The government’s premier think tank Niti Aayog and the ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) are sparring over the creation of an artificial intelligence mission, people familiar with the development told ET.
In an inter-ministerial meeting held earlier this month, MeitY officials verbally raised concerns over the many “overlaps” between Niti Aayog’s 7,000-crore AI road map, and its own work in the area, a government official said.
“We have asked the finance ministry to intervene and resolve some of the issues,” the official told ET.
A top Niti Aayog official, however, said the AI mission could not be the “monopoly” of a single ministry. “This is not a department issue. It cannot be a monopoly of one ministry. Instead, it should be a national movement and all departments should adopt machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) while ensuring there is no duplication of work,” the senior Niti Aayog official told ET.
MeitY had opposed Niti Aayog’s role in developing AI several times in the past.
“MeitY has been raising objections at various levels as they feel it is the ministry which should be doing AI,” another government official said.
The think tank, which rolled out the strategy a year ago, would go ahead as planned, the Niti Aayog official said.
Niti Aayog’s roadmap includes setting up five centres of research excellence, 20 institutional centres for transformational AI and a cloud computing platform called AIRAWAT. The think tank, which has got approval from the finance ministry’s expenditure finance committee (EFC) for its proposal, will take it to the Union Cabinet, the Niti Aayog official added.
MeitY has sent a separate Rs 400-crore proposal, on setting up a national AI programme, to the EFC for approval.
“It will include developing applications and doing proofs of concepts in the area of health, education etc,” the first government official quoted earlier told ET. It also plans to launch a national AI portal.
In February 2018, former finance minister Arun Jaitley said that the Niti Aayog would establish a national programme on AI and ML. MeitY subsequently set up four committees to understand various regulatory and technical challenges associated with AI.
Analysts say the Indian industry should take the lead to invest in AI.
“There is a need for an overarching AI plan for India and, I am sure, Niti Aayog and MeitY will come up with that. On the other hand, for India to have an economy which is growing on the back of AI, the industry needs to come forward and invest,” said Professor V Kamakoti of IIT Madras, who had chaired a task force on AI constituted by the commerce ministry.
“Today, if we ask the industry where they want AI in their business process, many don’t have an answer. The reason is they have not invested in data aggregation and sanitising. The industry needs to first invest in data collection and that will certainly pave the way for AI-based solutions to their problems,” Kamakoti said.
The government is focusing on emerging technologies, including blockchain, to counter China’s thrust in AI. The sector has the potential to add $957 billion to India’s GDP and boost annual growth by 1.3 percentage points by 2035, according to an Accenture report.