Govt's AI mission running late as Cabinet nod lags


Despite close to a year having passed since a government-appointed panel entrusted the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) to lead the implementation for the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Mission, the final approval for the marquee programme is yet to come through from the Cabinet.

The five-year AI programme, which was announced in the 2018 union budget, is already delayed due to a tiff between MeitY and the Niti Aayog over the lead agency for the programme, which was resolved in September 2020 by a committee headed by the principal scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, K VijayRaghavan.

Sources said the Niti Aayog had earlier made a Rs 7,000 crore proposal for the project, but the cabinet note prepared by Meity had estimated a slightly lower budget.

“India as a country is losing out in the international standing in the area of AI,” said one of the people aware of the development. The person added that the programme which was meant to be a collaboration between the government, academic and industry, is yet to be started due to the delay in approval.

Countries like China and the US have already gained an edge in AI due to their focus and work for many years in this area, they said.

The Cabinet approval will give a green signal to the entire project which will include components like what will be the structure of the mission, agencies involved in rolling it out and the timelines.

While MeitY is the lead department to roll out the national programme on AI, it will have involvement of academic institutions like IITs, industry partners for advanced R&D, along with collaborating ministries such as health, education and agriculture.

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“The idea is to write algorithms and train algorithms on data. The e-governance apps can be trained to work on AI which will make the whole government to citizen delivery systems better,” the person said.

For the last several years, India has been harbouring big ambitions to develop its own AI roadmap and strategy to counter the lead that China already has in this area. The government is already running several centres of excellence in areas such as AI, augmented reality, fintech and agritech, which will all be subsumed under the mission.

The Niti Aayog had already received clearance from the expenditure finance committee (EFC) for a budget of Rs 7,000 crore, while MeitY had sent a separate Rs 400 crore proposal to the EFC to set up a national AI programme. MeitY had also announced the setting up a national AI centre.

While MeitY’s earlier programme included launching a national AI portal along with developing applications and doing proofs of concept in the areas of health and education, Niti Aayog’s roadmap included setting up of five centres of research excellence, 20 institutional centres for transformational AI and a cloud computing platform called AIRAWAT.

There is continuous discussion on the project and hope is that approval will come in the next few weeks, the person said, adding: “Once it is implemented, it will have a positive impact on the whole ecosystem.”



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