India- The next emerging superpower in artificial intelligence

The Indian Artificial Intelligence market is valued at $6.4 billion till July – August 2020. Moreover, domestic firms and AI startups are now growing with implementation of new tech solutions. Hence, we can say that industries all over are witnessing an accelerated adoption of AI-led technologies to ensure business continuity. AI industry experts’ voice out what India needs to become an AI global hub.

India-The next emerging superpower in artificial intelligence

The word ‘Artificial Intelligence’ was coined in a proposal for a workshop called 2 months, 10-man study for Artificial Intelligence during August 31, 1955. John McCarthy (Dartmouth College), Marvin Minsky (Harvard University), Nathaniel Rochester (IBM), and Claude Shannon (Bell Telephone Laboratories) were the names behind this workshop which took place after a year. Officially, AI originated in July and August of 1956.

The field of AI has evolved since then and now it is an integral part of industries such as fin-tech, healthcare, and infrastructure. It is revolutionizing operational and functional systems of all these industries. Though India is still at the cusp of rapid developments in artificial intelligence technology, COVID-19 has spurred the development of AI-enabled utilities as businesses transform themselves digitally.

Currently, the Indian Artificial Intelligence market is valued at $6.4 billion till July – August 2020. Moreover, domestic firms and AI startups are now scaling up with new tech solutions. Hence, we can say that industries all over are witnessing an accelerated adoption of AI-led technologies to ensure business continuity.

Understanding that AI is the need of the hour, government is now taking keen interest in developing the sector and to create a robust public AI infrastructure for all. Taking a step further, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has been working on a proposal of National Mission of Artificial Intelligence. The project is going to boost the use of AI in India and estimated to cost around Rs 2000 crore.

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Aiming to become leaders in the arena of AI

The market of AI in India is continuously increasing. This can also be gauged from the fact that the number of people looking for jobs in this field is witnessing a stark rise. Job search in AI market have risen to 106 per cent (June ’19 to June ‘20) since last year. AI related job search have seen 20 per cent increase in traffic after the outbreak since the period of March to July.

As per an Indeed survey, top skill technologies companies are seeking are experts of Python, TenserFlow, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) in the post-pandemic world. Venkata Machavarapu, Head of Engineering, India at Indeed India says, “In light of our new reality in a post-pandemic world, the need of the hour for AI is doubled. It is to reinvent existing tech to adapt to the new norms of social distancing and to drive innovation in the creation of tech solutions.” 

With machine learning finding applications across sectors from healthcare, to digital finance to logistics, there are ample opportunities for skilled job seekers to explore which perfectly explains the reason behind surge in AI jobs. Does this mean that can India become an AI superpower of the next decade?

Nikhil Korgaonkar, Regional Director at Arcserve India, a tech solution provider is certain about India becoming the next AI superpower through vigorous innovation and consistent R&D at the technology front. Nikhil says, “Indian companies and AI-entrepreneurs must start investing more on research and to create India-origin AI products and solutions.”

India is already an IT powerhouse hence a conducive environment for AI to flourish here is already present. The government is already taking committed steps to establish a pro-digital infrastructure and the emphasis given to the technology growth in the last two Union Budgets is noted well in the IT fraternity, he says. The recently held virtual global AI summit ‘Responsible AI for Social Empowerment (RAISE 2020)’ is one of the prominent efforts in this field.

Innovation – An Inevitable Vice for Survival

Experts believe that India possesses every ingredient to become an AI hub. The country is strong with a robust IT ecosystem and talented human resources to implement any technology. Globally, India is recognized as a country which has a huge AI-skilled workforce. Sandesh Goel, Managing Director at India, a talent intelligence platform admits that to reap best results and ace in the field technology minds needs to innovate.

He resolves, “In AI and machine learning, the value of data is of paramount importance. To reap the best results from any AI-based solution, it requires a mega volume of diverse data to feed algorithms. AI and tech solution providers in India are at an advantage here given that India is a country of diversity with mega volumes of data generated constantly. This will aid the country to become an emerging AI superpower.”

Additionally, India already has adequate IT resources and knowledge base. It has also been the IT facilitation centre for the world. In ten years from now, AI is poised to be a $15.7 trillion economy. It is already promising to add $957 billion to India’s economy by 2035. But, if we talk about research landscape in AI or Machine learning, we are still in infancy.

As per a research platform Itihaasa, India is behind other regions and ranks fifth in AI research output currently. The UK, Canada, The US and China are ahead in the game. The Global AI Talent Report 2019 states that France was the country with highest percentage of impactful research coming from industry which is nearly 30 percent.

