India Unveils Ambitious Rs 10,372 Crore AI Mission to Propel Technological Innovation

The Cabinet has given its nod to the India AI Mission, allocating Rs 10,372 crore over five years to stimulate AI advancements within the nation, announced Union Minister Piyush Goyal. The sanctioned funds are earmarked for establishing a robust AI ecosystem through a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors. Goyal highlighted the significance of this initiative, stating, “With an outlay of Rs 10,372 crore, one very ambitious India AI Mission that will encourage AI segment and ongoing research in this field…has been approved by the cabinet.”

To oversee the implementation of the mission, an Independent Business Division (IBD) dubbed IndiaAI will operate under the auspices of the Digital India Corporation (DIC). The mission aims to democratize access to high-performance computing resources, including over 10,000 GPUs (graphics processing units), to facilitate the development of an AI ecosystem. GPUs have garnered attention for their ability to process data more rapidly than CPU-based servers, prompting increased demand.

Various stakeholders, including startups, academia, researchers, and industry players, will have access to the AI supercomputing infrastructure established under the India AI Mission, fostering innovation and collaboration. Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar emphasized the pivotal role of AI in India’s digital economy, asserting, “This program will catalyse India’s AI ecosystem and position it as a force shaping the future of AI for India and the world.”

Recognizing the potential impact of the mission, Minister Chandrasekhar highlighted its relevance for states like Kerala, which have lagged in establishing a robust tech ecosystem. An integral component of the India AI Mission is the establishment of an India AI Innovation Centre (IAIC), which will serve as a premier academic institution fostering research talent and facilitating the development and deployment of foundational AI models.

Furthermore, the approved funds will bolster the India AI Startup Financing mechanism, providing crucial support to budding AI startups and accelerating their journey from ideation to commercialization. The mission also prioritizes industry-led AI projects aimed at driving social impact and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

A critical aspect of the India AI Mission involves the establishment of a National Data Management Office to enhance data quality and availability for AI development and deployment. This office will collaborate with various government departments and ministries to streamline data utilization.

The government’s commitment to AI development is underscored by recommendations from working groups on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which advocate for the establishment of a robust compute infrastructure. These recommendations include the creation of a three-tier compute infrastructure comprising 24,500 Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), aimed at closing the gap with global leaders like the US and China in AI computing capacity.

Despite the strides made in AI development globally, India has lagged behind, with only three supercomputers listed in the Top 500 rankings. To address this gap, the government aims to establish best-in-class AI computing infrastructure at five locations, boasting 3,000 AI Petaflops computing power, significantly surpassing current capacities.

In pursuit of AI excellence, the government has allocated substantial resources, investing Rs 1,218.14 crore over the past eight years to bolster compute capacity under the National Supercomputing Mission. However, significant challenges persist, with companies like NVIDIA facing a backlog of 12-18 months in GPU deliveries due to overwhelming global demand.

The global race for AI dominance has seen major investments from tech giants like Microsoft and IBM. Microsoft’s billion-dollar investment in Open AI in 2019 and a subsequent $10 billion injection in 2023 underscore the company’s commitment to AI innovation. Similarly, IBM has allocated $6.5 billion for research, development, and engineering, focusing on AI, hybrid cloud, and emerging technologies like quantum computing.

The approval of the India AI Mission represents a significant step towards fostering AI development and innovation within the country. By investing in infrastructure, startups, and research, India aims to position itself as a key player in the global AI landscape, driving economic growth and societal advancement.

Unlocking India’s Potential with AI

A new UN Advisory Body is expected to make recommendations on international governance of AI. The members of the AI Advisory Body – launched October 2023 by Secretary-General António Guterres – will examine the risks, opportunities and international governance of these technologies. Credit: Unsplash/Steve Johnson

BANGALORE, India, Feb 5 2024 (IPS) – India is on the brink of a transformation that could change its economic and social future.

Before the end of this decade, more Indians will use AI every day than in any other country in the world. What’s more, people in advanced economies will be surprised by the ways the country will use AI.

India is on the cusp of a technological revolution that could alter the trajectory of its social and economic future, and in this revolution. there are lessons for the rest of the world.

Our prediction hinges on three facts: India needs it, India is ready for it, and India will do it.

India needs it

The concept of “China plus one” has been gaining traction, with its admonition that global companies should not depend inordinately on China for their manufacturing and software needs.

India, with its growing infrastructure investments, favorable policies, and young working population, is the most likely beneficiary of this shift. It is perhaps the only country poised to match the scale of China.

With 1.4 billion people, India is closer to a continent than a country. Its population is almost twice that of Europe. But the average age in India is 28, compared with Europe’s 44, which means a higher share of the population is of working age. This is the starting point: India is a very large country of very young people.

This demographic dividend, favorable global trends, and the unlocking of decades of suppressed potential are starting to show returns. Even as the macroeconomic projections for most of the world seem modest or bleak, India remains a bright spot. These young Indians are aspirational and motivated to use every opportunity to better their lives.

What really sets India apart from the West are its unique challenges and needs. India’s diverse population and complex socioeconomic concerns mean that AI there is not just about developing cutting-edge technology. It’s about finding innovative solutions to address pressing problems in health care, education, agriculture, and sustainability.

