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Taskforce recommends establishment of national mission for coordinating Al-related activities across India

A Task Force on Artificial Intelligence (AI) set up by the Indian Government’s Ministry of Commerce & Industry in August 2017 and headed by Professor V Kamakoti from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, submitted its report last month. One of the key recommendations in the report is to establish an inter-ministerial national mission to coordinate AI-related activities across the country.

(There are other Government-established committees working on different aspects of AI. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has set up four committees to understand various regulatory and technical challenges associated with AI and potential implementation areas.  NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India), the premier policy thinktank of the Government of India, has been asked to initiate a national programme to direct efforts in the area of AI.)

The taskforce looked at Al as a socio-economic problem solver at large scale, rather than only a booster of economic growth. The report attempts to answer three policy questions: 1) What are the areas where Government should play a role; 2) How can Al improve quality of life and solve problems at scale for Indian citizens; and (3) What are the sectors that can generate employment and growth by the use of AI technology?

The taskforce identified 10 important domains of relevance to India: Manufacturing, FinTech, Healthcare, Agriculture/Food processing, Education, Retail/Customer Engagement, Aid for Differently Abled /Accessibility Technology, Environment, National Security and Public Utility Services.

The report elaborates on specific challenges in the adoption of Al-based systems and processes in these domains and discusses key enablers, as well as ethical and social safety issues to ensure responsible use of Al.

The taskforce believes that the Government should focus on a set of common and critical enablers that support the use of emerging Al Technologies across the different domains of focus, build the necessary infrastructure and frame policies that level the playing field for development of Al-based products and services. The report notes that the democratisation of development and use involves not only equal access to all but also assigning ownership and framing transparent rules for usage of the infrastructure.

The report makes eight recommendations for the Government of India, which the authors believe are important prerequisites for quick, effective and secure adoption of AI based technologies.

A nodal agency for coordinating Al-related activities in India

The report calls for funds from the Union Budget to set up an Inter-Ministerial National Artificial Intelligence Mission (N-AIM) that will act as a nodal agency.

The Mission would be involved in core activities, coordination of AI-related projects of national importance; and, establishing Centers of Excellence.

According to the report the duration of the Mission should be for a period of at least 5 years for it to achieve tangible results. The level and sources of funding can be reviewed after 5 years and can be supplemented at any stage as needed by private companies incorporated in India.

The recommended funding for the Mission is a total of Rs. 1.2 billion (US$ 185 million) for 5 years, out of which Rs. 500 million (US$ 7.7 million) per annum can be allocated for the core activities, Rs. 250 milliion per Center of Excellence per annum for each of the six Centers, Rs. 200 million per annum each for a Generic Al test Bed and large data integration center. The funding for the projects of National importance shall be done separately by the concerned Ministry/group of Ministries.

Core activities

Its core activities would include:

  • Funding establishment of a network of alliances among Academia, Services Industry, Product Industry, startups and Government Ministries including, but not restricted to, Knowledge Clusters in geographies such as NCR, Bengaluru-Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkatta-Kharagpur-Guwahati, Mumbai-Pune, Trivandrum, Chandigarh-Mohali, and Kanpur-Varanasi to fuel research, development and deployment of AI based products and services in the varied domains of focus
  • Funding national-level studies to identify concrete projects in each domain of focus, specifically, those that address important social issues, such as cataract detection by mass screening aided by an AI-based diagnostic tool, automation of hazardous jobs such as manual scavenging and disaster recovery plans using Al powered robotics
  • Funding a national-level survey on identification of clusters of clean annotated data necessary for building effective Al based systems in each domain of focus as well as methodologies to record such data
  • Establishing and administering national Al Challenge funds and Capture the Flag competitions specifically targeting design, development and prototyping of Al based systems for solving problems of the society at large. This shall also involve defining the problem, provision of real data sets and criteria for measuring efficiency based on domain specific Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
  • Funding Al awareness raising at scale, especially in the rural hinterland, through Al-Yatras (‘yatra’=journey) along the lines of the successful Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Art Culture Among Youth (SPIC MACAY) Lecture-Demonstrations
  • Convening Talent Conferences (Hack-a-Mela; ‘Mela’= fair) where inter-disciplinary insights can be generated for applying Al to problems of Urban Planning, Transportation, Public Health, smart power grid and smart water grid; and for promotion of innovation in Al.

