As new chair of the global partnership on AI, India can help set humane priorities, away from big biz interests

26th November 2022
As  new chair of the global partnership on AI, India  can help  set humane priorities,   away from  big biz interests
Four themes of the Global Partnership on AI

November 26 2022:  Just over two years old, the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence  ( GPAI, pronounced ‘gee-pay’), a multi stake-holder initiative, currently  engaging  29 nations,  had  hitherto  leaned on the leadership and resources of developed nations like Canada, France, the UK and US.
So, it is a remarkable testament to India’s proven strength in cutting edge technologies like AI, that in its third year, the partnership has handed over to India, the baton to lead its activities:  IT Minister of State Rajeev Chandrasekhar, assumed the chair for  2023, on behalf of the nation (albeit through virtual participation), at the annual meeting of GPAI which was held in Tokyo, Japan this week.
Mr. Chandrasekhar said: “We will work in close cooperation with member states to put in place a framework around which the power of Artificial Intelligence can be exploited for the good of the citizens and consumers across the globe -- and ensure that there are adequate guardrails to prevent misuse and user harm.”
In a closing statement, on November 22,  the participating ministers reaffirmed their  commitment to AI Principles, “which are based on human-centred values, protecting dignity and well-being and promoting trustworthy, responsible and sustainable use of artificial intelligence.” They also committed their respective nations to “protecting and promoting human-centred values and democracy that underpin an inclusive, development-oriented, sustainable and peaceful society.”
Crucially the members opposed “unlawful and irresponsible use of artificial intelligence and other technologies, which is not in line with our shared values.”
This is stark recognition that the constant hype regarding AI’s power for good notwithstanding, the agenda has been known  to be hijacked  by corporate interests  who see in AI a business opportunity than a  powerful tool for doing good. GPAI is a combined attempt by governments to wrest back the initiative and reorient the goals of AI, putting people rather than corporations at its epicentre.
The partnership has decided to concentrate on four themes:  Responsible AI, Data governance, Future of Work and Innovation & Commercialization.
An examination of the projects undertaken or in progress at GPAI so far, shows very interesting synergies with the Indian government’s own concerns and priorities  as articulated  in  IndiaAI, the joint initiative of the Ministry of Information Technology (MeitY), the National e-Governance Division (NeGD)  and  the  IT industry body, NASSCOM.
Among the current projects where India with its new mandate as chair  could make useful contributions drawing on her own experience and  storehouse of innovation  are:

  • AI for public domain drug discovery. The GPAI working group   in its latest report does not pull any punches: “The current drug discovery market is not responding sufficiently to health care needs where it is not adequately lucrative to do so. Unfortunately, there are a number of important yet non-lucrative fields of research in domains including pandemic prevention and antimicrobial resistance, with major current and future costs for society. In these domains, where high-risk public health needs are being met with low R&D investment, government intervention is critical.”
  • AI and Climate Change. The group report  points to a failure  to assume the cost of  greenhouse gases emitted by developed nations : “There is a general market failure of not properly pricing the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. This yields a specific market failure regarding the research, innovation and deployment of AI technologies that can help fight climate change.” The implication is unstated but obvious: Rich nations have a vested interest in not adequately researching green house gases because ignorance is bliss. India can play a role in resetting priorities.
  • AI and Social Media. This again is a subject of deep concern in India which   contends with  mass misinformation centred around elections, civil unrest and other  hot button issues. The working group  on Social Media in its most recent  report states: “Much of the appeal of social media platforms comes from their ability to deliver content that is tailored to individual users. This ability is provided in large part by AI systems called recommender systems… They rank amongst the most pervasive and influential AI systems in the world today. The starting point for our project is a concern that recommender systems may lead users in the direction of harmful content of various kind, focussed on the domain of Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content”.

The government’s announcement this week on its new international mandate  suggests that “AI  is expected to add USD $967 billion  to Indian economy by 2035 and US$ 450–500 billion to India’s GDP by 2025, accounting for 10% of the country’s USD 5 trillion GDP target.” 
But it is not only about money. Speaking about India’s  upcoming role as GPAI Chair, in a Doordarshan TV programme that he linked in a tweet,  Abhishek Singh CEO of Digital India and NeGD  reiterated  India’s  resolve to  subtly reset the  global  agenda in AI : “We will be focusing on bringing a greater involvement of the global south in the conversation regarding the use of AI for solving societal problems, harnessing Indian entrepreneurs and AI startups…We will ensuring be that concerns of developing countries are put on par with those of developed countries.”
For India to align her own hardnosed priorities with a humane global vision for Artificial Intelligence is both challenge and opportunity. This article appeared yesterday in Swarajya