This is followed by India and Israel (29 per cent each), Spain (28 per cent) and the United Kingdom (27 per cent). Similar report by a leading AI conference held in Dec ‘19, Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) states that 12 per cent of global AI researchers are from India. India hence knows how to take advantage of its dominant position in IT to acquire a capability in AI, it can be a good time to assess research framework also.

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Increasing expenditure for artificial intelligence

Over the past decade, digital transformation was already changing and re-inventing the way organisations would conduct business. The process got catapulted further due to pandemic and is slowly becoming a foundational transformation in how an organisation delivers value to its customers. Hence, Artificial Intelligence is acting as a game changer, says Vikas Bhonsle, CEO at Crayon India, a software and cloud solutions company.

Bhonsle tells that the Indian startup sector has already witnessed tremendous up-scaling and notable collaborations with global tech giants. He adds “Indian entrepreneurs today have a better understanding of business models and are well-informed about the technologies. Hence, these are applying AI to create solutions for verticals like BFSI, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail. They are also trying to seek solutions like agriculture, fisheries, marine resources etc.”

According to him, established organisations are now moving ahead of experimentation and money is flowing into AI advances and applications. He adds, “To boost its AI abilities, India must equip both an innovative private segment and a strong supportive policy as a country. It should also build administrative structure seeking an enhancement of AI across stakeholders.”

Though most organisations have been apprehensive about AI and have underestimated its capabilities, there’s no denying that this technology can help businesses in becoming more adaptive, creative, flexible, and innovative. According to the research firm IDC, India’s AI spending is expected to grow at a CAGR of 30.8 per cent to touch US$ 880.5 million (around Rs 6,490.6 crore) in 2023.

“Enterprises are relying on AI to maintain business continuity, transform how businesses operate and gain competitive advantage. India’s AI spending will grow from US$ 300.7 million in 2019 to US$ 880.5 million in 2023 at a CAGR (Compound annual growth rate) of 30.8 per cent,” stated IDC’s Worldwide Artificial Intelligence Spending Guide Forecast.

Businesses are considering investments in intelligent solutions to tackle issues associated with business continuity, labor shortage, and workspace monitoring. Organisations are now realising that their business plans must be closely aligned with their AI strategies. According to the report, almost 20 per cent of enterprises are still devising AI strategies to explore new businesses and ventures. 

Requirement of AI enabling hardware

Despite the proliferating AI culture, investments, best tech minds, AI skills, network of startups, India also lacks the computing capabilities or super computers. With AI being widely used now in each sector, India can’t afford to sit back and watch. The future of AI hence depends on running of artificial intelligence systems and applications depending on supercomputers.

It is because of this reason that developed countries such as the US, Germany, China, France have more supercomputing facilities and substantial resources. As of June 2020, 226 of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers were located in China. This figure is nearly doubled in its nearest competitor, the United States which accounts for 113 supercomputers.

Together, the two nations account for around two-thirds of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. In the top 10 list of supercomputers, Japan’s Fugaku is at the top spot and India is not anywhere in the top ten list. An infographic here represents the fact that other countries are way ahead than us.

Infographic1-India-The next emerging superpower in artificial intelligence

India ranks 17th globally in terms of development of supercomputers. If India aims to become global AI hub, it requires more computing facilities to create world class AI products. India Inc too echoes the same thoughts. Satish Kumar V, CEO at Everest IMS Technologies, Bengaluru based technology company agrees on this.

He reclaims, “India definitely has the potential and capability to rise up and transform itself into an AI superpower. In fact, its vast workforce has many pools that possess deep expertise and knowledge of AI development. But hardware needs a major upgradation. Most of the supercomputers that help power AI are in the west and China.”

Kumar admits that it is important for India to build a robust AI computing infrastructure. Hence, NITI Aayog has proposed the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence and has submitted a cabinet note requesting the Government of India to allocate around Rs. 7,500 crores towards these efforts. Most significant efforts amongst these would be AIRAWAT, a national cloud computing platform which will provide the computing capability need for AI.

The funds would be spent in setting up of five centres of research and twenty International Centres for Transformational AI. Besides that, government aims to install 73 indigenous supercomputers across the country by 2022. In this direction, the National Supercomputing Mission (NSM) building of 11 new supercomputers has been approved. These will be installed in research institutes all over the country.

