middle-income country, India has more than 90 per cent of its workforce in the informal sector. A land of over 1.3 billion population is witnessing a sharp rise in unemployment, with the unemployment rate reaching 13% in June 2021. Additionally, the tertiary sector cannot compensate for the job losses due to automation in the manufacturing industry. With such a significant demographic dividend, the time is ripe to expose the young workforce to work with AI interfaces, automation and machine learning. Without a lot of investment or structural change, this can be accomplished through online training programmes, the integration of AI and automation into existing education curricula, and business training programmes for recruits. Simply put, this will enhance the employability of Indian youth.
“The skills to gather, analyse and extract valuable insights out of data are a need across professions, whether an engineer, a bureaucrat, or a company executive. Not surprisingly, this is also very critical to the efficient implementation of large government programs, among other things. So, I feel that investing in AI has both short-term and long-term benefits. In the shorter term, we are preparing the youth for newer career opportunities. In the longer term, we are pushing for our society to be more data-driven and invent completely newer industries and opportunities,” said Anirban Dasgupta, Professor, CSE, IIT-Gandhinagar.
Secondly, the vision to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25 may not be an overstated target. However, it needs to bring AI into the economic processes to efficiently utilise scarce resources and yield better value realisation to achieve the desired target. The startup ecosystem is witnessing a boom, with experts predicting around 150 unicorns in India by 2025. Thirdly, international dynamics need to be taken into consideration. Although between 2010-19, India stands third in publishing AI-related scholarly articles with 83,384 AI papers, the gap is huge compared to China (471,726 papers) and the US (310,562 papers). Moreover, India lags behind countries like Taiwan, Germany, South Korea, etc., when it comes to AI patents.
What is the best we can do?
Anirban adds that the best preparation comes from two key skills — making the fundamentals solid and building confidence in the student to tinker and learn things for themselves. The curriculum needs to be in touch with the real world and needs to inculcate creativity in the students. More than deciding which AI software and techniques should be in the curriculum, we need to see how to make it flexible to accommodate the different learning goals of students.
India needs to go beyond policy discussions, implement concrete measures, and let AI be accessible to all within a stipulated time frame. “Equitable access requires skilling individuals across application sectors and ages – not necessarily software professionals, even domain experts, say agriculturists, manufacturers or truckers need to be educated – on how the use of AI technologies can make their respective products or services more efficient and effective. Equitable deployment, on the other hand, necessitates a fair, unbiased, equal-opportunity use of AI technologies across different domains,” said Vineeth.
The success of AI as a whole will be determined by how a vast and diversified country like India navigates its way toward becoming future-ready. India needs to ride on the AI wave with full force.