Nagpur: Artificial intelligence (AI) is, perhaps, one of the most popular buzzwords of the day. Even as it continues to dominate tech headlines with its mind-boggling scope, its true potential is still being explored.
Partly promising and partly alarming, AI is changing the way we work and live.
From Facebook to ride-hailing apps like Ola and Uber, and food-delivery portals like Zomato and Swiggy, the technology is being used across a plethora of platforms to make operations smooth and offer customers personalised service.
Among other things, it can allow police to catch criminals more easily, besides regulating traffic better. But as with any other revolutionary technology, the discovery of AI’s many wonders is going hand in hand with revelations about its potential for misuse.
ThePrint takes a look at AI’s journey in India thus far and where it seems to be headed.
What is AI?
Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence in machines.
Most AI systems are powered by machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks.
Machine learning is the science of finding patterns in large amounts of data, while deep learning is a more evolved form of this. Neural networks are systems designed to simulate the interconnected neuronal cells in the brain and create complex models for prediction and classification of information depending on thousands or even millions of features.
AI is already so pervasive that we use it dozens of times daily without realising it.
Netflix uses AI to categorise movies we like to watch for its suggestions feature while Google Maps calculates the quickest route to a destination.
Facial recognition is also a popular application of deep learning in AI. A prime example is the image-tagging feature in Facebook and Apple — once multiple images of a person have been tagged, the algorithm can detect them in future photographs without human intervention.
It is also used for security purposes, often leading to ethical conflicts around privacy and the use of facial recognition applications in the public sector.
The Indian government, for example, has plans to centralise facial recognition data captured through surveillance cameras across India, which will allow police to match people captured in CCTV footage against a national criminal database.
AI in food-tech and e-commerce
Food delivery giants Zomato and Swiggy have been expanding their customer base at an exponential rate with the help of AI, using data analytics to provide a curated list of restaurants on the customer’s landing page, based on their location and preferences.
They also use an image classifier to group images under food categories as well as Natural Language Processing (NLP) — which simulates the understanding of human languages — to let users search for food items using colloquial terms.
On the e-commerce front, AI is transforming the traditional shopping experience by creating a customer-centric approach to influence customers.
It is a well-known — and frustrating — phenomenon that once we look up a product on one website, we see ads for it on almost every page visited afterwards. Such retargeting ads are influenced by a user’s search history.
Wide adoption of this technology transforms the way an organisation communicates with its customers, thus facilitating stronger interactions and engagement.
AI in education
Realising the ability of AI to serve as an effective teaching tool, BYJU’s, the Bengaluru-based edtech app, introduced ‘Disney Byju’s Early Learn’, a standalone portal offering personalised learning programmes while entertaining users with Disney content.
For example, a fan of the Disney hit Frozen will have access to lessons that invoke its theme and characters.
Having acquired Osmo, the US-based educational games maker it acquired this year, Byju’s is looking to make its app more personalised, relevant and engaging for users with the help of AI, by providing real-time feedback on the work done by a student on a problem-set.
Toppr, another major Indian ed-tech company, uses machine learning to map out a student’s strengths and weaknesses in learning abilities, helping to create personalised plans by taking individual speeds and records into consideration.
AI has caught the Indian government’s attention as well, as evidenced by the announcement of a ‘National Strategy on AI’, the CBSE board forging a partnership with technology giant Microsoft to impart AI-powered learning, and the UP government planning to use bots to identify and track invigilators and students participating in board exams.
AI in health and space
In September 2019, Apollo Hospitals introduced ProHealth, an AI-powered personalised health risk assessment (pHRA) technology equipped with a “human elements”.
Mainly focused on preventive healthcare, it empowers individuals and businesses with actionable health analytics to know and eradicate health risks.
In its fight against tuberculosis, the Indian government is tapping AI to achieve its goal of eliminating the disease by 2025.
AI has gathered pace in space exploration as well. One of the modules of India’s second mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, the Pragyan rover, included a piece of AI-based motion technology developed by IIT-Kanpur researchers. The technology was supposed to help the rover manoeuvre on the moon’s surface and aid in landing.
It would have also helped the rover trace water and other minerals on the lunar surface, and send pictures for research and examination.
However, the plan failed when the Chandrayaan-2 lander crashed on the lunar surface.
The central government has initiated various programmes for training its citizens in AI, like the National Educational Alliance for Technology (NEAT).
The future of AI in India
As India tries to foray into the AI sector on a larger scale, issues like funding, proper infrastructure, skilled personnel remain hurdles.
While China spends 2 per cent of its GDP on research and development, India’s spend stands at 0.6 per cent in the absence of much support from private industry and state governments.
If adopted properly, AI has the potential to change the way the bureaucracy functions by improving productivity, efficiency, and accuracy.
With the private sector already adopting it, the public sector, too, needs to realise that AI holds the potential to vastly improve government operations and meet the needs of citizens in new ways, ranging from traffic management and healthcare delivery to processing tax forms.
In this respect, India, like China, has one important resource that Western countries lack — massive amounts of data, owing to the large population, that can be mined to train AI systems.
Data is at the heart of machine learning. It explains why American companies turn to India for AI-related jobs like data-labelling, available here at cheaper costs, at centres where workers sit for hours together in front of computer screens, annotating images.
With a large number of data-labelling centres already in place, India should level up its game by developing proper infrastructure and increasing research funding in this sector.
A large number of problems specific to countries like India can be solved through AI. Health experts can use AI for analysing search queries for cures to a variety of diseases.
Findings from such studies would then help the government reduce health disparities in the country, and ensure that vital resources reach even the most vulnerable communities in rural areas.
Researchers can use machine learning to detect disinformation and online harassment by finding the telltale signs of coordinated campaigns. Using these techniques, troll farms can be detected and blocked.
In the race to achieve technological dominance, India cannot afford to be left behind. It needs to adapt by breaking free of the brittle infrastructure that’s stifling innovation and make AI a national priority.
Chinmay Haridas writes about the impact of technology and its applications for social good. He has authored a book on computational neuroscience.