Bringing together of people from non-conventional technological backgrounds like mathematicians and statisticians, in addition to experts in verticals such as education and healthcare will be key to India’s artificial intelligence (AI) story, Intel India country head Nivruti Rai told Pranav Mukul. She said these are some of the backgrounds in which companies including Intel are looking to hire to solve some of the population-scale problems using AI. Edited excerpts:
What are some of the specific population-scale problems that you are working to solve?
India sees 17 deaths on the road every hour. Our goal or vision is zero deaths due to traffic accidents. And honestly, this is not an India problem alone. It’ll be solved for India, but will be enabled for the world, that is the goal. And that is the reason that for this effort — the Smart Mobility initiative — the who’s who of AI are working with us over the last two years.
We’ve collected so much information, and they have been presented with fantastic algorithms, models in the world’s leading conferences… paper ideas are many. Everybody talks AI but how many understand AI? Not many. Our goal is to break the myths around AI to show the possibilities of AI and enable through good processes, systems and platforms, that everybody in India should be able to leverage AI if not make AI.
How close to reality is the zero road death goal and what are the impediments to it?
There are many impediments: why do traffic accidents happen? One is because of driver mistake. Second is infrastructure mistake. Now, driver mistake, I can correct with technology. For infrastructure fixes, we will have to partner with the government. So, we are trying to do both.
Now, what are we going to do in terms of infrastructure fix, you are creating a map you know, let’s say if you look at Bangalore, any x-y coordinate, if there is a road there, we have called it we call it grey zone mapping. We have coloured the map in a certain colour — black means a definite accident has happened, grey means likely accident has happened and white means perfect infrastructure. There’s this road, which is turning and has very poor banking needs a fix, so it will be grey. My belief is, like I said, any technology to get into its full potential, full adoption takes more than 10 years.
Now, things are getting better. History tells us for automobile adoption, it took 10 years for 80 per cent adoption, smartphones, 10 years for 80 per cent adoption. I feel things are becoming smarter. So maybe it will take seven-eight years for 80 per cent adoption and 99 per cent in 20 years. So, seven years is my goal. But even if I start this technology now, when I save one death, it’s worth my effort.
Is India prepared to build AI in terms of having a ready talent pool?
I’m reading off of a Gartner analysis, okay. It talks about three countries and these three countries are often talked about, whereas AI is concerned and who will be leading the global dominance. Of total worldwide population on AI in terms of experts or talent pool, US has the largest about 17 per cent. China is next at 9 per cent. India is at 8 per cent. Even though you know, we have 60 per cent of our population, which is rural, we have 8 per cent of world’s AI talent in India.
And why? Because AI requires programmers, software developers, mathematicians, statisticians, analysts and data analytics, and we have them all. Maybe they’re doing different things but we can bring them together to drive AI and lead the race of global dominance. What India doesn’t have is coming together for creating solutions, which is what Intel is trying to lead here with partners.
You talked about people with some of these non-conventional, non tech-related backgrounds working in AI. Is Intel hiring people with such backgrounds for its AI projects?
We are looking at people who can help us with the cloud, edge, compute, and optimising for the different verticals, I talked about — smart cities, health, education. We will be targeting few of those population scale problems and some of them I already shared with you. Statisticians, mathematicians, programmers, all these guys will be hired for AI in addition to experts in different verticals like health, smart mobility. Intel Israel and India are doing a lot of work on smart mobility.
So when you talk about verticals like health and education, you’re also looking to get in doctors and teachers?
Absolutely. They could be our partners or they could be Intel people. In one of our engagements, we have PHFI (Public Health Foundation of India) as partners, given their expertise in health. IIIT Hyderabad have very smart researchers. And we are making all products smart by leveraging software, and I really believe hardware and software, both will be very critical. AI will see growth from software, and all of this will translate into value for people. And that’s the use case that I’m talking about.
You mentioned that you’ve been working on some of these projects for the last two years. Now, as far as AI is concerned, what exactly did Covid change in that roadmap of yours?
It didn’t change anything, it only accelerated and pushed. For example, tele-health — people were working on already, but now we have to do it faster. And, you know, all the 10-year adoption targets, I have talked about, how can we translate those into three years. I’ll just give you one example — typically vaccines take 10 years or more to make. The fastest vaccine was made for mumps, and it took four years. And think of the vaccine we are aspiring to have by the end of the year. It’s happened because we can do gene sequencing, which would take teraflops of compute 10 years ago, we can do it very quickly through really small machines.
So, we are doing many things with CSIR-IGIB (CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology) and ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) exactly in this area to expedite diagnostics and expedite patient risk stratification and build vaccines.
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