Opinion

Digital governance through AI

Abhishek Singh/Deepali Khanna | Updated on August 12, 2021

Governance tool AI solutions can lead to inclusive development   -  /iStockphoto

The various stakeholders must join hands to ensure that AI is used for benevolent purposes

In the last decade, we have seen the proliferation of digital adoption across India, facilitated by the government’s focus on the JAM Trinity (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) to create a digital identity for each citizen.

From an internet penetration of just 4 per cent in 2007, India currently covers nearly 55 per cent of the population, and is slated to reach one billion users by 2025.

While successfully narrowing down the digital divide, India now has an exceptional opportunity to harness the data being created to benefit citizens through adoption of frontier technologies. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes ubiquitous, India has the potential to leverage these massive datasets to build frameworks to empower people, create equity and race towards its goal of $1 trillion of economic value using digital technologies by 2025.

A recent PwC report indicates that AI can provide global economic value addition of up to $15.7 trillion by 2030. Recognising this potential, the government released the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) in June 2018, which serves as a roadmap for the government to adopt artificial intelligence to increase efficiency in delivery of services, collaborate with the private sector to enhance public sector potential, and develop capacities to embrace and deploy innovation.

More recently, the government also deregulated the geospatial sector allowing private players to bring state-of-the- art solutions to the sector, and spur innovation in AI-enabled hotspot mapping and analytics. The same has been observed in the Philippines where UNDP’s Pintig Lab7 used AI models on geospatial data to make granular estimates that informed the country’s responses and recovery strategy against Covid-19 as well as mapping poverty hotspots to identify the most vulnerable communities.

In India this can lead to transformation of various sectors such as infrastructure, health, and help in designing climate change resilient cities.

Cutting energy losses

Energy is another key sector which can benefit from the widescale adoption of AI. Currently, Delhi and Kolkata alone account for $36 million of annual loss in revenue from renewable energy losses; across the country, the number is significantly higher — in the billions of dollars.

By using AI in the energy sector, renewable energy generators and Discoms can cut losses and increase efficiencies by better predicting grid load management, and ultimately making the adoption of renewables cost-effective.

The Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economies (e-GUIDE) tool from leading global scientists and researchers is one such example that seeks to transform the approaches used for planning and operations of electricity infrastructure in developing regions.

With the use of AI, the Power Ministry’s Renewable Energy Management Centres (REMCs) will be able to provide enhanced renewable energy forecasting, scheduling, and monitoring capabilities by processing large datasets of past weather, generation output history, and electricity requirement in a region.

Digital transformation through AI can help governments in being more responsive to emerging trends and act accordingly. Within the government machinery, policymakers are moving forward with incorporating AI solutions for effective tax monitoring, data compliance etc.

In the scope of public sector adoption of AI, the critical need for sensitisation and capacity-building within the government cannot be discounted. Initiatives like RAISE 2020, Digital India Dialogue and AI Pe Charcha have commenced a much-needed discourse on ‘AI for good’, covering aspects of evolving technologies and their policy implications.

Further, we must create enabling environments in schools through multidisciplinary approaches with AI at their core to empower the next generation to play an essential role in designing practical AI solutions for India and in India. MeitY’s ‘Responsible AI for Youth’ has incentivised youth participation through a platform for exposure on a tech mind-set, and digital readiness.

Public-private ties

Another initiative, Future Skills Prime, has exhibited the strength of public-private partnership by aggregating digital-ready courses for consumers across citizens, government employees and businesses.

Such initiatives hold immense promise for the role of civil society and private sector in pursuing responsible AI through collaboration.

To channelise the promise of AI, it would be prudent to create an enabling environment that seeks to promote AI innovations in India while effectively governing them to prevent public harm.

Standardising the rules of the game will help expand markets for positive AI-driven goods and services. Robust public-private partnerships and collaborations, wherein the government creates an underlying public architecture as a ‘Digital Public Good’ on which private players build applications, must be encouraged.

The upcoming National Programme for AI is a step in this direction building upon existing partnerships and increasing governmental capacity in supporting AI innovations and research for public sector adoption.

As AI continues to course through every facet of our daily lives, it is quintessential for the myriad stakeholders including innovators, policymakers, academicians, industry experts, philanthropic foundations, multilaterals and civil society to collaborate to help steer AI’s future towards benevolent purposes.

Through its technological prowess and abundance of data, India can lead the way in thriving through Artificial Intelligence solutions, contributing to inclusive development and social empowerment.

Singh, IAS, is President & CEO, National E- Governance Division (NeGD), MD & CEO, Digital India Corporation, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India. Khanna is Managing Director, Asia Regional Office, The Rockefeller Foundation.

Published on August 11, 2021

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