The government's decision to throw its weight behind use of artificial intelligence in easing governance is expected to provide a boost to start-ups that are already building AI solutions targeting different sectors, especially healthcare and education. However, the country still has a long way to go before it catches up with the US and China who currently lead the AI race with active governmental support.
“The government’s move to have a National Centre for Artificial Intelligence is a great, forward thinking initiative,” said Shyatto Raha, Founder, MyHealthcare, a start-up that works to reduce the medical intervention time required for a patient by maintaining and monitoring health data.
“Access to primary healthcare has been a daunting task for India...Ensuring government’s technology arms such as NIC (National Informatics Centre) and C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) are a part of the initiative, helps in bringing together key technology partners, the private sector and healthcare start-ups to build AI platforms for primary care, diagnostic management and remote health monitoring,” he added.
In his Budget speech, Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday said that India would set up a national portal on artificial intelligence, which will be part of a larger programme to promote the use of AI. The government has identified nine priority areas where these efforts will be focused.
Business Standard had earlier reported that a centre for AI is being worked upon by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and is likely to be set up by July, pending budgetary approvals.
“The Centre of Excellence in AI announced by the government is an enabler, not an outcome,” said Neel Ratan, Regional Managing Partner, North and Government Leader at PwC. “It will benefit start-ups, businesses and academia. As an example, the government can provide data sets that AI engines can use for delivering services. So people or companies can come and train their bots and get a jumpstart for their businesses. The AI programme will be backed up by policy, sectoral data and will help speed up the go to market strategy of businesses,” added Ratan.
A near trillion-dollar opportunity
The biggest benefit, say start-ups operating in this AI space is, the laying down of clear policies and regulatory structure by the government, which will help in the proliferation of the technology.
“The Indian government should also move to encourage its own institutions to automate their operations using the latest technologies that are being built by indigenous enterprises,” said Madhav Bhagat, cofounder and chief technology officer of SpotDraft, an AI-driven contract management platform.
It also found that the good work academia in India was doing wasn’t enough to strengthen the AI ecosystem, unlike Cambridge or Oxford universities in the UK. It also found that the size of funding received by Indian AI start-ups is substantially smaller than in the US and China.
Some work has already begun on prioritising AI. Last year, the government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog released a discussion paper on the “National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence”. Along with this, MeitY has also deliberated on the different aspects of AI and will soon begin implementing those. MeitY has said it will work more with academic institutes to bridge the gaps with practical applications.
The Department of Science and Technology is also working on a National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber-Physical Systems, which was approved by the Cabinet in December last. It aims to leverage AI and data science as underlying technologies for technology development, human resource and skill development, innovation, entrepreneurship and startups and international collaborations.
A key to making AI research, regulatory requirements and actual implementation work will be how all these institutions and ministries come together to make on ground changes.
Until AI touches a broader set of people through these programmes, building the right kind of skills is a gap entrepreneurs would like to see getting addressed.
“For India, the talent pool coming from colleges and universities could improve, alongside more instruction in various types of technology (including AI). India has to produce more software engineers than developers. Integrating statistics with technology can play a role in producing more AI-specific engineers,” said Sachin Dev Duggal, Founder & CEO, Engineer.ai. The AI startup helps customers automate their IT requirements with the help of a drag and drop features menu on a human-assisted and AI-powered cloud platform.