In today’s Finshots, we talk about Artificial Intelligence and the government’s ambitious AIRAWAT project.


The Story

Earlier this month PM Modi addressed a virtual summit on Artificial Intelligence — RAISE 2020. The discussion largely centred on India’s potential as a rising power in the field of Artificial Intelligence and how it can be used to promote the public good. However, despite the promising address, it’s safe to say that India is lagging quite considerably in the race for AI domination.

India stands at the tenth spot among countries filing AI-related patents, in a list dominated by the US, China and Japan. And considering artificial intelligence is often compared with civilization changing technology like electricity and the internet, India cannot afford to be complacent. But here’s the thing — AI research cannot progress unless we have the infrastructure to support said research.

For instance, computers can only think and process information like humans if they are allowed to learn from tons and tons of data.

As we wrote in one of our articles earlier this year.

For the past few years, a data revolution of epic proportions has changed the way businesses think and function. Netflix wants to build a recommendation strategy for its millions of users. Uber wants to foresee demand using rider patterns. Google wants to create the most powerful chess engine that has ever existed.

And as a consequence, you’re constantly looking at developers building complicated models to glean insights from large data sets. Big companies training computers to solve problems using learning methods that mimic the human experience. And institutions flush with cash, actively seeking solutions that could help them expedite this process.

So in effect, AI research is expensive and requires a lot of investment in building cutting-edge processors and research facilities. Normally this kind of cost is borne by billion-dollar corporations like Google or IBM or start-ups backed by wealthy investors. But waiting for private investors to walk in and nurture AI research in India is a bit like waiting for a fairy godmother. And since we know India lacks a robust AI research ecosystem, it’s perhaps incumbent on the government to push this initiative.

And this is where India’s ambitious project AIRAWAT comes in. Under the AIRAWAT initiative, the government plans to build a series of supercomputers with the help of microprocessor manufacturers, like NVIDIA and Intel. The supercomputer facilities will be hosted at various academic institutes like IITs, IISc, etc and these academic institutes will be at the forefront of AI research. They are also expected to act as guides and mentors for other institutes in this domain. Say, for instance, helping AIIMS to develop AI-based solutions for healthcare and other applications. You get the idea. Also, these facilities will act as incubators of sorts for start-ups and early-stage companies. And the government is banking on this “democratic access model” to invigorate the AI ecosystem in India.

If you’re wondering whether this is unique to India — No. This isn’t a one of a kind initiative. AIRAWAT is being modelled after the Summit and ABCI facilities in the US and Japan, respectively. Both of which are run by state-sponsored research institutes. And like in other countries, AIRAWAT is also expected to complement our current mandate of building 70 high-performance computing facilities in India. Currently, we have just two supercomputers among the 500 best supercomputers in the world — 226 of which are in China, and 113 in the US. With AIRAWAT, the hope is that India can also compete with these superpowers.

But won’t AI disrupt the workforce and deskill people? Won’t this put Indians out of jobs? Well, even if you were to assume that AI will have this effect, do bear in mind, these jobs will move out of India if other countries get a head start. So perhaps the only thing you can do is to make sure you don’t miss the bus completely.

And maybe that’s what the government is trying to do here.

Until then…

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Also don't forget to check our daily brief. In today's issue we talk about India's possible trade talks with Taiwan, Reliance's push for building 5G capabilities, and Japan's grand box-office reopening. Do read the full draft here.