Why India Needs A ‘Ministry Of AI’ (Artificial Intelligence)

With India staring at another general election, the establishment of a Ministry of AI is not just a matter of economic leverage but a strategic imperative for national security in the face of technological warfare. The urgency is clear – without it, we risk falling behind in the global tech race and letting our demographic advantage slip into economic liability. 

As McKinsey outlines, India’s journey toward a $30 trillion economy by 2047 hinges on harnessing artificial intelligence (AI). The Ministry of AI would spearhead initiatives to integrate AI in vital economic sectors, oversee AI-driven projects that directly contribute to the GDP, and collaborate internationally to maintain a competitive edge.

However, failing to engage in this AI revolution could turn our demographic advantage into a severe economic strain. Look at the UAE. In 2017, they set a global precedent by appointing the world’s first AI minister, Omar Al Olama. That decision was a clear sign of embracing the AI era head-on.
Why can’t India, with its wealth of tech talent and burgeoning AI potential, take a similar leap? 

Many experts who believe in India’s potential to become an economic superpower and self-reliant nation express urgency.  “So, the AI ministry would allow us to respond faster, given that a new economic value of $15.7tn will be generated by 2030. Otherwise, just like we are paying in dollars for oil, we will also be paying for artificial brains in the future,” Umakant Soni, chairman of AIfoundry and co-founder of ARTPARK (AI & Robotics Technology Park), told me recently. 

Daily Encounters With AI

Unlike the Industrial Revolution, which unfolded over centuries, or the digital revolution, where we had a few decades to adapt, the AI revolution is racing at an unprecedented pace, deeply impacting every aspect of society and economy.

On a recent train journey, as we passed by Maharashtra’s Sangli station, I was struck by a conversation that floated from the berth across mine. A young student talked of Chitale Dairy-Pune’s pride-and their pioneering RFID tags. “Imagine,” he said, “once AI steps in, they’ll probably guess our shopping list before we even make it.” 

Earlier this week, at a Delhi cafe, I overheard a pair of insurance agents grappling with the future. “AI could streamline routine claims, leaving us to tackle the big fish,” one said with a furrowed brow, reaching out for his chai. “I need to find an AI course,” he said, accepting that the rules of their game were changing.

These real-life glimpses into AI’s impact highlight the need for the Ministry to foster AI literacy through public campaigns and develop targeted training programs, ensuring that all sectors can adapt to AI advancements. Additionally, the Ministry could implement regulatory frameworks to ensure AI’s ethical integration into industries like retail and insurance, safeguarding jobs while enhancing efficiency. It would also be responsible for setting fair AI guidelines, ensuring that AI is not used in a way that exacerbates existing inequalities, thereby addressing concerns about the social impact of AI.

Imagine a Ministry of AI in India as the central nerve for:

  • AI for Good: Applying AI to solve social challenges, from health to environment
  • Digital Diplomacy: Shaping global AI policies to protect India’s interests
  • Advanced Manufacturing: Leveraging AI to boost production efficiency and competitiveness
  • Jobs and Regulation: Creating new tech jobs and setting fair AI guidelines

“A Supermarket of Problems”

Adam Smith talked about how scarce labour can drive up wages, sparking innovation. Today, as AI reshapes economies, there’s a similar shift. 

Developed countries, facing slow GDP growth and ageing populations, are embracing AI for productivity. India’s situation is different. Our challenge? Transforming our large, youthful workforce into a skilled, AI-ready group. This is where a dedicated Ministry of AI becomes crucial. 

India’s unique challenge and opportunity lies in its population. With over 1.4 billion people, India has the potential to build the world’s largest AI-enabled workforce, particularly among the 900 million youth in the 15-64 age group.  However, for AI to be effective and ethical, it must be safe and fair, tailored to India’s diverse needs. This can only be achieved through widespread AI adoption and alignment, driven by feedback from this vast population, ensuring that AI systems are developed in a way that is inclusive and representative of India’s social and cultural diversity.

“India has enough AI talent and data (it may not be in the most usable form right now), and critically, it offers almost a supermarket of problems (from healthcare access to financial inclusion to educating 300 million school kids to climate change) for the world to solve,” says Umakant. 

India’s position in the global AI race is a paradox of potential. The visual below from a study published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) highlights India as a significant dark circle, indicating not just the rapid growth of data but also the challenges of harnessing this vast resource effectively. The study uses a ‘TRAIN’ (top-ranked AI nations) index to evaluate where 25 leading AI creator countries stand in the race for leadership. 

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Photo Credit: Harvard Business Review

Going Beyond Just Potential

By establishing a Ministry of AI, India could strategically navigate these challenges, transforming its vast data reserves into a powerhouse for innovation and economic growth. The data is there, but without proper governance to channel it, potential remains just that-potential.

“With strengths across many dimensions, India is the one with greatest upward potential. It has the largest volume of mobile data consumption and is expected to top the world in data consumption by 2028. It already processes more digital payments than any other country in the world and has the third-largest AI talent pool. While it places restrictions on access to data, its AI regulation rules are still fluid,” Bhaskar Chakravorti, Ajay Bhalla, and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi said in their 2023 HBR article titled ‘Charting the Emerging Geography of AI’.

“We need to create a large domestic capital pool focused on AI by creating a large public-private $10 billion fund of funds focused on AI so that young entrepreneurs can go behind the problems in India.” Umakant added that given the diversity of data in India, solutions built in India will be robust, safe, and equally applicable in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the European Union, and the US. 

The message is clear: India’s vast human resources could become a burden if they are not AI-ready. With an AI Ministry, India can harness the tech not just for productivity but to redefine the country’s work, innovation and growth journey. 

(Pankaj Mishra has been a journalist for over two decades and is the co-founder of FactorDaily.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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