India has joined the artificial intelligence (AI) race, with the government think-tank NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) spearheading a national programme on AI, including research and development.

The budget allocation for Digital India, the government’s umbrella initiative to promote AI, machine learning, 3D printing, and other technologies, was almost doubled to Rs3,073 crore ($477 million) in the 2018/19 year. Additionally, the department of science is also set to launch centres of excellence (CoEs), investing in research, training, and skilling in digital manufacturing, big data analysis, quantum communication, and internet of things (IoT).

India has been increasing its digital innovation since the development of NITI Aayog in 2015. This includes the biometric programme, Aadhaar, which aims to create a 12-digit unique identity number for all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. The IndiaChain Programme, meanwhile, will likely be the largest scale of blockchain implementation in governance anywhere in the world once operational. It is creating blockchain infrastructure to support IndiaStack, a stack of codes developed around Aadhaar, plus other government digital identification databases. Blockchain in India has the potential for use in applications including digital identification, fraud reduction, speeding up enforcement of contracts, the distribution of benefits, sharing of medical records and even greenpower sharing.

India has work to do, though, to compete with AI leaders, including China and the US. While the data is beginning to be forthcoming – more than 99 percent of Indians aged 18 and above have Aadhaar – India doesn’t have its own tech giants like Baidu or Google that can use the data to build a credible AI system.

Beyond the new government investment in research and development, there is need to attract investment in start-ups. According to FactorDaily, between 2014 and 2017, AI startups in India raised less than $100 million from venture capitalists. The education system also requires an update to ensure the requisite talent is available, including encouraging education institutes to partner with the IT industry to introduce artificial intelligence and machine learning concepts.

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said: “India needs massive upgradation in new technologies. IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and IIITS (Indian Institutes of Information Technology) must redefine themselves as institutes driving cutting-edge technologies for fourth industrial revolution. We must initiate measures to ensure that Indians are fully prepared to embrace the new era of AI, blockchain and emerging technologies.”

Meanwhile, the industry believes the investment in Digital India is a step in the right direction. Subrat Kar, CEO and co-founder of Noida-based video intelligence platform Vidooly, told Quartz: “It’s extremely encouraging to see the government recognise the need for research in cutting-edge technologies. It will allow us to indigenously develop technologies on par with our Silicon Valley counterparts, and reduce dependency on them.”

(via WEForum, Economic Times, Factor Daily, Analytics India)