Though our population is just double the size of Europe’s, we are much more diverse. Indians, like Europeans, are often bi- or multilingual. India recognizes 19,500 dialects spoken by at least 10,000 people. Based on data from the Indian census, two Indians selected at random have only a 36 percent chance of speaking a common language.

This language barrier is complicated by the fact that the official literacy rate in the country hovers near 77 percent, varying vastly between states. This means that roughly 1 in 4 people can’t read or write. Even though the government tries to provide welfare assistance for its most vulnerable, it’s hard to spread awareness about the service and reach the last mile.

Filling out a simple form to access welfare can be daunting for someone who is illiterate. Determining eligibility for assistance means depending on someone who can read, write, and navigate the bureaucracy.

Actually. receiving services means assistance seekers must have an agent helping them who is not misinformed—or worse, corrupt. These barriers disproportionately affect those who need government assistance the most.

We have the ability to solve a lot of problems for our population, but the hard part has always been in the distribution, not the solution. In India, we believe that AI can help bridge this access gap.

AI enables people to access services directly with their voice using natural language, empowering them to help themselves. As Canadian writer William Gibson aptly said, “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” Nowhere is this more glaringly evident than in India.

The rest of the world has been eyeing AI with curiosity, waiting for real-use cases. In India, we see potential today. While this may be true of many other developing economies, the other important factor is that.

The rest of the world has been eyeing AI with curiosity, waiting for real-use cases. In India, we see potential today.

India is ready for it

India’s population isn’t just young, it is connected. According to the country’s telecommunications sector regulator, India has more than 790 million mobile broadband users. Internet penetration continues to increase, and with the availability of affordable data plans, more and more people are online. This has created a massive user base for AI applications and services.

But where India has surpassed all others is in its digital public infrastructure. Today, nearly every Indian has a digital identity under the Aadhaar system. The Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identity number with an option for users to authenticate themselves digitally—that is, to prove they are who they claim to be.

Further, India set up a low-cost, real-time, interoperable payment system. This means that any user of any bank can pay any other person or merchant using any other bank instantly and at no cost.

This system—the Unified Payments Interface—handles more than 10 billion transactions a month. It is the largest real-time payment system in the world and handles about 60 percent of real-time payment transactions worldwide.

With the success of these models, India is embracing innovation in open networks as digital public infrastructure. Take the example of Namma Yatri, a ride-hailing network built in collaboration with the union of auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore and launched in November 2022.

These drivers have their own app, with a flat fee to use it, no percentage commission and no middleman. The app has facilitated close to 90,000 rides a day, almost as many as ride-hailing companies in the city.

Unlike Western countries, which have legacy systems to overhaul, India’s tabula rasa means that AI-first systems can be built from the ground up. The quick adoption of digital public infrastructure is the bedrock for these technologies.

Such infrastructure generates enormous amounts of data, and thanks to India’s Account Aggregator framework, the data remain under the citizens’ control, further encouraging public trust and utilization. With this solid footing, India is well positioned to lead the charge in AI adoption.

India will do it

In September 2023, the Indian government, in collaboration with the EkStep foundation, launched the PM-Kisan chatbot. This AI chatbot works with PM-Kisan, India’s direct benefit transfer program for farmers, initiated in 2019 to extend financial help to farmers who own their own land.

Access to the program, getting relevant information, and resolving grievances was always a problem for the farmers. The new chatbot gives farmers the ability to know their eligibility and the status of their application and payments using just their voice. On launch day more than 500,000 users chatted with the bot, and features are being released slowly to ensure a safe and risk-managed rollout.

These steps are part of an encouraging trend of early adoption of new technology by the Indian government. But the trend extends beyond the government. India’s vibrant tech ecosystem has taken off as well, a direct offshoot of its booming IT exports—currently at nearly $250 billion a year.

Next to those from the US, the largest number of developers on GitHub, a cloud-based service for software development, are from India. This sector not only innovates but also widely adopts digital public infrastructure.

The effect is cyclical: start-ups feed the growing tech culture and, in turn, leverage the data to build more precise and beneficial AI tools. India’s dynamic start-up ecosystem, moreover, is actively working on AI solutions to address various challenges.

AI can be a game changer in education as well, helping close the literacy gap. AI technologies are uniquely positioned to help students learn in their native languages, as well as learn English. AI’s applications are useful not only for students; they extend to teachers, who are often overwhelmed by administrative tasks that detract from teaching.

As AI takes over routine tasks in government and start-ups, the roles of teachers and students evolve, and they form dynamic partnerships focused on deep learning and meaningful human interaction.

What India needs is a strategic plan to chase down the most important opportunities for AI to help. The trick is not to look too hard at the technology but to look at the problems people face that existing technology has been unable to solve.

And organizations such as EkStep have stepped up with a mission called People+AI. Instead of putting AI first, they focus on the problems of people. This has led to surprising new uses unique to India.

India’s emerging status as a technological powerhouse, combined with its unique socioeconomic landscape, puts it in a favorable position to be the world’s most extensive user of AI by the end of this decade.

From streamlining education to aiding in social protection programs, AI has the potential to deeply penetrate Indian society, effecting broad and meaningful change.

Nandan Nilekani is the chairman and cofounder of Infosys and founding chairman of UIDAI (Aadhaar); Tanuj Bhojwani is head of People+AI

Source: IMF Finance & Development

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.

IPS UN Bureau