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Page 1

INDIA AND THE ARTIFICIAL
INTELLIGENCE REVOLUTION

Shashi Shekhar Vempati

AU G U ST 2 01 6

CarnegieIndia.org

BEIJ ING BEIRUT BRUSSELS MOSCOW NEW DELHI WASHINGTON

Page 20

12 | India and the Artificial Intelligence Revolution

Though India does not suffer from a brain drain
of top-quality AI talent from university research

labs to the industry, it must be wary to avoid
this concentration of intellectual energy.

“restart startups.” Brynjolfsson and McAfee view creative destruction inherent
within the start-up economy as the best bet for experimenting with the new
jobs and industries that can thrive in an AI-driven economy. Expanding on
the concept of a “peer economy,” in which algorithms and machines collabo-
rate with humans to create economic value, the authors provide examples of
start-ups such as TaskRabbit and Airbnb that contrive previously nonexistent
economic opportunities for ordinary people with spare time and assets, thus
creating economically productive work.

Though this volatility in the middle-skill labor market represents perhaps
the most profound danger to the new economy, there exists a more subtle dan-
ger within the AI community itself. According to the Economist, Uber recently
hired 40 of the 140 staff engineers at the National Robotics Engineering Center
at Carnegie Mellon University to work on a self-driving car.41 Examples of
flight to the private sector are rife in the United States, as universities continue
to struggle to retain talent, especially for researchers and academics studying
the in-demand machine learning. The result, according to the Economist, is

that AI talent is increasingly and disproportionately con-
centrated in a few private corporations that have the abil-
ity to pay the most.42 If all AI talent is thus concentrated,
then AI research may not be as diversified, and research
priorities could be narrowly focused on a few commercial
ideas while many areas of social and national importance
could suffer for want of talent. This could slow the prolif-
eration and innovation potential of AI, which could dis-

place any number of middle-skill jobs but then fail to create new jobs to replace
them. This stagnation would represent the worst possible outcome, as market
forces could allow a wealthy AI elite to prosper while stifling competition from
start-ups, nonprofits, and institutions focused on the progression, rather than
profitability, of AI technology. Were this to happen, the panacea offered by
Brynjolfsson and McAfee would be rendered irrelevant.

However, this crisis is hardly inevitable: one effort to open up AI for the
common public good is the nonprofit OpenAI, a group led by Tesla’s Musk.
India’s Infosys is among many major IT companies that have joined the
OpenAI effort. Though India does not suffer from a brain drain of top-quality
AI talent from university research labs to the industry, it must be wary to avoid
this concentration of intellectual energy.

Encouraging Skill Development for Future Jobs

Not everyone is as sanguine as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee are regard-
ing the coming AI revolution. The recent victory of AlphaGo over the world
champion in Go has prompted fears of the threat posed by intelligent machines
that are capable of superhuman tasks.43 The direst warning comes from noted
physicist Stephen Hawking, who apocalyptically predicts the end of the human

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Shashi Shekhar Vempati | 13

Anxiety over AI mirrors fears over advances
in cloning, genetically modified foods, nuclear
weaponry, and other areas of technology.

race with the development of “full artificial intelligence.”44 While this doomsday
scenario is many decades away, in a recent Guardian profile about the DARPA
Cyber Grand Challenge on autonomous hacking to detect and fix cybersecu-
rity vulnerabilities, Konstantinos Karagiannis, a technology executive with a
telecom firm, raised the red flag of the likelihood of criminals acquiring AI
capabilities to mount sophisticated cyberattacks.45 In another recent column in
the Guardian, Jason Millar, a robotics ethics expert, while calling for an interdis-
ciplinary effort to frame ethics standards for robots and AI,
raised the possibility of the “loss of human control” likely
to result from advances in AI.46

Anxiety over AI mirrors fears over advances in cloning,
genetically modified foods, nuclear weaponry, and other
areas of technology. The politics over technologies such
as AI in India could see a repeat of the kind of protests
against the use of computers in machine tools in the 1960s
and banking in the 1980s. Indeed, India would have lost out in connecting 1
billion people through cellular telephony if fears over radiation had delayed the
rollout of mobile services in the 1990s. Today, through the Aadhaar universal
identification program, India’s poor have an identity and, overcoming barriers
and bypassing middlemen, are empowered to claim their entitlements. This
would not have been possible if fears over privacy had stalled the rollout of
Aadhaar over the past seven years. Likewise, the AI opportunity in India today
should be seen in a similar light as a means for India to not merely leapfrog into
the future but also as a means to empower its population.

In the provocative Humans Need Not Apply, Jerry Kaplan, a U.S. computer
scientist and futurist, explores this and several other questions while attempt-
ing to paint a picture of an apocalyptic future and what it might look like
if and when machines take over.47 (Fortunately, that futuristic scenario need
not be a concern yet because Kaplan rules out this happening anytime in the
immediate future.) Of greater interest is his devotion of specific attention to
the immediate challenges and opportunities at hand with the evolution of
machine intelligence.

Specifically, Kaplan raises two issues that should be of interest to policymak-
ers in India. The first is the education system and the second involves skills and
jobs. While discussing the likely impact of AI on labor markets, Kaplan poses
the radical question: Is the current system of sequential education and work
outdated, and does it require an overhaul? According to Kaplan, the sequential
system—as he put it, “First you go to school, then you get a job”48—made
sense in an economic era in which an individual was expected to hold a single
job throughout a career. In an economic environment that is rapidly chang-
ing, however, the nature of available jobs constantly shifts, with skills becom-
ing valuable and obsolete in a matter of years. This is not a reality of a distant
future—it is already happening, including in India. The number of engineering

Page 40

INDIA AND THE ARTIFICIAL
INTELLIGENCE REVOLUTION

Shashi Shekhar Vempati

AU G U ST 2 01 6

CarnegieIndia.org

BEIJ ING BEIRUT BRUSSELS MOSCOW NEW DELHI WASHINGTON

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