Last week, a whole host of academics and tech leaders signed an open letter calling for a pause in AI development more complex than GPT-4.
The reason they cite is that “recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one — not even their creators — can understand, predict, or reliably control.”
Unregulated arms race
They fear an unregulated arms race, both by corporates and governments, as everyone rushes to capitalise on the untold riches and power this technology promises.
There is a palpable first-past-the-post sense to a lot of this race as there is a (well-founded) feeling that whichever company and/or government can crack the potential of this technology first would be well placed to lead the charge for the next industrial revolution.
Given the riches at stake, it is understandable that there is very little desire for anyone to slow down.
While we might doubt the self-proclaimed altruistic reasons of the signatories of this letter, there is no doubt that the general idea of pausing to review the approach is a sensible one. In this quest for AI dominance, there is also a risk of someone opening a Pandora’s box instead and unleashing a storm of socio-economic chaos.
While this race will happen at a global level, it is the impact at the ground level that will have the most consequences for people. It threatens to both upend hard-won socio-economic victories and entrench existing inequities.
Also read: How professors catch students using ChatGPT to cheat in tests
AI, a lot at stake for India
For India, there is a lot more at stake compared to other countries. As a developing country with a large part of its population in an economically precarious condition (a situation further exacerbated by the pandemic), this next wave of technology could be the difference between us reaping our demographic dividend or seeing it being floundered away.
The next chapter of India’s growth story will continue to be written by the service sector — the very sector that will see the most disruption from this new wave of AI technologies.
And all of this is without mentioning the threat to the democratic and secular fabric of our society.
Given what’s at stake, I propose a three-pronged approach the government needs to take to best capitalise on AI’s potential and mitigate its risks.
1. Support indigenous research & development
Building AI solutions and algorithms indigenously will be essential to us realising rapid and equitable growth in the coming decades. A proper R&D infrastructure and environment will be essential to realising this potential, and to ensure we are navigating AI-driven growth in a thoughtful and inclusive manner.
The good news here is that this is something the Central government is already proactively doing.
In the latest Budget, there was specific focus on AI with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman calling for realising the vision of ‘Make AI in India and Make AI work for India’.
As part of the announcements made were new centres of excellence for AI and industry partnerships for R&D of scalable solutions in key sectors.
However, we also need to think beyond the technical aspects of these technologies and delve into the more social, economic, psychological, and political impact. AI technologies will be driven by large data sets that will be virtually impossible to be vetted by humans, and hence there is a large chance of them reproducing and magnifying existing biases.
Hence, it will be vital that along with technical aspects, we also invest in R&D that critically examines the biases feeding into these AI technologies for use in an Indian context.
Also read: Twitter, Pegasus, and the increasing probability of a Splinternet
2. A solid regulatory framework and guidelines for private sector
While in the past, the government has often adopted a wait-and-watch approach when it comes to new technologies, in the case of AI, a proactive approach is warranted.
This is because AI technologies have the potential to have far-reaching (and rapid) public consequences in terms of jobs, data privacy, and misinformation.
Given the ongoing gold rush for market dominance, depending purely on the benevolence and self-regulation of the private sector could be a recipe for disaster.
One step India has already made in this direction is the proposal to set up a National Data Governance Policy to enable access to anonymised data. This would be an agglomeration of data collected both by the government and by private players, which would then be anonymised and shared to help create and train better data models.
While this is definitely a positive step, a whole lot more needs to be done to ensure that AI technology is used in a fair and responsible manner.
In this regard, India could take a page out of the EU’s book, both literally and figuratively, as the bloc’s upcoming AI rulebook will include particularly strict rules for “high-risk applications” to make sure, among other things, that AI does not discriminate against vulnerable minorities. India will also need to think about which industries need regulation and to what level such technologies can be deployed.
With a median age still under 30 years, we need to ensure adequate employment opportunities are available to our young and ambitious population. A good regulatory framework should be able to help businesses strike the right balance between profit maximisation and gainful employment.
Also read: Meet ‘Shiksha’, the humanoid teacher bridging edu gap in rural Karnataka
Also read: ChatGPT, AI, and India Science Festival
3. Lead by example
Finally, and probably the most important role of the government is to lead by example.
This means being transparent about its own implementation of AI technologies, especially those that relate to governance and policing.
We already have concerns being raised about the use of FRT (facial recognition technology) in Hyderabad and the transparency of the algorithms used, and it is likely we will see more concerns arise as such technologies become more ubiquitous.
Related: How Hyderabad Police justified facial recognition, even as top cop denied using it
Given that these technologies rely so much on the quality of their training data sets, it is imperative that governments in India (both state and Centre) proactively assuage any concerns of algorithmic bias by having their systems audited by experts and publicly making the results available. Doing so can help set the standard of transparency and quality of AI implementation in India.
Regardless of how much the government itself progresses with its stated goals on AI CoEs and centralised data sets, these initiatives send the general signal to the business community that AI is an area India is actively interested in developing and investing in.
Given the size of our population, AI could be a veritable goldmine for India. Proper indigenous R&D investment will be vital for the country to grow its own crop of businesses to leverage this opportunity for India and Indians.
Also read: Facial recognition technology at airports is just the start
(Sidharth Sreekumar (he/him) is an advocate of ethical technological advancement, and is interested in exploring the confluence of technology and societal impact. He is currently a Senior Product Manager at the Economist Intelligence Unit. These are the personal views of the author)