Artificial intelligence (AI) has a perception problem in India. In the emerging debate around AI, it is either a bugaboo or the tech industry’s secret potion for profiteering. It is also seen as a gigantic steamroller that is flattening the IT jobs landscape.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. AI is making the future brighter; it represents civilizational progress. Look at it this way. If the collective human intelligence took 25 years to double, with AI it could happen every year. Imagine billions of AI bots working together to create new inventions and cures for terminal diseases. Okay, let’s talk about stuff that is slightly less profound. AI and robotics, as we speak, are changing the way we consume services, experience products and interact with devices.
Powerful sensors combine with intelligent self-learning systems to let your TV screen know who is watching. Your energy meter will know what your home requires, and your smart home will know who is around and who isn’t. The car would start automatically seconds before your travel (you won’t need to scramble for the bunch of keys every morning), and the machines could create an accurate shopping list based on your conversations. Your AI-driven device would also place an online order using the list—and choose from the best available offers, saving you a bob or two for a vacation in Kotor, Montenegro. Why Kotor, you ask? If, for instance, you mentioned to your AI device that you’d like to spend a week in a medieval town with cosy piazzas and Juliet balconies, the Montenegrin town might be one of the most accurate suggestions.
So, why wouldn’t you want AI?
What about the spectre of job losses? When digital photography replaced silver halide paper, more people began to take pictures. There was little barrier to enter the ranks of amateur photographers. It then resulted in the sale of more “vastly digital” cameras. When a camera was bundled into the mobile phone, the sales of phones hit the stratosphere. This cycle required two things: one, innovative companies and their smart workforce who could find ways of putting a camera on the phone at the lowest cost. Two, purchasing power all round had to go up for people to afford a $700 mobile phone. Both those things happened, creating a virtuous cycle. This is just one evidence of the fact that technology disrupts the job market in a positive way rather than destroying it. My vision of an AI-driven future is one where we will have a three-day work week because machines would take care of the transactional activities that take up a large chunk of our working hours. This will give us more time to meditate on problems of a much higher order, meet friends, go out with the family, watch movies, read books and, of course, pack our bags to go off to Kotor or Outer Mongolia to expand human consciousness.
But even more important is the social impact of AI. Today, those below the poverty line are out of the digital economy and unable to participate in competitive markets. This can largely be attributed to illiteracy. Now, for a moment, imagine AI providing local language translations of everything. Not long back, in April, Google Maps made it possible to read reviews of places of interest in your local language. Soon, a personal assistant will read the reviews aloud in your language. This ability means anyone can ask their smartphone almost anything using natural language. For example, asking “What is my bank balance?” will result in an AI-driven engine spitting out an answer in any language of choice.
The manifestation of technology will become, thanks to AI, friendlier. The outcome will be growth in inclusion. More people from below the poverty line will have a fair chance to participate in the productive and creative economy. The upside is so significant it can’t be ignored. Not only will AI improve the way we live but also give us more time to live life—by saving us from mundane, everyday and repetitive tasks that cause job dissatisfaction and burnouts. Not to mention, you won’t need to search for your car keys.
K.R. Sanjiv is chief technology officer of Wipro Ltd.