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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Tech policy in India has had a year packed with action

Tech policy in India has had a year packed with action

Our outreach on digital public infrastructure proved a global winner while AI was debated meaningfully.

There has never been a more exciting time to be in tech policy in India. (AFP)Premium
There has never been a more exciting time to be in tech policy in India. (AFP)

This is the last Ex Machina article of the year and, as in years past, I wanted to reflect on the year that was.

Last year at this time, I had begun to notice a buzz developing around India’s digital public infrastructure (DPI)—not just within the government, which, despite being at the heart of many of these developments, seemed unaware of the sheer magnitude of what it had achieved—but also more broadly around the world that had slowly started to appreciate exactly what it was that India had built. In my year-end article, I hinted at how India’s presidency of the G20 might be a timely opportunity to showcase the unique techno-legal approach at the heart of our DPI approach. Given the building momentum, I was cautiously optimistic that the idea might catch on.

If anything, the events of the past year have far exceeded my expectations. Not only did India make DPI one of the central pillars of its G20 presidency, it built such a broad consensus around the approach that it was unanimously endorsed in the significant outcome documents of the G20 leaders’ summit. What’s more, through bilateral and multilateral engagements over the course of the year, various countries have committed to work with India to build DPI in their own countries as well as jointly deploy such infrastructure in developing nations that need it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this was the year that DPI finally assumed its rightful place on the world stage.

We now face something of a different challenge. Having convinced them of the many benefits DPI can bring, countries big and small are lining up to seek our help to deploy DPI for them. It is becoming evident that as powerful as the idea is, deploying DPI in another country is not a simple matter of simply copying the protocols and code that worked in India onto a server in another country and switching it on. For DPI to work, it needs to address the unique demands and constraints of each jurisdiction in which it is being deployed.

Much of the coming year will be spent figuring out how to most efficiently globalize DPI. We will need to learn how to package the core building blocks of the DPI approach into cloud-based offerings that are each rapidly deployable—so that we can, pretty much on demand, spin up an instance and do so at an affordable price. Once this is possible, we will need to develop the skills to repackage these building blocks into DPI solutions that are tailor-made to meet country requirements, appropriately customized to account for local constraints. It is only then that the idea of DPI will be globally scalable.

As much as last year was the year of DPI, it was also the year of artificial intelligence (AI). Over the course of just 12 months, the technology grew from a clunky, wildly inconsistent dalliance to a virtually indispensable piece of technology capable of being used across a number of different use cases. Small wonder that for each DPI article I wrote last year, I wrote about two on AI.

Today, AI is integral to my workflow. I use it for research—to understand difficult concepts and annotate and summarize lengthy texts, so that I can cross-reference ideas and concepts across my notes. I use it to build outlines for my writing (including articles like this one) and, once finished, to generate AI art to illustrate them. I’ve used it to extend myself beyond my comfort zone, taking its help to hand-code my own static website and build small software applications, even though I have no knowledge of the underlying programming language.

But despite the many benefits AI offers, much of the conversation around AI this year has been about the societal disruption it is starting to cause. We have long struggled to come to grips with the bias implicit in these models, the fact that copyright and notions of intellectual property are utterly meaningless to these technologies, and the harms that they will cause through the unconstrained proliferation of deep-fakes and other forms of augmented disinformation. Jobs in every industry are at risk as employers look to drive efficiencies at all levels by using AI wherever possible, and parents are scared about how this will affect their children. If an AI chatbot can write their school essays, how will they ever learn?

Last year, we saw the beginnings of a societal backlash against AI. Actors and screenwriters in Hollywood went on strike against the increased use of AI in the film industry. Employees in other industries are bound to follow suit. Schools and colleges cracked down on students who were using AI for their submissions, using AI detection technologies to identify whether the assignments had been written by a machine or not, and eventually courts and other institutions will as well.

The issues thrown up by both DPI and AI will play out over the course of the coming year. We will start to see a vocal pushback from those in society who see both forms of technology disruption as a threat to their existing way of life—just as we will see those who benefit from all that these technologies have to offer urging faster and more aggressive adoption.

Technology policy will have to walk a tightrope between these two extremes, finding a way to maximize the benefits of technology while still minimizing the harms. It will call on us to be innovative about the laws we design and empathetic to those whose ways of living will be affected.

There has never been a more exciting time to be in tech policy in India.

Rahul Matthan is a partner at Trilegal and also has a podcast by the name Ex Machina. His Twitter handle is @matthan

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Published: 27 Dec 2023, 12:27 AM IST
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