January 16, 2021

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Indian IT Ministry holds consultations on using AI for welfare schemes

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has reinitiated consultations with ministries and government departments on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to implement state-run services.

According to a report, the ministry is expected to use AI on a trial basis for certain welfare and scholarship programmes that it oversees. A national AI implementation plan is in the works to be released after. Further, the ministry will push for the ‘judicious’ use of AI and create jobs.

In October, MeitY was hoping for Cabinet approval to use AI in the implementation of certain government-run programmes, but the plan was deferred after some ministries raised objections. Around 150 AI-based job placements have been shortlisted. Concerns over job losses have been highlighted and are being addressed, a senior government official has explained.

The judicious use of AI has been encouraged by senior government officials, following a speech made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year during the Responsible AI for Social Empowerment (RAISE 2020) event, where he highlighted the responsible use of technologies like AI, which are empowering and easily accessible.

“It remains our collective responsibility to ensure trust in how AI is used. Algorithm transparency is key to establishing this trust. Equally important is accountability. We must protect the world against [the] weaponisation of AI by non-state actors,” the Prime Minister had stated.

OpenGov Asia had reported on the event, which was the government’s mega virtual summit on AI. India is home to the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem, elite science and technology institutions like the IITs, robust and ubiquitous digital infrastructure, and millions of newly-minted STEM graduates every year.

As such, India is well-positioned to become a global leader in the development of AI. Industry analysts predict that AI could add up to US$957 billion to India’s economy by 2035. The government aims to stand out in the international community not just as a leader in the field, but also as a model of responsible AI use for social empowerment. The nation has robust plans to leverage AI for inclusive development, representing the country’s ‘AI for All’ strategy.

Last year, the IT Ministry had constituted four committees on AI and its various aspects, such as buildings, models, and frameworks, and use of the technology for identifying and implementing critical national missions in key sectors. Two committees had also looked at the ethical aspects around the use of AI and the various methods of re-skilling or up-skilling the workforce to better understand the technology.

A recent report showed that to cope with the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian businesses adopted a variety of AI tools, leading to a rise in AI adoption higher than several major economies like the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The manufacturing sector reconfigured traditional practices to automate value chain processes. The government engaged with technology firms to solve problems in the new normal, for instance, by using contact tracing and contactless thermal screening.

Similarly, universities, start-ups, and the healthcare sector have developed AI-powered diagnostic guidance systems to help patients and models to predict the spread of the virus. India reported a 45% increase in the use of AI, while the United States recorded a 35% rise, the United Kingdom 23%, and Japan 28%.