Budget 2019: India serious about investing in Artificial Intelligence

  • Piyush Goyal said the government plans to launch a national programme on AI
  • China has been consistently building an ecosystem to fuel its ambition to become a world leader in AI by 2030

It is heartening to see that Artificial Intelligence (AI), broadly described as the desire to infuse human-like intelligence in machines, is high on the agenda of the Indian government. In the Union Budget announcement on Friday, interim finance minister Piyush Goyal said the government plans to launch a national programme on AI, for which the government will set up a national AI portal. The announcement is significant, given that China has been consistently building an ecosystem to fuel its ambition to become a world leader in AI by 2030.

A report on China AI Development 2018 was released by Tsinghua University in September 2018, which said from 2013 to the first quarter of 2018, the amount of investment and financing in AI technology in China accounts for 60% in the world, valued at $27 billion in 2017. India, however, has not announced any budget allocation for its AI plan.

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The technology is poised to disrupt our world and India, being the fastest-growing economy with the second-largest population in the world, has a significant stake in the AI revolution, NITI Aayog acknowledged in its June 2018 discussion paper titled ‘National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence’. Arguing that India has the potential to position itself among leaders on the global AI map “with a unique brand of #AIforAll", NITI Aayog has decided to focus on five sectors: healthcare, agriculture, education, smart cities and infrastructure, and smart mobility and transportation.

That said, as India gets serious about investing in AI, it should simultaneously work on having personal data protection and privacy laws in place to avoid misuse of data of its citizens.

Meanwhile, the US, followed by China, India, Israel, and Germany, rank as the countries with the highest penetration of artificial intelligence (AI) skills among their workforce, according to a September 2018 report by professional networking site LinkedIn.com. A study by EY and Nasscom predicts that by 2022, around 46% of the workforce will be engaged in entirely new jobs that do not exist today, or will be deployed in jobs that have radically-changed skill sets. This is also borne out by the new LinkedIn study. AI skills, for instance, are among the fastest-growing skills on LinkedIn — a 190% increase from 2015 to 2017.

According to an April 2018 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, many companies plan to implement AI soon, but those in China, India, and Singapore, on an average, have the greatest ambitions for near-term implementation of AI in production. Among the discrete industries surveyed, healthcare and energy are the most ambitious in the near term; process industries and engineered products tend to be less so.

For the 12 countries included in the BCG study, percentages of early-adopting companies are highest in the US (25%), China (23%), and India (19%), and lowest in Japan (11%), Singapore (10%), and France (10%).

The BCG report suggests that high level of adoption among US companies is likely due to widespread availability of AI technology there. However, China’s AI growth has also been phenomenal. In fact, China overtook the US in AI funding, and accounted for nearly half of the global investment in AI startups in 2017, according to BCG. Also in 2017, China’s State Council issued a Next-Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan setting out a three-stage development strategy for achieving AI pre-eminence by 2030; and the municipal government of Tianjin, near Beijing, has announced a $5 billion fund to support the AI industry.