The Artificial Intelligence revolution is already at our doorstep. While we speculated about the times when Robots would co-exist with humans, a growing number of individuals are already becoming cognitively and psychologically dependent on digital networks. Be it social media, PS3 games, or the education sector and the industries - it is impossible to escape the omnipresent impact of AI and while AI makes our machines smarter, it is likely to have an unequal, and drastic effect on our society, according to a new book, by author Rajiv Malhotra titled, Artificial Intelligence and The Future of Power.
The book states that this AI-driven revolution will have an unequal impact on different segments of society. There will be new winners and losers, new haves and have-nots, resulting in an unprecedented concentration of wealth and power. The book examines society’s vulnerabilities to the impending AI revolution, and raises questions that call for urgent debate: Is the world headed toward digital colonization by USA and China? Will depopulation become eventually unavoidable? Why India should increase its AI budget to compete with the USA and china?
The book acts as a wakeup call for the public to be better informed and more engaged in the upcoming AI revolution. It educates the social segments most at risk and wants them to demand a seat at the table where policies on Artificial Intelligence are being formulated. In an excerpt in the book, the author writes:
My research on the likely impact of AI on India has entailed numerous conversations with thought leaders and the study of the written materials available. NITI Aayog, India’s leading government policy think tank, has provided helpful reports on the subject. I also recently read Bridgital Nation: Solving Technology’s People Problem written by the Indian industrialist, Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons … Most reports I have read on AI’s impact on India adopt the framework used by Western industry analysts as their starting point and fine tune the conclusions by plugging in Indian statistics. There is a lack of fresh studies that start from the ground up in India, beginning at the grassroots and working up, rather than going top-down from the West to Indian corporates and then further down.
Some of the glaring blind spots are as follows:
1. The focus of most reports is on the big corporates. The impact on the bottom 500 million Indians in economic status, if considered at all, is addressed as an afterthought.
2. Most reports do not build financial models to accurately estimate the capital and operating expenses involved in implementing AI. Their forecasts are largely based on surveying industry executives and employees with leading questions of a positive kind, while avoiding the troubling issues except in passing. Many respondents are not sufficiently informed about AI to give useful views of the future.
3. The problems of unemployment and inequalities are brushed aside as non-issues: The conclusions of some Western reports that new jobs will replace old ones is quickly assumed to be applicable to India without due diligence on the details. What is not considered are the following:
A) The new jobs created by AI will help a different social-economic demographic group, i.e. those with high standards of education that very few Indian youths get. These few privileged youths with good education are quickly bought off and plucked away to build intellectual property for Western multinationals. But the jobs lost will be from the lower- and middle-class workers that are poorly educated and insufficiently skilled.
B) Many of the new jobs in AI will be geographically concentrated in places like Silicon Valley and Bengaluru. This will exacerbate the rich versus poor geographical divides within India as well as between developed and developing countries.
C) The new AI related jobs will go to the youth and not the middle-aged workers displaced at the peak of their careers. The speed of disruption is too fast to allow the present generation of workers to continue employment for their remaining careers. They will become obsolete in their vulnerable middle-age. This is a serious inter-generational disruption.
D) The financial burden of the massive re-education of millions of workers is not something we can assume the corporates will automatically do. The rosy promises of re-training workers are simply not backed by credible commitments. In fact, some reports suggest that such talk by industry leaders serves as good public relations to mask the calamity of unemployment, by kicking the can down the road rather than dealing with it….
The author states that India has recently started taking AI seriously, but the response is weak and has come rather late. China and the US have a head start of more than a decade, and it will be difficult for India to catch up. The ramifications of being left behind will be serious. The author states that:
Further, India’s path forward is crippled by several factors
• India’s budget for AI development is tiny compared to levels in the US and China.
• The main opportunity in AI that has been identified is for Indians to supply labor for foreign clients. Subordination to other countries will perpetuate the problem of Indians serving as the labor class that builds intellectual property assets for others.
• Many AI start-ups in India are funded by foreign companies with deep pockets and a tentacled hold, so that the occasional Indian success story is quickly acquired and digested into the global brand. Those that are funded domestically often look to sell out to foreign tech giants as their exit strategy. Examples include Halli Labs and Sigmoid Labs, both AI start-ups in India that got acquired by Google.
• Many Indian start-ups are “me-too” copycats offering little original intellectual property leadership—mimicking a foreign platform, Uber, Amazon, or Airbnb, etc……
….. India’s pride often includes the feeling that it is the vishvaguru, or the guru of the world, at least in a spiritual sense. But what is seldom discussed in these proclamations is that such a lofty status also brings corresponding karmic responsibilities. In claiming such a status, has India succeeded or failed in its responsibilities?
Indeed, there is great enthusiasm in India about becoming a global soft power. For instance, India has adopted the posture of leading the world’s yoga movement and is starting to do the same in Ayurveda. The film industry and other popular cultural movements have already become established in the global discourse as Indian exports. However, the following reality check needs to be considered.
Culture ≠ soft power: Just because a country has a wonderful and robust popular culture does not necessarily mean that it has turned this into any power per se. Soft power is the ability to influence others’ policies according to one’s own interests. Culture, exotica, and tourism are separate entities from soft power.
It is a persuasive power over others in a pragmatic sense. Only when culture is transformed into concrete influence over others does it become soft power. Despite their growing popularity, yoga and Ayurveda do not constitute soft power for India. In fact, the Ayurveda certification in Western countries is not controlled from India. The New York-based Yoga Alliance is advancing its goal of standardizing yoga practices decoupled from Indian traditions.
The Indian government’s efforts to spread awareness of yoga are commendable, but they have not produced any power per se. Hard power as a foundation for soft power: The real question to ask is whether soft power is sustainable without hard power. Is soft power by itself viable? Or is that merely the fallback position of those that fail to compete in the hard power kurukshetra (battleground), a cover for their weakness by claiming soft power as a consolation prize?
Individual success ≠ collective soft power: India is also justifiably proud that its diaspora is asserting its Indian identity and has excelled as doctors, technology entrepreneurs, financial industry experts, pharma industry leaders, chefs, filmmakers, and other professionals. Indians head some of the world’s largest multinational companies. There is, however, a big difference between the power of individuals for their own personal success and the power of India’s institutions for global impact. There is a difference between Indians using their heritage for personal gain and those sacrificing their personal success for a greater national interest.
Rajiv Malhotra is author of many best-sellers. His latest book “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Power” is summarized at www.AIandPower.com.