Goyal goes AI in interim-budget, but here's three issues that need attention

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 02, 2019 15:49 hrs
Piyush Goyal on Artificial intelligence

During the interim-budget presented by Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday, the Government announced that it is planning to set up a national centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Here's what the Finance Minister said in his interim budget on Friday, 1st February 2018:


In order to take the benefits of Artificial Intelligence and related technologies to the people, a National Programme on 'Artificial Intelligence' has been envisaged by our Government. This would be catalysed by the establishment of the National Centre on Artificial Intelligence as a hub along with Centres of Excellence. Nine priority areas have been identified. A National Artificial Intelligence portal will also be developed soon.


[The Finance Minister is yet to clarify on the 9 priority areas that have been identified.]

Of course, the policy sounds like a sweet deal for the growing tech startup ecosystem in India. But it has several challenges to be addressed before AI becomes useful and much longer until it produces something impactful.

Let's start with the fundamentals of AI. It is a way in which a machine is trained to think and act like a human would by training it various decision-making parameters.

Most people confuse AI with rule-based logic.

Consider a simple situation involving traffic. Every 30 seconds or so, the traffic-light alternates between red and green colors. This is a simple rule-based logic.

But if the same traffic signal were to use AI and replace the need for a traffic cop who often reverts to a manual override, the situation may look completely different.

However, saying is easier, implementation takes time.

The AI module first needs training data to build a model. One needs to feed the average velocity of vehicles. And then also find out the direction that the traffic flows. Other pieces of information required would be the peak hours, when does a junction’s traffic scenario reverses, and so on.

Once the system has satisfactory amount of data, a bot [robotic code or machine] can be trained through machine learning models to control the traffic lights ‘intelligently’ based on the real time information about traffic.

For an effective AI, we need credible data, which is challenge number one.

We have had our issues with AADHAR’s security and vulnerability. Our statics and census data is updated once in a decade. We never have consensus on economic data neither do we have accurate information about our citizens (NRC?), infrastructure, economy or pretty much anything.

So, a national centre for AI must first act as a centre that provide reliable data sets.

Accelerating IP protection: Our second challenge is the bureaucracy associated with obtaining patents and protecting intellectual properties.

If we have to compete with economies ahead of us, we must match and exceed their speed. In technology industry, having proprietary access, patents, algorithms are key factors to survival and growth of companies. 

THE THIRD & ULTIMATE CHALLENGE: Privacy nightmares

Hollywood’s imagination of smart cities may have flying cars and mind reading cops. But in reality, a smart city is where there are ample of sensors that help the authorities measure vital data sets and then take decisions. A vital data may include traffic flow, water and electricity consumption at a household level, air and weather at the pin code level, and so on. 

If the state is going to collect all this information and make it available for decision making, then ensuring it is not prone to hacks and leaks becomes paramount. An entire information-war can be waged, should such kind of data fall in wrong hands.

While India Stack initiative has been a successful journey, we sure can hope the national AI centre will be at par or better in terms of planning and deployment.

A suggestion though, an emeritus from ISRO, perhaps should lead the initiative on India's AI portal.

Opinions and Views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of Sify.com.

Sreeraman Thiagarajan is the Co-Founder at Agrahyah Technologies.

Agrahyah Technologies is a company that has been building voice capabilities for many organisations.

You must read about Thiagarajan and Agrahyah's unique capabilities and their journey, Read it here.