China was quick to copy the algorithms developed in North America and apply them to their own data in military and commercial applications. It has a draconian policy towards data ownership that ignores privacy or human rights concerns. That model will not work in India(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
China was quick to copy the algorithms developed in North America and apply them to their own data in military and commercial applications. It has a draconian policy towards data ownership that ignores privacy or human rights concerns. That model will not work in India(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

India’s AI strategy should be to create a data infrastructure

Assembling the right kinds of data will be challenging, and requires careful planning and foresight
By Vasant Dhar
PUBLISHED ON MAY 03, 2018 07:37 PM IST

Hardly a week passes without yet another story about the Artificial Intelligence race between China and the US. China has allocated massive funding to AI to enable new capabilities in transportation, surveillance and weapons. China is “all in” on AI, with Chinese private funding in AI in the last decade growing seven-fold faster than US funding.

India has largely ignored AI. No Indian university or think-tank figures as a serious AI research entity measured by citations or other measures of innovation such as victories in prestigious AI contests, where algorithms compete on standard problems. China now increasingly features such winners and boasts two AI institutions in the top 10 globally who work closely with the government. In contrast, India lags behind in terms of vision, infrastructure and the funding required to become a major player in AI innovation. Is it too late for India to play catchup in AI?

Interestingly, the answer is that it isn’t too late. Indeed there could be advantages in letting others do the heavy lifting in creating the algorithms, and focus on vision and data instead. Why?

The truth is that algorithms make their way into the public domain almost instantly. For example, the various deep learning algorithms that have revolutionised image recognition and language processing are commonly available. In contrast, data, which powers the algorithms, are very difficult to obtain and almost never shared. Tesla and Google don’t share their autonomous vehicle data for good reason. Knowledge springs from a combination of unique data and general-purpose algorithms, and increasingly so when cloud power can be pooled and storage is cheap. Chinese companies and the government are focused on collecting their own data, leveraging the algorithms that were developed almost entirely in North America.

In reality, data are the bottleneck, the assembly of which usually takes up the majority of the work in AI projects. Indeed, the surge of novel machine learning algorithms in image and language processing was driven by the elimination of the data acquisition bottleneck — the fact that raw data from autonomous vehicles or smartphones can be streamed directly into algorithms without any human input has been a huge win for machine learning and AI. Availability of gobs of clean training data enable machines to improve their decision making without human intervention with each passing day.

If data are the bottleneck and the source of advantage, India’s focus should be on creating a data infrastructure in multiple areas. This will provide the grist for machine learning algorithms that will pay dividends in the years to come. Specifically, the real win for India would seem to be in creating a data infrastructure that will improve the quality of life at an everyday level, specifically in air, transportation, water, food, governance, and education. For example, Indian urban centres are a mess: polluted and chaotic. Better air quality and transportation would mitigate many basic health and quality of life issues. Imagine the impacts on health and productivity if air quality and commute times improve by an average of 10% or 20% over the next decade through more intelligent sensory and administrative systems driven by data coupled with sensible incentive systems.

Efficiency in governance is an equally pressing challenge in terms of the capacity of the State to provide basic services such as law and order, transportation and power. Surveillance technology offers huge promise in helping deploy scarce human resources “on demand” without sacrificing privacy or freedom at the individual level. If we can define sensible metrics such as crime reduction, problem resolution times, etc., progress will be well defined and measurable.

The good news is that India boasts the world’s biggest success in identity and real-time authentication through the Aadhaar platform. It would be fruitful for India to replicate this infrastructure success by creating similar data platforms that improve the lives of its people.

China was quick to copy the algorithms developed in North America and apply them to their own data in military and commercial applications. It has a draconian policy towards data ownership that ignores privacy or human rights concerns. That model will not work in India, but nor is it necessary to make progress towards what matters to India. Assembling the right kinds of data will be challenging, and requires careful planning and foresight. That is the place to start, and there is little time to waste.

Vasant Dhar is Professor at the NYU Center for Data Science and the Stern School of Business. His research focuses on when we should trust data-driven learning machines with decisions.

