What We Can Learn From Deloitte India CEO interview on AI Policymaking
Indian Society of Artificial Intelligence & Law.
The Economic Times interview with Deloitte India CEO N Venkatram was pretty insightful into India’s Artificial Intelligence and Digitisation policies and what it means for the country’s economy and businesses especially after the life-altering onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. When asked about the decline in India's GDP growth numbers and how it impacts India's aspiration of becoming a $5 trillion economy, Mr Venkatram says that “Growth by its very nature is impermanent. “, which gives hope to our economy to still grow. He suggests that India should focus on competing with other countries and provide a more conducive environment for businesses. He says that the growth of an economy should be given a higher priority to public debt, especially in these times. An important thing he points out is that risks can be made by informed investments in Information Technology which is a nonperforming asset but essential for growth. Mr Venkatram’s relevant measures as to how India can take over the COVID-19 situation really stand out. His three plans of actions include making India a worthy first choice of Multinational Corporations and aim for a bigger share through introductions of new incentives for them. Secondly, he says that India must persuade global manufacturers to relocate to India and encourage them to locate their Regional Headquarters here and since MNCs are transforming themselves digitally like the Gulf Corporation Councils, India too should try and make the most of the opportunity as “winning” RHQs creates a centre for arbitration for the allied services and brings jobs and increases the GDP of the economy.
Mr Venkatram also recommends offering incentives to employers to hire more woman in the workforce and encourages the work from home aspect possible through digitisation for more gender-neutral employment opportunities and encourages employers to employ people even from satellite townships. With Covid-19, Online Learning has become as essential all over India and Mr Venkatram suggests that employers use this opportunity to expand on the job learning opportunities through networking, mentorship, and sponsorship. However, I believe that the efficiency and quality of work and education procured from one’s home or through online networks is not half as good as an on-the-job training or physical education as in a practical sense as in India not everyone’s house (where much of the online training and education is procured) is conducive enough to provide the right environment for uninterrupted learning or even working. This could be because of intrusive families, lack of good internet connection or even overall lack of motivation which can be achieved offline. But as the pandemic has shown us, going online and familiarising oneself with the digital world has now become mandatory and inevitable for all with a point of no escape and digitisation is in fact the future of not only India but also the world.
Talking about the opportunities that Artificial Intelligence could provide to India. Mr Venkatram says that since technology is the key for the countries manufacturing, banking, services, and agriculture sectors especially as seen in the COVID-19 times, AI can help enhance their workings through “computer vision, natural language processing and machines that learn over time.”. He gives us a notable example of the manufacturing sector which is essential in the countries new policy of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, where artificial intelligence technology is being used for various services such as predictive maintenance and waste management. Many people believe that with such technologies can help the government’s engagement with the citizens and the businesses with their customers which I believe can help make the whole process more democratic as people will now be able to voice out their concerns and opinions more directly to them as this system will create more accountability.
As to whether Indian companies responded well to the digital world especially when compared to their global counterparts Mr Venkatram says that even though their managements are sceptical of the complex nature of artificial intelligence there is an acceptance of the fact that it is unavoidable but since “cyber is the new battleground” and there are many risks involved in adopting AI as cybersecurity is fallible. However, India can easily become well equipped to overcome these risks by acquiring the right, relevant talent who can also train their counterparts and use the leadership of the outstanding technology staff to advise India on the way to compete with global companies along with continued investments in the AI technology. I find Mr M. N’s point relevant as artificial intelligence is the new order of the day and if one remains apprehensive of the harms it may cause instead of exploring it and finding solutions and ways to regulate the problems instead, then they may fall behind others who will make the utmost use of the technology at hand and become more efficient with its help and get ahead in the competition, leaving the backward persons behind.
While assessing as to whether digital technologies could help the government achieve its economic goals, Mr M.N believes that “The way the government responds to cognitive technologies, both as a regulator and as a user, will shape our societies for years to come.” and suggests the usage of predictive analytics to help early detection of defaults and fraud which is the main concern faced when it comes to cyber technology. A.I is undoubtedly the largest creator of data which in a populous country like India can help “policymakers to focus on being innovative and prescriptive rather than bureaucratic and technical in their use of data.” I have worked with data collection and analysis of minor government surveys and data collection and felt like a computer would do a much better job in not only collecting the data but also analysing it in a rational manner. Through the development of artificial information technology, even subjective and quantifiable data can be analysed with relevant insights by the computers. This will also enable ambitious problem-solving like the Aadhaar scheme which provided the transformational developmental opportunity. However, it was also met with a lot of criticism because of the privacy concerns that followed. On the other hand, government initiatives such as the Jan Dhan bank accounts became a passport for “digital governance and empowered citizenry.” in a fair sense. He also talks about The Union Budget and the upcoming budget (as of 2021) where the government will display how using technology has vastly expanded the collection of information, allowing it to pass on benefits more efficiently. Mr M.N uses Tax Deduction at Source (TDS) and Tax Collection at Source (TCS) on domestic transactions as examples to illustrate how technology can re-examining the scope and coverage of TDS/TCS and leverage the information available on the GST database allowing us to eliminate surplus activity which could benefit the taxpaying citizens. Nevertheless, AI’s challenges, which include algorithmic bias to data privacy to funding must be taken care of accordingly to use AI’s power to multiply human productivity to its maximum potential without causing harm to the rights of the people.
While discussing the multi-modal connectivity in India, Mr Venkatram says that this technology is essential as India has a large and federated environment and if joined up and connected by physical infrastructure, then people, products and efficiencies will flow more quickly. ‘Multi-modal connectivity’ is essentially designed to reduce the cost of logistics cost as a percentage of GDP which estimated at 13-14% currently and is higher than most developed nations. It reduces the share of roads in overall transport and promotes multimodal transport and facilities, such as logistics parks. “The Sagarmala program which is an initiative by the government of India aims to modernize India's Ports so that port-led development can be augmented, and coastlines can be developed to contribute to India's growth” and is critical to India’s progress.
When it comes to legal framework necessary to regulate future businesses based on AI and Information Technology, Mr M.N believes it is still in need of up-gradation, which I agree with as neither the constitution nor the acts can possibly keep up with the rapid development of the AI sector and most companies can easily find loopholes in the laws to suit themselves as the possibilities of things that can be done using AI are endless and still being discovered. Which is mainly due to the emerging technologies, such as AI, machine learning, big data analytics, blockchain, and Information Technologies which are running faster than the regulators. Thus, how the law is applied is crucial to making sure that the technology process is efficient, transparent, and judicious in the purview of the law. One way to achieve this would be to “make administrators who oversee the legislative work more accountable for the outcomes. One major challenge faced by AI and IoT do, which creates ethical dilemma is the protection of personal liberty as well as other traditional disciplines as seen with Facebook which was accused of selling their users data to companies for profit and designing their algorithms in a way which could influence their political biases too. The need for a strong data protection bill is more important than ever when almost more than half the population of India is connected to the internet and have exposed their most private information online. A solution given by Mr M.N is to anonymise our data before AI and IoT converts it into smart decision-making that influences our behaviour or creates bias which seems like the right way to go. The most difficult task here would be for the regulators to maintain the right balance between allowing AI producers the creative freedom to foster innovation while simultaneously protecting the consumers, and addressing the potential unintended consequences of disruption openly keeping in mind that, the main aim is to improve ease of living and the citizen experience in the safest manner possible. The pandemic caused disruption to almost all businesses in India which have definitely caused a significant change in the way businesses to work now and will in the long term. Mr Venkatram believes that one way to view the disruptions is to examine how we have been forced to challenge orthodoxies which have made the growth of digital usage imperative. This year saw a rise in the number of remote online proctored tests which were traditionally taken in exam centres with invigilators watching hundreds of exam takers at once and although people were apprehensive about the malpractices that could have occurred due to this process, many colleges trusted the system completely as they had no other choice and even took in students based on these online tests. A sharp decrease in the cost of doing business has been observed because the external costs of electricity, travel and other reimbursements became redundant during the pandemic. However, one must keep in mind that these costs may soon return gradually as the pandemic settles.
A noteworthy technological advancement which Mr M.N points out is the accelerated migration of processes and data to the cloud. Done by cloud computing, it includes the services including servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence over the ‘’internet’’ which is referred to as the cloud. This process offers faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. It also provides the agility and scalability with the ones already familiar with the technology.
The democratisation of opportunities through innovative platforms for small business is also happening. While Mr M.N gives us the examples of food takeaways like Swingy and Zomato, one can also observe the new Google’s initiative to help small businesses like tuition centres, self-made entrepreneurs who sell homemade items and more. This has caused a significant change in competitive environments and caused more people to support small businesses who can now reach a wider audience, beyond their loyal consumers.
Mr M.N also talks about how the companies have now been opened to adopting hybrid models which require only some employees to visit the offline office as and when needed, due to the aftermaths of the initial hit of the pandemic. In the long-term, we can expect a significant amount of our workforce mostly white-collar workers to continue to follow the hybrid work model and going forward 30% of the people can choose to work remotely at any given point in time which will not only allow for broader employment opportunities without the obstacle of region and gender (like stay at home moms often leave their jobs to take care of their children at home).
From this article one can understand that the main message throughout the interview is Mr Venkatram’s emphasis on how the implementation of new technology is not only essential but also inevitable for the Indian Government and India’s business houses. M. N Venkatram although an advocate for digitisation and use of machine learning programmes, also warns the people about the harmful effects these new technologies may pose to us collectively and individually. His main aim is to help Indians realise that with proper regulation of the upcoming digital technologies, we can use this feature to act as an important catalyst in the progress of our country as among other benefits it can also help India achieve a better status as being business-friendly by adopting digital modes of working and making maximum use of internet and technology, to work more efficiently and keep up with the competition.