Artificial intelligence has played a disruptive role in the global economy, redefining the way companies around the world operate their business and maximize profits. Countries like China and the USA are in the race for AI supremacy by outbidding each other with newer technologies and innovations.
India is one of the later entrants on the AI scene, but it is by no means a shy one. In a study conducted by Salesforce, India ranked third (after Singapore and Hong Kong) on artificial intelligence readiness in the APAC region. The country’s public and private entities are now in the process of designing an AI framework that would scale up its adoption.
Given the scenario, we found that it was time to take a closer look at the current AI ecosystem in India – entrepreneurs, researchers, data scientists and AI leads of large corporations – and shed light on the strengths, weaknesses and growth potential of artificial intelligence in India. Here are the highlights of our findings using Raghav Bharadwaj’s research material from Emerj Artificial Intelligence.
AI adoption and potential in India – an overview
The Government of India is keen on using AI for socio-economic development and wants to establish a formal policy in place for the same. It has commissioned the country’s premier think tank, Niti Aayog, to create a national strategy on AI. Niti Aayog proposes AI applications in three main areas:
- Precision agriculture – increasing farm yields with real-time advisory based on satellite imagery, weather data, etc
- Healthcare – preventive healthcare to reduce costs and ensure better patient recovery
- Languages – Creating a natural language processing platform for 22 Indian languages to aid in conversation and counseling
The government’s ambitious plans to augment AI adoption in the country have created widespread opportunities for private players who are taking on government contracts, thereby enhancing the AI ecosystem with new technologies and startups. Simultaneously, tech companies have been bullish in onboarding AI solutions. Global and domestic tech giants, such as Google, Walmart Labs, Flipkart, etc, have invested in or acquired AI startups/companies to embed themselves into the ecosystem further. A prime example of this is an investment of 4.3 million CHF by the Indian conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra in Switzerland’s agritech company Gamaya SA. Through this investment, Gamaya will scale up its precision agriculture and digital farming technologies worldwide.
Strengths and opportunities
Despite being late in joining the AI revolution, members of the AI community in India are optimistic that it will be integrated into the economy very quickly. They also anticipate a greater role for India in the global AI landscape.
There are several factors that validate this optimism, the main one being a strong foundation in IT and ITeS services (7.7% of India’s GDP). This will enable tech providers to transition into AI services effortlessly. Tech cities such as Bangalore and Hyderabad are primed for AI-driven innovation.
Besides the IT sector, Sundara Ramalingam Nagalingam, Head of Deep Learning Practice at NVIDIA India points out other advantages that the country holds, “India is the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world, with three to four startups being born here daily. We believe India has a major advantage over other countries in terms of talent, a vibrant startup ecosystem, strong IT services and an offshoring industry to harness the power of AI.”
Weaknesses and risks
Despite being fertile territory for innovation, India faces a shortage of AI knowledge and skills. Talented data scientists with experience in a real business context are few and far between. While there may be no dearth of software engineers in the country (2.75 million in 2017), not many are trained on AI. Those who possess the skills and can train others find it more economical to work in large corporations than teach in universities.
The lack of knowledge has led to a great deal of ambiguity on the subject. AI is viewed as a separate industry and not as a technology. Concerns about machines taking over human jobs are common and act as a deterrent.
Additionally, the struggles with inadequate venture capital funding, a largely cash-based economy and language translation issues are slowing down the pace of growth.
The way forward
A report by Accenture stated that “AI has the potential to add US$ 957 billion, or 15 percent of India’s current gross value in 2035.” As Raghav’s research indicates, India will have to tweak a few flaws to realize this potential.
Focusing on skilling manpower would be the first step in this direction. A skilled workforce will form a strong foundation for any policy-level changes that need to be implemented. To do so, India’s engineers will need to be given exposure to modern AI approaches, and an industry-academia collaboration will need to be established. To encourage innovation and strengthen the AI ecosystem further, India’s government will need to step in and plug the funding gaps and introduce more public sector initiatives.
Additionally, India should play to its strength in using technology for social welfare. P. Anandan, CEO of Wadhwani AI, said, “India’s real opportunity is doing AI for social good as we have historically always been a technology testbed for social efforts and we possess the technological know-how to get it done reasonably well here.”
As the research suggests, India has all the necessary prerequisites to leverage the potential of artificial intelligence technologies. With a strategic vision and adequate measures for implementation in place, India could very well be the origin of the next big AI disruption.
This research was originally created by Raghav Bharadwaj of Emerj Artificial Intelligence Research and published in “Artificial Intelligence in India – Opportunities, Risks, and Future Potential“.