HTLS 2019: The transformative power of technology

Updated on Nov 26, 2019 04:34 PM IST
Advancements in technology, especially Artificial Intelligence (AI), have the potential to provide large incremental value to a wide range of sectors.
A robotics workshop at an engineering college in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, held in 2018.(Bachchan Kumar/ HT file)
A robotics workshop at an engineering college in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, held in 2018.(Bachchan Kumar/ HT file)
ByAmitabh Kant

India, with its diversity of demographics, languages, culture and landscape offers unique challenges and opportunities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set an ambitious target of becoming a five trillion dollar economy by 2024. Our challenges that need to be overcome are deep-rooted in the social sector and we must ensure that we provide quality health care, education, governance and ease of living to every Indian. Technology will be the disruptor that can bring exponential change and improvements. Innovation is the way forward, if India has to keep achieving over 9% growth for the next three decades, in its bid to provide economic prosperity for a young population.

Advancements in technology, especially Artificial Intelligence (AI), have the potential to provide large incremental value to a wide range of sectors. In health care, faster and more accurate diagnostics, personalised treatment, early identification of potential pandemics, and imaging diagnostics are some of the potential outcomes. In agriculture, crop yields can be increased by providing farmers with real time advisory to assist in farming activities, detecting advanced pests attacks, identifying which crops will deliver best returns, improving supply chain logistics etc. In education and skilling, technology can allow augmenting and enhancing the learning experience, automating and expediting administrative tasks, to start with.

Technology has already facilitated the bedrock of collaborative innovations in digital public goods through the Aadhar with over one billion identities that have brought down the cost of financial inclusion and service delivery. Equally disruptive has been the India Stack, Jan Dhan Yojana, Direct Benefits Transfer, and Unified Payments Interface.

In India, while the government will take the lead in creating a sustainable platform to foster technological disruption, our startups will play a pivotal role to ensure innovation and dissemination. India’s startup ecosystem, the third largest and one of the most vibrant ecosystems globally, has had the world sit up and take notice. A combination of several factors such as,a large consumer base expressing its burgeoning purchasing power, strong supportive policy-making by the government and a large set of STEM population has propelled the India Tech growth story in the last 10 years. India’s startup ecosystem is propelling India’s economy in a significant way: in terms of job creation, solving consumer problems, and creating products for the rest of the world. India is currently at a unique moment in history when the right conditions have converged to produce an invaluable opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors. The Indian Digital Economy is poised to grow into a massive 1 trillion dollar segment by 2022.

While it is still early goings, India has started to see several promising AI startups focused on solving India’s problems of access, affordability and availability. There is an abundance of home grown examples of putting technology towards a better future. In health care, SigTuple uses AI-based solutions to develop hardware and software to digitise pathological tests for hospitals and clinics. It has developed a low-cost system to potentially send final results back to the point-of-care in just five minutes. Tricog uses AI to provide real time cardiac diagnosis, through its cloud-based ECG machines installed at health centres. In agriculture, SatSure combines the power of Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning using satellite data, IoT, drone and weather data to provide timely, location specific answers to large area questions in the domains of agriculture, forestry, urban planning. NITI Aayog is working with SatSure in Aspirational Districts to develop satellite enabled agriculture management for yield.

For water management, Vassar Labs uses AI and IoT to develop water management and agriculture advisory services.

Its water management advisory provides water inflow forecast and drinking water stress advisory. In education, Embibe provides personalised learning using its advanced AI platform, which enables students to maximise learning outcomes. These examples are illustrative but not exhaustive.

The Aspirational Districts Programme was formed to comprehensively address the development needs and transform 115 districts across 28 states that require the most progress on various development parameters.

These districts account for more than 20 per cent of India’s population and cover over 8,600 gram panchayats. The programme’s emphasis is on improving districts on 49 indicators across five core spheres — education, health and nutrition, financial inclusion, agriculture, skill development and basic infrastructure. The programme is based on real-time data and constant monitoring, and is a collaborative project between the central and state governments in partnership with various philanthropic foundations and the larger civil society. This is a great example of using technology to assure access to real time data and consequently governance.

The dynamic ranking through the delta component ensures that states remain motivated, and that the real change on ground is captured and reflected constantly.

Technology, through AI, Blockchain, Machine Learning and other innovations is focusing on the unique challenges and the opportunities that India offers.

The Government of India, with strong focus on building a robust AI ecosystem is working in collaboration with large tech firms, and up and coming startups. NITI Aayog’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence is aimed at positioning India as a trailblazer for emerging economies: aggressive targets aimed at inclusive growth.

For India, an incremental $957 billion could be added to the GDP by 2035, boosting India’s annual growth by 1.3 percentage points by 2035. The strategy is focused on key social sectors of health, agriculture and education among others. Projects at NITI include Imaging Biobank for Cancer that is aimed at building a repository of annotated pathology and radiology images using AI-based radionics; and, AI for Precision Farming that recognises the role of technology in India’s endeavor to double its farmers’ income by 2022.

Any conversation addressing a better future for India must take into account the pivotal and crucial role that technology will play. This will be a key factor in ensuring transformative change for inclusion, social sector reform, and ease of living.

Amitabh Kant is CEO, NITI Aayog. The views expressed are personal.
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