Frugal innovation: Making AI work for everyone in India

Technology is at the heart of India, and every problem seemingly has a digital solution.
Initiatives such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface), Aadhaar, DigiYatra, and DigiLocker, provide a robust foundation for AI-driven solutions.
Initiatives such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface), Aadhaar, DigiYatra, and DigiLocker, provide a robust foundation for AI-driven solutions.

In a world where innovation is often synonymous with expensive technology and vast resources, frugal innovation stands out as a beacon of simplicity, resourcefulness, and creativity. This mindset has the potential to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. India's approach to innovation, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI), exemplifies this ethos, offering scalable, efficient solutions that are mindfully frugal with resources. 

AI is Amazing India

Technology is at the heart of India, and every problem seemingly has a digital solution. The India Stack, a collection of open APIs and digital public infrastructure, has been a game changer, and no other country boasts digital infrastructure at the scale that we have. India generates 20% of the world's data, a crucial fuel for AI training. This vast amount of data, coupled with a frugal and practical mindset, positions India to develop AI tools that can be deployed at scale locally as well as globally. 

Initiatives such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface), Aadhaar, DigiYatra, and DigiLocker, provide a robust foundation for AI-driven solutions. UPI, for instance, has revolutionized the payments ecosystem, facilitating over 13.3 billion transactions monthly and growing. Aadhaar, a unique identification system, has streamlined numerous processes, eliminating the need for multiple documents for verification. Similarly, DigiYatra and DigiLocker simplify air travel and document storage, respectively, enhancing convenience and efficiency. What’s common in all of these innovations is that they are unique to us and we have been able to apply these at scale in a country of 1.4 billion people. 

Pioneering frugal AI solutions 

With a large population and limited resources, Indian developers are at the forefront of creating AI solutions that are both affordable and effective. These innovations span various sectors, including agriculture, healthcare, and education, providing scalable solutions to real-world challenges. 

Agriculture: Crop health monitoring is vital for Indian farmers, yet traditional methods are often costly and time-consuming. Frugal innovations, like AI-powered systems using smartphone cameras and low-power algorithms, enable early diagnosis of crop diseases, allowing for timely corrective actions without the need for expensive sensors. Startups are also leveraging predictive analytics, satellite imagery, and weather data to provide real-time insights, helping farmers optimize yields and reduce waste. These innovations are also helping address microbial and pest attacks, promoting precision agriculture by detecting bacteria, fungi, and viruses in crops and providing micro-level solutions through IoT. 

Healthcare: In healthcare too, AI-based solutions are making significant strides. Technologies that interpret medical images like X-rays and CT scans are being deployed using basic computing resources, enabling rural clinics to provide accurate diagnostics without expensive equipment or specialist doctors. Startups are also leveraging AI-based technologies to help diagnose ailments like tuberculosis, diabetes and even different types of cancers. 

Education: AI-driven frugal innovation has the potential to revolutionize education. Numerous startups are offering AI-powered personalized learning experiences at a fraction of the cost of traditional tutoring. These AI algorithms adapt to each student's learning pace and style, providing tailored content and assessments. We need our students to move beyond rote learning and to develop problem-solving skills that are essential in today’s world.  This also ensures that quality education is accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, demonstrating how AI can democratize learning and bridge educational gaps affordably. This is an area where technology access is key to ensuring our future is not left behind. 

The convergence of frugal innovation and AI in India is creating transformative solutions across various sectors. By harnessing the power of AI while adhering to principles of cost-effectiveness and resourcefulness, Indian innovators are addressing some of the country’s most pressing challenges. As AI continues to evolve, the scope for frugal innovation in India will only expand, promising a future where technology serves the many, not just a few.

SANTHOSH VISWANATHAN

(The author is Vice-President & Managing Director – India Region for Intel)

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