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)

Espionage to smuggling, scandals spice up every poll in Kerala

By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvanathapuram
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 07:26 PM IST
  • controversies and scandals were part of the state polity in the last three decades and mushrooming digital media also played its part in amplifying them, said a political observer.
Close
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)

Why 2021 political rhetoric is no match for 1962 fighting in Ladakh

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 02:15 PM IST
  • India and China came close to war last year after Indian army commanders atop Rezang La-Rechin La ridge threatened to fire at the advancing PLA tank regiment that sought to dislodge the Indian troopers.
Close
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)

J&K delimitation: Go by the population rule

By Haseeb Drabu
PUBLISHED ON MAR 01, 2021 06:39 PM IST
Having already decided on the number of electors as well as the number of elected, the only part of delimitation that has been left to the Commission is the electoral cartography — the redrawing of boundaries and enclosing people within the constituency framework. Notwithstanding these debilitating infirmities in the context of J&K, the redrawing of the constituencies is an extraordinarily complex and highly contentious exercise. It can potentially alter the electoral demographic balance.
Close
Representational image. (AFP)
Representational image. (AFP)

Congress needs to worry more about rebels than opponents in Puducherry

By Abhishek Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:32 PM IST
The only time the Congress has lost Puducherry, it has been because of a rebel. The Congress and DMK together have won over 50% seats in every assembly elections in Puducherry since 1980, except in 2011
Close
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)

Behind PM Modi’s stinging critique of the IAS, a Jan meeting holds the clue

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 17, 2021 09:35 AM IST
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given bureaucrats an earful at a January meeting of the country's top officials and underlined the price that India paid for their slow pace.
Close
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.

Salute to Ghulam Nabi Azad underlined PM Modi’s personal ties with rivals

By Saubhadra Chatterji | Edited by Abhinav Sahay, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 14, 2021 03:37 PM IST
  • Leaders from the Congress and other Opposition parties have many stories to show that the Prime Minister has maintained personal rapport with leaders cutting across political boundaries.
Close
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)

Not just climate change, Chamoli disaster was human-induced

UPDATED ON FEB 08, 2021 12:15 PM IST
Stone quarrying, blasting of mountains and digging of tunnels in the base of the mountain system for two dams on Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga rivers played havoc with the local ecology
Close
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)

Perception is the truth in information warfare over farm laws

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi, Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON FEB 04, 2021 01:42 PM IST
  • The Chinese were among the first to recognise the role of information warfare to weaken the adversary from within
Close
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)

A new confidence about India reflects in a bold Budget 2021

By Monika Halan
UPDATED ON FEB 01, 2021 09:59 PM IST
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has chosen to spend on generating future income using the higher capital spending, which has gone up by 35.4% over the previous year
Close
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)

The life and times of a Patna intellectual

UPDATED ON JAN 31, 2021 06:20 AM IST
Shaibal Gupta was rooted and cosmopolitan; idealistic and pragmatic; and an insider and outsider — all at the same time. Patna’s public life will not the same without him.
Close
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)

Jaishankar yellow-cards China for violating pacts, spells out the India way

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 03:02 PM IST
  • S Jaishankar’s speech on India-China ties signals India’s determination to continue to stand up to Xi Jinping’s expansionist plans for Asia as an equal and makes it clear that nothing that Beijing does against India will be overlooked, or allowed to go unpunished.
Close
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)

Jack Ma story: China’s deep strategic ambition

By Manoj Kewalramani
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 04:50 AM IST
This statist vision of the future is very different from the government creating a level-playing field for private capital to compete and the market to do its job. It is about the State guiding capital and private entities towards what it believes are national strategic priorities, rather than allowing them to simply focus on generating greater revenue.
Close
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

Republic Day raid was pre-meditated, planned well in advance

UPDATED ON JAN 28, 2021 02:17 PM IST
With Delhi Police under firm orders not to open fire, the armed Nihang Sikhs provided the cover for the tractors to roll towards Red Fort.
Close
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.

How unruly farmers tried to embarrass India on Republic Day

UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2021 02:09 PM IST
The tractor-borne unruly farmers were minutes away from India Gate when they were blocked by New Delhi Range police.
Close
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The policy landscape around digital and physical micro-lending

By Amol Agrawal
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
In 1870s, a similar backlash emerged in Poona and Ahmednagar districts of the Bombay presidency. The agriculture boom in the early 1860s led farmers to take loans from moneylenders
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP