15.05.2019 - UNESCO Office in New Delhi

India in a Unique Position to benefit from Artificial Intelligence

The Government of the People’s Republic of China and UNESCO are co-organizing this week in Beijing an International conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Education to study emerging AI technologies and innovative practices of the use of AI in education. The Conference is expecting more than 500 participants, including high-level representatives from each Member State, representatives of UN agencies and international organizations, leaders of the AI industry, academic experts, policy makers and practitioners.

India is participating in the international conference and will be represented by Mr Saravana Kumar (Joint Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development) and Prof. PD Jose (IIM Bangalore).

We asked Mr Kumar the following questions:

Question: From the perspective of India, what sort of human-machine collective intelligence should be developed in order to enable humans to live and work together with AI ?

While AI is radically altering the work processes and its actors, there will be a larger impact if we are augmenting human capabilities and not replacing them. Recently, an Artificial Intelligence Task Force to invigorate the use of AI towards India’s economic transformation was set up by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. The report of this Task Force  has highlighted a few noteworthy cases of new jobs that may be created by AI. We need to find and train enough people with skill sets that fit such jobs.

First and foremost, this includes data creation hubs. While humans are innately capable of recognising images, interpreting languages, drawing inferences and differentiating objects, machines require an exhaustive dataset to learn and mimic such skills. These hubs could employ people with primitive computer literacy to generate training material for AI systems.

We also need advisory solutions compressing human expertise into machines. This offers a lucrative opportunity for humans to digitise their field expertise by building advisory solutions through AI. This could significantly improve the accessibility of expert advice to a large population across agriculture, rural healthcare, education and finance.

Greater involvement of healthcare professionals is also a must. AI will help physicians, radiologists, nurses and other healthcare providers to devote their time and expertise towards critical cases, as routine tasks would be attended to by AI assistants. Healthcare providers could also focus on the humane and empathetic side of care delivery.

Finally, we must create new roles within IT services. AI-focused automation will cause shifts in IT service requirements such that jobs like research analysts, data entry operators, system engineers and test engineers become obsolete while paving the way for newer roles such as research scientists, language processing specialists, robotic process automation (RPA) developers, and man-machine teaming managers. Given the widespread employment of the Indian workforce in IT services and BPOs, the short-term impact of automation is expected to be high. Overseas clients have been of paramount importance for revenue generation of many Indian IT companies. As these clients work upon strengthening their in-house AI systems, the Indian IT sector would need to reskill a large part of its workforce in AI and ML solutions and engagement offerings to mitigate potential job losses.

Question: And how does this all apply to the Education Sector?

Rather than replacing teachers, AI should be thought of as freeing them up to do what they do best: engaging and encouraging students. Similarly, in computer-based adaptive learning, AI can be used in content curation, freeing up humans from this largely tedious work. But humans, especially subject matter experts, remain key to the content delivery process. Just as in the classroom, it takes a blended approach of human plus technology to realize the full potential of advanced adaptive learning platforms.

The limitations of AI in education stem from the fact that learning is far too complex, messy, and too “biological” (it is a brain function, after all) for it ever to be automated. That “perfect outcome” does not exist in education, because every learner is different.

Question: What are the latest trends of AI in India and how are these trends shaping education and learning?

India is now in a unique position to exponentially gain from advances in ICT technologies as it is in many aspects already an ICT-ready society. Over the last two decades all sectors of the economy including education, agriculture, business, healthcare and governance have seen dramatic changes due to the adoption of these technologies. This is also supported by a very vibrant entrepreneurial and technological ecosystem. 

Education is particularly worth mentioning here because of both the challenges and opportunity it presents. India’s ability to benefit from the much-discussed population dividend also rests on its ability to turn this aspiring segment of the population an educated and employable workforce.  For example, higher education in India is beset with institutional and capacity constraints and as many aver, poor learning outcomes. Compared to school education where access is almost universal, the Gross enrolment Ratio (GER) is higher education is less than 26% highlighting the challenges that face tertiary education in India – of creating access, improving enrolments and retention and assuring high quality of education for better learning outcomes.

