Policy

India will soon stand out as a leader in AI: MyGov CEO

Venkatesh Ganesh Mumbai | Updated on October 04, 2020 Published on October 05, 2020

Abhishek Singh, CEO, MyGov

Abhishek Singh on the government’s plan to encourage AI, Aarogya Setu and the start-up ecosystem in India

India, home to the world’s third-largest start-up ecosystem, is now looking to put AI in the centre of its effort towards becoming a $5-trillion economy. The discourse on the new-age technology has so far been shaped by developed economies. The Indian government is trying to veer the discourse towards AI and its challenges here and in other developing economies. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and NITI Aayog in its Summit for AI- ‘Responsible AI for Social Empowerment 2020’ (RAISE 2020) from October 5-9, will debate on these issues and also provide a platform for start-ups to attract investments.

Abhishek Singh, CEO, MyGov with additional charge as President & CEO, National e-governance Division (NeGD) and MD & CEO, Digital India Corporation, spoke to BusinessLine on the Summit and other issues such as challenges faced by start-ups and the efficacy of Aarogya Setu app. Edited excerpts:

How many start-ups are you expecting to participate in this challenge, and what is the aim behind their selection?

We are looking to chart a course for using AI for social transformation, inclusion and empowerment in areas like healthcare, agriculture, education and smart mobility, among other sectors. Right now, the developed markets have modelled the usage of AI. We are putting forward a narrative of the concerns that the developing world is facing in AI. Challenges faced in Asia and Africa are different. We believe that AI should go beyond being used in the entertainment sector and address larger challenges in healthcare or social inclusion. These are the needs of the hour.

This is India’s effort to rectify the flawed models around AI, which have gender and racial prejudices built into it. Directed by the Prime Minister’s vision, India will soon stand out in the international community not just as a leader in AI but also as a model to show the world how to responsibly direct AI for social empowerment.

Start-ups are finding that qualifying for government projects is a huge challenge area. How do you plan to get more start-up involvement in government projects?

For start-ups, the government has already made many concessions. In the 2017 amendment to General Financial Rules (GFR), there is a clause in which start-ups recognised by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) are exempted from the turnover and experience criteria. There are exemptions in some technical requirements in certain cases too. Start-ups approved by DIPP are also listed in the Government e-Market Place (GeM) portal. Even the RAISE 2020 VC platform we are using is developed by a start-up. The rules have been relaxed to a great extent. Now it is time for them to participate in the government projects.

Aarogya Setu has been extensively used during the ongoing pandemic. Can you share your thoughts on how successful this app has been, and are there plans to roll out a similar one for natural disasters like floods and earthquakes?

Initially there was a lot of noise around privacy and security challenges. However, let me state that Aarogya Setu has been designed with privacy first as a philosophy. No user’s data till now has been compromised. Today, we have 160 million users — more than the combination of all the contact tracing apps globally put together. This is a robust app.

With regard to efficacy and usage, we must remember that it is very successful. We give moderate- and high-risk warnings, which results in people getting alert. So far, the number of people who have been advised testing, almost 27 per cent of people are turning positive as against the traditional testing approaches, which nationally is around 8 per cent. Right now, we are using one million tests every day.

One of the key things to note is that at this time there is a need to reduce the burden on the healthcare professionals. Prediction of emerging hotspots with the “Itihaas” interface helps in detecting Covid-19 hotspots. This has proven successful in Ahmedabad, Surat, Indore and other cities to proactively take containment measures. Also, in India, there is a need for behavioural change among non-smartphone users, which involves use of masks, social distancing and hand washing. It is a continuing battle.

Telecom and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently said that MyGov should become a platform for talent integration. In this context, is there any plan to rope in Indian techies, who are finding it increasingly difficult to find jobs in the US and Europe?

Yes, in fact the national e-gov plan always looks for talent. Recently we had advertised for 25 tech professionals and saw a huge number of applications. The government number overall will be limited. What we need to do is create policies that can help in job creation. Our tech professionals will find opportunities when new businesses get incubated and that is where the next level of job creation will happen.

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Published on October 05, 2020
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