Govt plans to launch a national centre for artificial intelligence by July

The Central government, in its quest to simplify governance, is planning to launch a national centre for artificial intelligence. The centre is expected to be operational by July and work has begun for a launch.

To be known as the National Artificial Intelligence Centre, the unit will be part of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), and will work in collaboration with other entities of the department such as the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), senior government officials said.

According to sources in the government, a centre like this could cost Rs 400-450 crore. The decision to set up the centre, government officials said, was taken based on reports from panels that were set up last year. The panels evaluated the use of AI for citizens, setting up a data platform, skilling and reskilling, research and development, and examining the challenges involving legal, regulatory, ethical and cybersecurity aspects.

"The panels gave us a lot of fodder to think on, and suggested setting up of a national AI centre," a senior government official told Business Standard. “The centre will try to innovate in AI for government applications. It will look at how AI can be used in health care, education, and agriculture from a public systems delivery perspective.”

Policy think-tank NITI Aayog had released a discussion paper in June last year on the "National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence". It had identified five areas — health care, agriculture, smart cities, education and transportation — that would gain the most from AI. The paper highlighted the barriers to adoption but came under criticism for not providing any roadmap for implementation.

The government has been toying with the idea of taking help from the technology and already has a smaller centre working on AI under the NIC. It now wants a national centre that could work more with academic institutions to understand how AI can help in governance. "AI can’t grow without data. NIC has two centres — one on AI and one on data analytics. C-DAC has also done phenomenal work on languages. Our interest is to see how this can be used for governance applications," the senior government official said.

According to a recent report by consultancy PwC, AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030. Another report by Accenture says AI has the potential to add $957 billion, or 15 per cent of current gross value added, to India’s economy in 2035.

Countries like the US, China, Canada, Russia, even Estonia, have been investing in developing their AI capabilities. "We do a lot of work with the US government. There, AI is being used for citizen services and rolling out national programmes. AI and robotic helps them reach out at a massive speed. The sooner a centre like this (AI centre) is set up here, the better," said Milan Sheth, executive vice-president for India, the Middle East and Africa at robotic process automation firm Automation Anywhere.

He said that while countries like China were using AI for more intrusive applications like surveillance and mapping citizen behaviour, India could do well to develop government to citizen and government to government interactions using AI. Even the United Arab Emirates, which was the first to create a ministry of AI, is focusing on using the technology in government applications, he said.

According to a paper by research firm IDC and storage company Seagate, global data will grow from 33 zettabytes (1 ZB is 1 trillion gigabytes) in 2018 to 175 ZB by 2025. The accuracy of AI systems increases with larger amounts of data. And given its large population and massive amounts of data, India is fertile ground for developing better AI systems. "The country’s diversity of languages, dialects, accents, scripts, dress, and culture presents a rich set of challenging problems for AI. Current AI techniques are limited in their ability to handle complexity, and they’ll have to mature to deal with the diversity of life in India. The needs of India’s population also pose interesting challenges for AI," Varun Aggarwal, co-founder of Aspiring Minds, a company that uses AI to match talent with jobs, arote in a post for the MIT Technology Review last year.

The MeitY is yet to decide where the new centre could be set up.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel