India to be AI leader to ensure access to services: MyGov CEO at Unesco meet

With Artificial intelligence (AI) a buzzword for future technology and policy initiatives, the second Annual Artificial Intelligence for Information Accessibility Conference (AI4IA) organised by the Unesco Working Group on Information Accessibility was hosted online.

In his address to the conference, Abhishek Singh, CEO of the Indian government’s National E-Governance Division (NeGD) and mygov.in, said AI-based platforms worldwide were projected to add about 15-20 billion dollars by 2030 to the world economy. For India, he said the projected contribution to the economy would be “around 950 million dollars”.

“Given the strength that India has with regard to AI-related workforce, India is adequately poised to take advantage of the growth of AI. We are amongst one of the largest providers of the AI workforce. Globally, we are among the largest AI startup nations, building AI-based solutions for the world,” said Abhishek Singh.

The Indian government had introduced the National Strategy for AI (NSAI) in 2018, which includes capacity building, adding supercomputing systems, and training researchers at a young age, including school students in AI-based technology.

Singh also spoke about ensuring that India can become the “garage of AI tech in the world”, by using the huge amount of data available for research purposes.

Also Read | UN calls for urgent action over artificial intelligence risk to human rights, wants new rules framed

“With any solution that is built and developed and deployed in India for all purposes will be re-usable in any other part of the world, and part of the strength comes from the huge data that we have- for any population that is given, the amount and the scale that is available with us, the amount of data analytics that can be built on that, and based on machine learning algorithms, AI solutions are built,” said Singh.

At the AI and Law ‘Pavilion’, a note of caution was sounded by former Indian Supreme Court Justice AK Sikri regarding the ‘dangers’ of violation of privacy by use of AI. Noting that AI has extensive important uses in the fields of healthcare, education, agriculture and access to targeted government services, Sikri pointed out that this very access has “has become a challenge to human rights,” such as right to privacy.

“The impact of AI systems can be broadly divided into two groups—Direct Impact- which are caused due to citizens being subject to decisions of a specific AI system. These typically result from system design choices. For example- AI screening for cancer screening needs consideration for patient’s privacy in its design. And secondly, indirect impacts- caused due to the overall deployment of AI solutions in society. This has potential repercussions on society beyond the stakeholders directly interacting with the system. Such considerations may require policy initiatives by the government,” said Sikri.

He emphasised the need for strong statutory protections for data. Justice Sikri also pointed out the various ways in which the existence of extensive data could create “temptation for the companies to use it in illegal or unethical ways”- through tracking, targeting, and profiling.

“The opportunities of AI arrive with an array of challenges for society and the law. If implemented responsibly, AI can benefit society. However, applications of these technologies frequently rely on the generation, collection, processing and sharing of large amounts of data, both about individual and collective behaviour. Reckless commercial use of the data may very well have a detrimental effect on human rights,” said Justice Sikri.

The conference itself was hosted on the Gather.Town platform, which allows every attendee to create an online avatar, and “walk” around the conference venue. Akin to a multi- topic conference in the physical world, the AI4IA Conference had multiple “Pavilions” where various speakers from across the world had uploaded pre-recorded lectures, and there were opportunities for interactive ‘live salon’ sessions’ and conversations with other attendees.

The AI-based platform allowed people “standing” close to each other to talk over audio and video windows, and pop into various rooms to attend the lectures. The “venue” also boasted of a “recreational arena” including a garden and ‘games’ such as poker, Sudoku and a ‘Piano’ which was open to play.

As the theme for the conference is “access to information” a live salon session was held by representatives from Google and Facebook regarding accessibility of AI technology for differently-abled persons- with visual and auditory impairment- including how AI-based services can make their work and movement easier. Another “live” session, on AI and youth, gave an open space for discussion by young participants, while the AI and Creativity pavilion featured artists, comedians, musicians from across the world, speaking on the use of AI in art as well as for spotting “fake” art.

The Chairperson for the Working Group, which hosted the conference this year, is Delhi-based lawyer Samridhi Arora, who also held a lecture session on Artificial intelligence and Cyberterrorism.

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