This is not a drill. India needs to embrace AI now – and here’s why

An elementary knowledge of economics will tell you the world’s most used production or growth functions hold three things primary: a factor for capital, one for labour and one for technological advancement. Conventional historical evidence will show the importance of the first two as the primary drivers of the function, and whilst they still remain central to an economy, we might have reached a point where we are forced to rethink the entire function in itself. What happens to an economy when its labour supply itself becomes a function of its human capital as well its technological labour capital?

The centrality of role assumed by artificial intelligence at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be stressed enough. It has very rapidly assumed the position of being a primary driver of technological labour in an economy. Unsurprisingly, most global agencies and governments have taken leaps forward into making their businesses more AI-centric, accelerated by the digital transformation that has taken place over the span of the past few months.

AI has, in fact, become the driver of the fourth industrial revolution. According to the World Economic Forum, “it holds the promise of solving some of society’s most pressing issues, including repowering economies reeling from lockdowns; but requires thoughtful design, development and deployment to mitigate potential risks”. Accordingly, the World Economic Forum Global AI Council and Global AI Action Alliance will be working in conjunction, with the 2020-2021 cohort of the Global Future Council on Artificial Intelligence for Humanity working to “identify technically-oriented solutions for issues of AI fairness which can be used to advise policymakers and companies.”

The Indian AI Story

Developed Economies, such as those of the US, the EU countries and China, among others, have already taken massive steps towards the mass-deployment of AI models, integrating them into their existing architecture. India too is now looking towards centralising their AI architecture with several government initiatives looking to leverage AI for inclusive growth. A task force on Artificial Intelligence mandated by the NITI Aayog has been charged, in this regard, with preparing a national strategy for AI going forward. In fact, India’s first AI summit, ‘Responsible AI for Social Empowerment 2020 (RAISE) has pushed the idea of AI adoption within the country into an imminent reality.

In this regard, it is crucial to recognise the primary reason why this is more of a necessity than a luxury. India currently holds a formidable place in the global market because of an elite low-cost labour force that has been at the centre of much of the economic growth seen over the past few decades. This, however, is set to change rather soon. With AI adoption becoming a standard model around the globe, India stands the risk of losing its global competitive advantage in labour supply.

More firms today are looking to opt for the increased productivity and (in the medium-run) lower cost involvements in setting up an AI-based system, that could potentially change the future landscape of global labour requirements. It is, thus, an indispensable step that India needs to make – the adoption of AI – lest the global digital divide widens, and this competitive advantage is left behind.

According to a report by Accenture, AI has the potential to add up to $957 billion to the Indian economy by 2035. It will offer newer avenues of accruing value and growth, far beyond the physical limitations of capital and labour. It does, however, bring with it equal measures of both excitement and apprehension. The apprehension comes from the rising fears of job displacement and thus, by extension, unequal growth.

Development of the skillsets necessary to work AI technologies will almost certainly see the compounding of existing wage and skill-based inequalities. This will thus need to be an area doubled down upon by both the centre as well as local governments to ensure no quantifiable gap is created (or widened). Bridging the digital divide will be crucial in this case – and necessary steps will need to be taken as quickly as possible. However, given the fact that much historical evidence has shown technological advancements to be beneficial to everyone in the long run, optimism regarding the long-term benefits of artificial intelligence need to be recognised today.

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