Welcoming US President Joe Biden’s executive order seeking to reduce the risks posed by artificial intelligence, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar has said India is on the same page and the “convergence of the leading tech nations of the world” around making user safety the primary objective for any tech policymaking is a good forward step.
In an exclusive interview with NDTV on Tuesday, the minister of state for information technology also allayed fears of people losing their jobs because of AI, but added that there has to be an emphasis on learning new skills.
Responding to a question on whether he believes that – along the lines of the US order – developers who pose a potential security risk must share the results of safety tests with the government, Mr Chandrasekhar said, “First of all, I welcome what President Biden and the US government have done. This is in the wake of the historic memorandum of understanding between the US and India, when the honourable Prime Minister visited the US, where the US and India have agreed to collaborate in AI and in semiconductor and in high-performance computing and in quantum computing. So AI is certainly an area where India and the US are going to work very closely together.”
“And I think our basic principles in how we view technology in general and the internet in particular is similar because we have been saying for almost 24 months now that our policies and our approach to regulation are about safety and trust and accountability, safety and trust of our digital nagriks and accountability of all the platforms that serve our digital nagriks… And it is good to see that now the US is essentially talking about safety and trust and accountability,” he added.
Stressing that every country’s approach may be a little different, the minister said India is proposing the creation of an overall framework of user harm, which is the reciprocal of safety and trust.
“What kinds of user harm are not permitted by any platform, whether that’s an AI platform, whether it’s a consumer tech platform, whether it’s a social media platform, that we start regulating the Internet in general, and AI in particular, through the prism of the safety and trust of those who use it. AI is a technology that is going to enable us to do more with less. So do more good with less. We will certainly become a force multiplier and a kinetic enabler of a digital economy,” Mr Chandrasekhar said.
“But the same principle applies to the bad and the harm, which is that AI will be able to amplify and compound, in very significant manners, the harm and the criminality elements of the internet as we know today,” he warned.
The minister said India will be one of the largest digital economies by 2025-26 and has a lot of interest in helping AI being shaped in a manner that adds to the digital economy and does not cause harm and, at the same time, in ensuring that governments do not break the potential of AI by over-regulation.
Timeline For Artificial General Intelligence
To a question on AI reaching a stage where it can think for itself and is getting to a stage where that represents a threat, Mr Chandrasekhar said artificial general intelligence (AGI) is something that people have spoken about for decades.
“Certainly, we can argue that, in the last 10 years, the intensity and the acceleration and the curve has become a lot more exponential in terms of the progress. But whether we will be there in the next two years, whether we’ll be there in the next five years… I’m certainly not a person who wants to predict the future of tech… but we can safely predict that in our lifetimes we will see AGI, we will see AI mimicking human behaviour,” he said.
“I think a critical mass and an inflection point has been reached with the power of the GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) and the AI compute and the training models that have now evolved that we are able to train trillions of parameters and are starting to mimic close to inferential behaviour that human intelligence and human artificial intelligence of AGI represents,” he added.
Not A Threat To Jobs, An Opportunity
Asked about people fearing that they will lose their jobs with the advent of artificial intelligence, the minister said such fears have dogged every major technological change. He pointed out that people had thought every retail showroom would shut down after e-commerce came to be widely adopted.
Mr Chandraskhar said that the disruption will not throw people out of work as much as it will force them to adapt.
“And I think, in our case, the opportunity for us is that the next generation of youngsters get the skills at the school and college levels that prepare them to be flexible and to be dynamic as these changes confront them. I think the days when you just get a degree after going to four years in college and then hoping and thinking that it will stand the course or test of time for the rest of your life are pretty much behind. Not just in India but the whole world,” the minister said.
Striking a positive note, he added. “So what this does is essentially create a lot more opportunities, but very different skill-intensive opportunities. There will be disruptions in the economic model and the market model as we know it… but that disruption is just normal. It is part of how humankind has progressed over the last several decades and centuries When the locomotive came, the bullet carts went out of action. When the PC came, the munshis went out of action. We must not fear it. We must embrace it. But we must certainly anticipate what it requires of us… to go with the change and write the change rather than be disrupted by the change.”
On whether every country will comply with AI standards and the potential weaponisation of AI in the future, the minister accepted that there are no guarantees but said governments have, from their experience in the past 10 years, matured and, while seeing the technology ecosystem as a force of good, have also understood the need for regulation.
“I read the nice article written by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on NDTV.com. Certainly, it’s good to see leaders of the Western world talking so clear-headedly about what countries are required to do to ensure that this technology works for the good of mankind, rather than just the good of a few billionaires and few big tech companies, and then have the rest of us scrambling to protect ourselves and protect our people,” he said.
Mr Chandrasekhar dismissed the claims of Opposition leaders about their iPhones being accessed by “state-sponsored” hackers and said, “It is election season and people will pull all sorts of things from a hat.”
He said that Apple needs to explain exactly what happened and that the government will also conduct an investigation.