Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become the new buzzword in several countries like the United States, United Kingdom and closer home in South East Asia. Singapore has become the pioneer in using AI. Interestingly, India has been a late bloomer in the context of AI but it has immense potential in being the leader of AI in the field of social good. Sunil Wadhwani, philanthropist and co-founder of Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence (WIAI) notes that India can use innovation and technology to solve social problems in the country. This article is a terse attempt to understand how AI can be used in the Indian context for social good. The Indian Government under the aegis of the Niti Aayog has come out with a blueprint to understand how AI can be used to tenaciously engage with people. The National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence is India’s response to AI- it documents commendably how India can use AI as an asset to serve people at the grassroot levels, especially in health, agriculture, education, smart cities and smart mobility. This paper will discuss the first three sectors in depth while providing an overview of the other two.
The #AIforAll has been put forward by the Indian government with a similar bent of mind. India wishes to use AI in vital sectors like healthcare is in direct consonance with the Government of India’s push for Universal Healthcare Coverage. India wishes to use AI in the healthcare sector because the healthcare sector in India continues to be “multilayered and complex, and continues to be” ripe for disruption from emerging technologies at multiple levels. It is probably the most intuitive and obvious use case primed for intervention by AI-driven solutions, as evidenced by the increasing activity from large corporates and startups alike in developing AI-focused healthcare solutions.” (p. 27-28) Cancer Research may see an improvement with the introduction of AI in India. For eg. ‘Bangalore based SigTuple analyses blood, urine, semen, chest x-rays, and retinal scans using an AI-based platform to develop testing patterns for pre-cancerous and cancerous cells.’ OncoStem is another Bangalore based startup that is developing a product named ‘CanAssist Breast’ which will help will help close to 50 per cent of breast cancer patients avoid the severe side-effects of unnecessary chemotherapy, and improve quality of life. NITI Aayog is working itself with Microsoft and Forus Health to roll out technology for early detection of diabetic retinopathy as a pilot project. The ‘3Netra’ can scrteen common eye problems. (p. 29An interesting line of argument given in favour of AI for social good in the healthcare sectors pertains to the democratization of the process of healthcare as put forward by Ms. Leslie Joseph of Forester Research. This is true especially because quality healthcare is available in India only in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities and the rest of the country is deprived of basic medical facilities. The other area where AI can have a significant impact in India is agriculture. India being an agrarian economy always needs innovative solutions to solve its agrarian issues. As the Niti Aayog notes, this sector needs attention despite being making progress due to weak supply chains and low productivity. (p. 30)
The entrepreneurs Sunil and Romesh Wadhwani have developed the world’s first non-profit institute to improve healthcare in the country and help distressed farmers. This initiative will certainly assist in making AI a tool that will enhance the quality of life for a large proportion of the population. The brothers hope that ‘AI would help nurses in rural areas with diagnoses, advise how to optimize crops, and also translate text books into various languages as needed or even spot signs students might be on paths to dropping out.’ Microsoft notes with precision how AI has helped the farming community in India to improve their yields especially in Telengana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh where ‘farmers are now receiving automated voice calls to inform them about cotton crops- whether they are at risk of pest attacks or not. Interestingly, Microsoft in consortium with International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has already developed an AI Sowing App powered by Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite.
Another area of vital interest where AI can leave its mark in India is education. As per reports in the Quint, AI has the capability ‘to adapt and offer customized data’. Customized learning material for students can be created so that they are able to move ahead and obtain holistic knowledge. It is definitely a tool that will enhance the teacher-student experience in the near future by providing a ‘lifelong learning companion’. AI research has been given a massive push by the NITI Aayog considering India produces the largest number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Graduates) as per Brookings India and these graduates can fuel genuine interest in AI within the country. India needs to popularize AI research within the country and the government has taken note of this fact. Different cities in AI have started taking a genuine interest in AI with Android Development and Machine Learning (ML) courses being fairly popular in Delhi while deep learning has piqued the curiosity of the people of Bengaluru in the southern part of India.
AI can be used to enhance Educational Technology or EdTech by providing adaptive learning tools for customized learning and intelligent and interactive tutoring systems which will be a major asset for teachers and students alike. ‘Smart content’ will also be generated by Niti Aayog to aid learning. It is possible that AI may be used to create a digital curriculum and content across a variety of devices, including audio, video and online assistance. The Niti Aayog has recommended the Pearson learning app ‘WriteToLearn’ to all students because it is a handy app that provides useful feedback to students and helps them improve their essay writing skills. (p.38) Byju, a K 12 Indian learning app has emerged as India’s first educational unicorn and made it to the Harvard Business School as a case study. A personalized experience is offered to every student who uses the app and simple videos are uploaded to assist the students as they try and understand complex concepts. Such applications can use AI in the future to provide a more student-friendly experience. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence in education will be of added advantage to students in the future because AI could be used to design ‘automated, customized professional development training content’ for teachers who assess their own individual performances better and fill existing gaps in their teaching. (p. 38) The EdTech space is vibrant and growing at an exponential rate with 1.5 million schools being potentially covered by the sector. Digital education has become the new source of knowledge with startups like Curiositi having made a real impact. Manoj Thandaserry started Curiositi to make the teaching of science more interesting for students. Launched in 2014 with 24 schools, the app is now being used in 80 odd schools in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Similarly, AI can aid urbanization and the development of Smart Cities in the country with the core intention of improving the lives of ordinary citizens. As part of the Smart Cities Mission, 99 cities have been selected with an expected investment of INR 2.04 lakh Crores. The strategic components of the Smart Cities include city improvement (retrofitting), city renewal (redevelopment) and city extension (greenfield development) along with the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) aiding further infrastructure development. (p.39) AI can also be used to improve traffic mobility on roads and reduce congestion and the probability of accidents on roads. Similarly, AI can be used to improve the condition of railways in the country with the Government of India keen to monitor signals, track circuits, axle counters among others. (p. 46).
India has taken nascent steps to embrace AI. India has opened up to the idea of AI and the key sectors where AI may be used in the future include healthcare, education and agriculture. Similarly, AI may be used to aid urbanization and smart city development in the country. AI can be used to improve traffic mobility on the street. The future of technology lies in the AI sphere and India now acknowledges this fact.
This piece is written by Anuttama Banerji. Anuttama is Associate Researcher at Govern.