“With around 400 start-ups working on AI and machine learning, we feel that India is poised to take up the reins to become a superpower. Imagine, if we could apply these capability sets to agriculture, medicine and infrastructure. The outcomes could be nationwide game changers for development. We look forward with eagerness and hope to play some small role in this forthcoming revolution,” confesses Kumar.

A framework of policies

AI has been transforming the Indian education sector by changing the learning process by helping students in choosing careers by data analysis, and by framing a global level curriculum. Therefore, there is a huge scope for AI in security measures such as face recognition, crime detection, video and image analysis, behavioral analysis, and predicting crime patterns. AI is also being used to analyse and map out the economic growth factors and measures.

Considering the potential, the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) predicts that annual growth rate will be boosted by 1.3 per cent till 2035. The challenge however is to frame right policies that cannot be misused by member of any organisation or government agencies. Viewing this, Gurpreet Singh, Managing Director at Arrow PC Network Pvt Ltd tells that there is an urgent need of AI policy framework in India.

He says, “India is bound to be a robust player in AI application as data is the ‘oxygen’ for AI and India’s huge population, along with a robust digital ecosystem, is going to generate huge amounts of data. The government or organisations should lay down policies and instructions which would avoid such issues cropping up in real-life scenarios since the algorithms are created by humans.”

He further tells that data scarcity is a big reason to worry as India despite having a huge population with accumulation of large data. However, this data is not stored or processed for any study or prediction. The huge chunk of unprocessed and raw data or in many cases missing data would toughen the role for AI and its uses in the future as the technology and algorithms used will be for processed data and India lacks in that department.

Nurturing and development of AI skills

A Microsoft research revealed that AI companies now are confident about the popularity of AI products and skills. As per the survey, over 93 per cent respondents believe that their businesses have gained from AI. Research also states that employees are working at honing their AI skill and using their free time to add value to their workforce.

Tata sons Chairman, N Chandrasekaran while speaking at RAISE summit talked about India’s vision for AI said that AI and AI-based solutions, tools and technologies should not be utilised only for the elite and instead should be used only for the common man. He adds, “This means our vision should not be centred on software professionals, data scientists, and other white-collar workers. But we should also include farmers, truck drivers, shopkeepers, teachers etc.”

On this Shibu Paul, Vice President-International at Array Networks suggests, “Governments of developed countries are investing and initiating the training for developing AI skills and India too needs to take the same path. India’s talent pool is huge, but the practical application of theoretical knowledge is still lagging. Funding needs to be done in terms of R&D in the field of AI which is more dependent on work of think tank than traditional processes.”

On the other hand, various organisations are collaborating to achieve the same objective. Microsoft along with NASSCOM aims to skill ten lakh students in artificial intelligence by 2021. Skill India has launched AI based platform called ASEEM (Aatmanirbhar Skilled Employee Employer Mapping) which will help skilled people to find suitable jobs.

Considering the latest developments in the field AI, smart frameworks are arriving every day. Everyone irrespective of the size, function, industry has either implemented or is exploring use of AI in their businesses. Hence, investments are flowing into AI start-ups. Vasitum, which is artificial intelligence-driven advanced hiring the platform, is an example on how start-ups are incepting AI into their business models.

Founded in 2019, Vasitum is enabling recruiters to hire top talent through AI. Its founder and CEO, Vikram Wadhawan informs us that his firm has witnessed a good traction with AI applications. He further says, “To transform India as AI superpower, India must have strong policy and administrative framework along with private collaboration. Government and Policy makers need to collaborate with enterprises and researchers to address challenges in it.”

According to him, opportunities and the economic growth that India can accomplish with AI are massive. He adds, “Growth in AI can help India by addressing difficulties of demographic diversities, linguistic diversity and can thereby impact its 1.3 billion population. While growth of AI in India has been phenomenal, utilising this growth will be key to make India AI superpower.”

Artificial intelligence will have strong influence on our lives in future and therefore not only large enterprises, but smaller start-ups are also investing in AI technology. Therefore, artificial intelligence skills along with machine learning are in high demand and will remain in demand for longer time.

Overall, India has seen a formidable growth in terms of its digital footprint. Government too is pushing various initiatives towards the goal of tech driven infrastructure. Various departments including NITI Aayog along with institutes and sectors associated with artificial intelligence are working on policy frameworks and bringing out programmes to inculcate these skills. The Indian artificial intelligence sector which is still considered as evolving can certainly take a leap with a little more push towards resources and frameworks that boosts its growth.

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