Projects of national importance

For projects of national importance, the nodal agency will coordinate with concerned Ministries of Government of India to accelerate development and commercialisation of Al-based products and technology through Public Private Partnership models and Startups.

Special emphasis would be given to: (a) high precision manufacturing sectors; (b) Precision Agriculture; (c) Accessibility aids for the physically challenged; (d) Smart cities -effective delivery and improvement of services such as Clean Air monitoring, efficient public transportation, electricity and water supply, and fuel distribution; (e) smart resource usage specifically, environment versus energy tradeoffs - including smart power grid and smart water grid; and, (f) Predictive maintenance of public utility infrastructure including power plants.

Centers of Excellence

N-AIM would also create Centers of Excellence (CoEs) for promoting interdisciplinary research across disciplines such as Humanities and Social Sciences, Law, Science, Medicine and Engineering to facilitate deeper understanding of the possibilities and implications of adoption of different Al based technologies and products. The Centres would also work towards mechanisms for identification and assessment of risks and define frameworks for design and development of risk mitigation/contingency plans.

The CoEs will generate basic building blocks to be used by the industry. These would include but not be restricted to technologies for autonomous cars/trucks, medical assist devices, health genomics, agri-genomics, health-diagnostics, industrial automation, robotics, cyber-security and FinTech. The locations for the centers will be chosen based on the presence of entities and expertise related to the respective domains.

Generic AI test bed and data integration center

A generic Al Test Bed would be established for verification and validation of Key Performance Indicators of different Al-based products and Technologies. This could include regulatory sandboxes for certain technologies relevant to India, in areas such as Health, Manufacturing and Retail.

In addition, the report recommends funding for an inter-disciplinary and dedicated large data integration center in pilot mode to develop an autonomous Al Machine that can work on multiple data streams in real time and provide relevant information and predictions to public across all domains.

Data banks, exchanges and ombudsman

The report recommends enabling the setting up of digital data banks, marketplaces and exchanges to ensure availability of cross-industry data and information, with necessary sharing related regulations.

The Ministry of Information Technology could act as the nodal agency for coordinating the setting up of the above-mentioned facilities, while the Ministry of Commerce and Industry would need to drive the regulations related to data ownership, sharing and privacy issues.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry needs to create and functionalise a data-ombudsman, on lines similar to banking and Insurance, to quickly address data-related issues and grievances.

Standard setting

Al based systems being highly inter-disciplinary require operation standards that involve understanding of multiple domains. Some examples include: Data storage and privacy standards; Communication standards for Autonomous Systems including Autonomous Cars; and, Standards for interoperability between Al based systems.

The Bureau of Indian Standards is expected to play a crucial role here. The report goes on to say that India should actively participate in international Standards working groups.

Enabling policies

The Government has to come up with policies to encourage and enable development and deployment of Al-based products.

For instance, the Ministry of Information Technology and Ministry of Commerce and Industry can lead efforts on data policy including ownership, sharing rights and usage policies.

Tax incentives could be provided for income generated due to adoption of Al technologies and applications, for socially relevant projects. This involves certification of a technology as AI-based and then fixing the incentive. This would involve the concerned Ministry under whose domain the application fits in, as well as the Ministry of Information Technology and the Finance Ministry.

Human Resource Development

This area requires devising an Al Education strategy to develop human resource with necessary skill sets to meet the demand for Al professionals. This involves arriving at a target number of human resources required on a yearly basis for each skill set across each of the domains of focus and methodologies to train/re-train them.

This also includes recommending Al-related curriculums for school, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate education. The Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship may lead this effort.

Reskilling

The National Skill Development Corporation could create an Al Readiness Index to measure the readiness of different states across India to adopt AI. It could also identify skill sets required for Al based technology development and map the same across different levels of professional education - diploma, undergraduate, postgraduate and research.

International rule-making

The report recommends active participation in shaping international policy discussions on governance of Al related technologies. This would require appropriate inter-ministerial consultative mechanisms that make regular recommendations for Government policy and positioning at relevant international forums, through the Ministry of External Affairs.

Bilateral cooperation

India should leverage key bilateral partnerships such as with Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia, Singapore, UK and the U.S. to develop Al solutions for social and economic problems, and for sharing of best practices in regulation. The Ministry of External Affairs and relevant departments, such as the Department of Science and Technology could lead this activity.

Access the complete report here. 

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