There are several ongoing initiatives both in the public and private sector to meet this capability and skills gap.  At the national level, the SWAYAM ( India’s own MOOCs platform ) initiative is a case in point. It brings together India’s top educational institutions and offers courses by top rated faculty in all disciplines and at all levels from high school to masters.  The SWAYAM platform proses to use AI tools to develop personalised, adaptive learning management systems that will meet the highly diversified learner base.  In the private sector, there has been much entrepreneurial activity with several tech start-ups offering courses at all levels. For instance, it is estimated that of all the start-ups in India, 3,500 are in the education space and have received close to US$ 700 million funding in 2018 compared to 375 million in the preceding year. According to Inc42Datalabs a total of $1.34 Bn was deployed in funding about 182 start-ups between 2014-18.

Intensive and intelligent use of technology to make education accessible is an imperative in this context. Indian edtech start-ups are using a variety of approaches including the use of Machine Learning based approaches for customised learning, creating intelligent and interactive tutoring and mentoring systems and for predictive tools to pre-empt student dropouts. There are also significant opportunities for using these tools to both upgrade as well as augment teachers’ subject as well as pedagogy skills.

Question: Could you share some lessons learned from India national policies and strategies for leveraging AI to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4?

India’s journey towards embracing technology for digital transformation has come a long way. The foundation to leapfrog with the new wave of emerging technologies has been well-laid in terms of flagship programmes such as Digital India, Make in India, Smart Cities, Jan Dhan Yojana, Startup India and Skill India. Every stakeholder group can be proud of the efforts and achievements around the creation of the world’s largest rural broadband network, largest direct benefit transfer system, largest digital identity system and the citizen engagement platform MyGov. These initiatives, coupled with the push to skilling and entrepreneurship, are providing the foundation for the infusion of the next wave of technology solutions around artificial intelligence (AI), Machine Learning(ML), the Internet of things, cyber security, blockchain, etc.

Various studies have highlighted the potential positive impact of AI on economic growth of India. AI will help address critical societal challenges and yield tangible benefits for citizens. It is expected to address challenges in priority areas such as healthcare, education,  security, disaster management etc. There is very clearly an opportunity for India to emerge as a leader in the development of products and services in this space. At the same time, AI offers the opportunity for businesses and governments to radically reform and redesign service delivery through intelligent systems. Globally, reference cases and applications have already emerged wherein substantive cost reduction and revenue enhancements have been projected. Indian entrepreneurs are already working and delivering products and solutions in this area.

While recognising the huge opportunity that AI holds for emerging economies like India, it is also important to highlight the need to address social and ethical concerns and also the need to create an effective programme governance structure to manage the enablement of growth facilitated by intelligent systems. The programmes around AI will need to focus on skilling, reskilling and capacity building, work organisation and redesign, standardisation and interoperability, regulatory framework, cyber security and public safety. A programmatic approach can help to initiate work and move forward in this direction. Industry-government collaboration will be the key to success.

Question: How could we strengthen international cooperation and partnership for promoting equitable, inclusive, and transparent use of AI in education?

International cooperation in two areas is critical for achieving SDG4 goals. The first relates to the availability of the learning material (content) and the second relates to access. While there is copious content, a significant portion of the high-quality learning material is currently copyright protected and not available in open access.  International cooperation is needed to develop more open access resources. Wherever such material is unavailable there should be an enabling IPR or legal framework to facilitate content owners/creators to share content under fair-use clauses. On accessibility, despite progress, universal access is still a challenge for various reasons. These include lack of access to materials in languages other than English, lack of access of access to appropriate devices and bandwidth or other specific cultural issues. Some AI tools such as translation services could be used to quickly scale up the use of existing learning material to other regions.

Separately, there is an urgent need for cooperation between multilateral institutions to create open access resources (both AI tools as well as content) and enable the easy sharing of these across national level institutions (universities, EdTech stratus and others) by creating appropriate intellectual property sharing arrangements.

There is also a need of collaborative and comparative research by major players across global in education into how best to deploy AI as a sophisticated tool for teachers to help them reach and teach students more effectively using a “human-plus-technology” approach known as the blended learning environment.

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