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Finance ministry clears NITI Aayog's artificial intelligence proposal

NITI Aayog had been asking for Rs 7,500 crore for three years to set up an AI framework

Arup Roychoudhury & Neha Alawadhi  |  New Delhi 

niti aayog artificial intelligence
NITI Aayog's National Strategy on AI suggests a road map for the government to adopt AI at scale

The Narendra Modi government will soon launch a national (AI) programme, which will see the formation of a task force under Principal Scientific Advisor K Vijay Raghavan to identify projects and initiatives in which to implement the AI technology.

The policy will also include a national centre, which has been delayed because of a long-standing tiff between and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on which will be the department that will anchor the project. The proposed policy and the centre could finally see the light of day as the has cleared the NITI Aayog’s Rs 7,000-crore plan.

“The expenditure finance committee has cleared the spending of Rs 7,000 crore till 2024-25. The is likely to be the line ministry for this initiative. The Cabinet note is being circulated by and is likely to be cleared soon,” said a government official.

MeitY had said in January that such a centre would be set up by July. Then finance minister Piyush Goyal announced in February that the centre would be developed as a hub, along with centres of excellence, for which nine priority areas had been identified. However, he did not mention who would execute the larger plan.

Messages to NITI Aayog and MeitY, the nodal ministry for technology in the country, were unanswered when this paper went to press.

NITI Aayog had been asking for Rs 7,500 crore for three years to set up an AI framework. Last year, four panels set up by MeitY evaluated the use of AI for citizens, such as setting up a data platform, skilling and reskilling, research and development, and examining the challenges involving legal, regulatory, ethical and cybersecurity aspects. MeitY had said it will implement the programme within Rs 470-480 crore.

A big opportunity

The EFC had asked the two departments about the difference between their estimates, and they were told to resolve the situation among themselves. The NITI Aayog released a discussion paper in June last year on the “National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence”. MeitY’s reports have not been made public.

A senior official, who was part of the Expenditure Finance Committee meetings related to the requests by the NITI Aayog and MeitY on the AI centre, said both departments had been told to get clarity on the matter. Using AI for social good is a theme that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often articulated at domestic and international platforms.

AI is fast becoming as much a political and economic issue as it is a matter of technology. The US, Canada, the European Union, and China are among those that have comprehensive policy statements on AI and are shaping the global conversation.

India, in spite of its vast and diverse data sets — a prerequisite for robust AI systems — is not part of many mainstream discussions and deliberations on AI. Last month, the Global AI Council, set up by the World Economic Forum, was announced, and will be cochaired by Microsoft President Brad Smith and Kai-Fu Lee, chief executive officer of Sinovation Ventures and a former president of Google China.

Other members of the Global AI Council include Element AI, IEEE, IBM, Future of Life Institute, and ministers from the UK, Colombia, and the United Arab Emirates, according to VentureBeat. This situation is similar across several other ongoing deliberations on setting standards for AI, where India has little to no representation.

First Published: Mon, September 09 2019. 22:47 IST
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