The artificial intelligence-enabled nation

The growing use of artificial intelligence in public policy is perhaps the most important thing to track about India’s governance.
Image for representation
Image for representation

One of the most interesting elements of public policy in India these days is tracking where artificial intelligence is being used as a multiplier and what impact it is generating.

There is little doubt that artificial intelligence will, soon, transform the very nature of societal interaction, including the relationship between the citizen and the state. The metaverse will require new ways of imagining identity in a nation state, and even the boundaries of what constitutes nations. Therefore, countries that embrace artificial intelligence and embed it in policymaking and delivery early would reap the benefits of being able to fulfil fast-changing expectations of citizens from the government.

This essay highlights some such efforts being taken at various administrative levels—both by the Central and state governments—to embrace artificial intelligence and facilitate better, swifter governance.

India’s National Programme for AI, which was developed by NITI Aayog, defines artificial intelligence for social good (and for all) as its goal. One of its first steps towards this goal has been the development of PARAM SIDDHI AI, the country’s largest High Performance Computing (HPC) supercomputer. This is ranked among the top 100 supercomputers in the world.

Some of the key areas where India first wants to deploy artificial intelligence are health, agriculture, education, manufacturing and the financial sector. Thus, the national Jal Shakti Ministry has been using internet of things (IoT)-based sensors to monitor water availability and flow in 6,00,000 villages, and the Tamil Nadu administration has used AI-based screening (through a mobile app called e-Paarwai) to check for cataract problems in patients.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the national Digital India platform MyGov used an AI-enabled response tool or bot to ensure that queries from citizens, about the ways in which people could remain safe and secure during the crisis, could be replied to in real time.

If Punjab is using AI-tracing tools to help farmers differentiate between genuine and counterfeit seeds to grow good quality potatoes, the state of Telangana has used artificial intelligence in real-time digital authentication of pensioners. If the state of Uttar Pradesh has used artificial intelligence tools for better monitoring and surveillance in prisons, the DRDO has developed AI-empowered trackers to use in chest X-rays and check for lung damage. The National Highways Authority of India is using AI to manage attendance checking for field staff while the Supreme Court has roped it in for better justice delivery and information flow. The Maharashtra government is using AI for mass delivery of information to the people in the state and sharpening response mechanisms, while Andhra Pradesh has turned to it to help better forecast its energy needs. States like Telangana have even experimented in using AI-powered drones to deliver last-mile healthcare supply.

These are only some of the numerous uses of artificial intelligence that are trickling into governments, whether through administrative use or the work they are doing with the numerous AI start-ups in the country.

The opportunity at the moment in India is this cross-pollination in AI and related technologies between the state and the many entrepreneurs working in this field. This collaboration can iron out last-mile (or first) problems in governance and enable policy benefits to reach places where it may have struggled to do so before.

This kind of cooperation is invaluable in health, education (and related job creation) and climate change mitigation, the three issues that are most likely to be the biggest problems that governments would have to tackle as global warming changes the very contours of life.

Some of the challenges of nationhood that may emerge due to the nebulousness of identity triggered by the metaverse could be countered by deepening the beneficial presence of the state to underline the benefits of national identity and reduce cognitive dissonance.

Artificial intelligence also has another major advantage—it can deliver scale and minutiae at the same time. And scaling up and down is faster, easier, and less disruptive than perhaps any other mechanism.

Therefore, the more deeply and instructively artificial intelligence is used in governance, the closer India will come to its aim of ensuring that AI works for all and for the greater common good.

Vice President & Head of Research at Invest India, GoI's national investment promotion agency

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