Artificial Intelligence (AI):Why it matters

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The use of Artificial intelligence (AI) has been the turning point of industry 4.0 that will have social and economic ramifications for society. While the definition of AI is still being debated, AI applications can be thought of as a collection of novel technologies that mimic human intelligence to execute tasks and achieve goals. Chatbots that we encounter on websites, algorithms that helped in predicting possible outbreaks of COVID-19 and even diagnosing diseases, driverless cars, healthcare robots, and AI applications for trading in financial markets are all examples of AI-based applications in use.   

AI has huge potential for applications in the transport, healthcare, retail, banking, and finance sectors. It is beneficial for executing tasks quickly, saving time and effort, especially for longer periods when it is not feasible for human beings to work. However, adopting AI applications is costly, and requires adequate infrastructure and capability. The issue of jobs being taken away due to the introduction of AI has been a contentious issue. According to ‘The future of jobs report 2020’ by the World Economic Forum, AI will replace 85 million jobs in the world by 2025. Jobs such as those of customer executives, receptionists, data entry assistants, and vehicle drivers are a few of them. In addition, the laws and regulations have not kept pace with the introduction of such technologies leading to ethical and legal dilemmas in their operation. A recent example of an AI chatbot being developed by an engineer at Google becoming ‘sentient’ whereby it started thinking like a human being and asserting the right to personhood gives us a glimpse into the difficulties that society will face in the adoption of AI applications. Similarly, in San Francisco, the surprising encounter of a driverless car with a police officer when it was on the road without headlights being switched on, led to discussions about attribution of responsibility in case of accidents involving such cars.          

High-income countries have already started adopting AI in different sectors and have made strides in deliberating on regulations—the United States has promulgated the National AI Initiative Act of 2020 to accelerate the use of AI in the economy, and the United Kingdom published the National AI Strategy- AI Action Plan to support AI-related innovation and capitalise on its benefits, and the European Commission has proposed the Artificial Intelligence Act which provides a legal framework for trustworthy AI. These regulations indicate the significance of AI in their economies and their intent to use it for its benefits. However, the developing countries are yet to catch up with them. 

AI has the potential to solve problems plaguing developing countries by providing quality education, clean water and sanitation, and the provision of clean energy. A study in ‘Nature Communications on the role of AI in achieving sustainable development goals highlights that 134 targets out of the total 169 targets can be achieved with the help of AI. How can developing countries prepare themselves to capitalise on AI? In light of recent developments, they can focus on the three ‘Cs’ to embrace AI: create capacitycollaborate, and create awareness

 Building capacity: The infrastructure required for AI comprises data storage, computing and networking devices, and security enhancements. Apart from the infrastructure, building the capacity to formulate policies is an essential component of adopting AI. Policymaking for AI would require the integration of actors from different disciplines like Computer Science, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Law, and Administration. Along with developing the software for AI applications, inputs from and feedback of experts would be required on ethics, communication, management, and regulation. The feedback would be constructive in the stages when the AI technologies undergo testing.   

Collaborate: Increased government collaboration with start-ups, private companies investing in new technologies, and institutes of higher education will enable the adoption of novel AI applications to meet the present needs of the developing economies. The government can act as a link between home-based agencies and private companies or start-ups in high-income countries to accelerate the development of AI applications. The government can hold a supervisory role by imposing provisional standards to ensure the safety of AI applications and providing the space and resources for the testing of applications.      

Create awareness: Since the public is going to be the main user of AI applications, it is crucial to generate awareness about AI technologies before or while adopting them. This would include technical but user-friendly information about their adoption, the nature of tasks done by the applications and the impact on job prospects, and guidelines to interact with and operate AI applications. Information regarding AI can be disseminated through credible government sources on social media and by organizing information campaigns. This will help the public in understanding the benefits of AI and in smoother adoption of AI technologies.     

The three ‘Cs’ are just the foundations for preparing and capitalizing on AI efficiently. The use of AI applications has benefits and drawbacks. While they can complete tasks much faster than human beings, their adoption is costly and they have still not reached the levels of social and emotional connectedness and exhibiting creativity. As they are being introduced and evolving overtime, their benefits, and risks are also being identified contemporaneously. While developing countries would not like to miss out on the race for AI adoption, they need to prioritize the use of AI applications based on their risks and demands to solve the developmental challenges.  

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