Arun Teja Polcumpally
Doctoral Research Fellow
Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA)
Haryana, India
E-mail: atpolcumpally@jgu.edu.in

Introduction

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to be the bedrock of the fourth Industrial Revolution and almost all the developed nations are racing to have an edge. Mere digitalization of records and process would not help automation. Necessary computational capabilities and decision-making techniques become the necessary addition to the existing machines. They form the basics of industrial automation and AI is its fundamental functionary. Nearly around sixty countries have released policy papers or discussion papers on Artificial intelligence (AI). Even though states are in a rush to catch up on the speculative economic disruptions caused by AI, South Asia has seen only India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka releasing their policy papers on AI. While Sri Lanka is the only state where the policy has been outsourced to – Sri Lankan Association of Software and Services Companies (SLASSCOM) and launched a draft policy paper on June 26, 2019. All the drafts emphasize on the basic requirement of data regulations, investments, and private collaborations, in developing the AI strategy. The common focus of the region on AI is observed to be on health care, education, agriculture, smart mobility, and governance. India is found to be the only country emphasizing on smart cities in its AI policy paper.

It is interesting to note that all the policy papers in South Asia have considered AI to be inherently good and it has to be deployed for the development of human society.

Major initiatives and focus areas of South Asia:

India, noticing that it is not in the same position as the US or China, has drafted its policy to maximize the late mover’s advantage in adopting AI technology. With its #AIforAll brand, the state of India initiated policy discussions on the usage of AI in the field of Agriculture, health, education, and smart mobility and transport (Niti Aayog, 2018). Two national-level institutes have been proposed viz. Centers for Research Excellence in Artificial Intelligence (CORE), whose focus is on the fundamental research. International Center for Transformational Artificial Intelligence (ICTAI) focuses on product development and deployment. There is also an overarching body that Center for Studies on Technological Sustainability (CSTS) which looks into the market impact and international competition of AI products.

Apart from this, Task Force on AI has released its report detailing on the sectors to be focused upon (The Artificial Intelligence Task Force, 2018). The questions – What are the sectors where the government should play a role? What are the sectors where AI generates employment?  How is AI used as the next-generation problem solver? have been given due importance but it lacks the question of how exactly the above questions are to be answered. As it is a successor to the NITI Aayog paper, challenges to the judicature are expected to be addressed but AI development & deployment has been considered as a new business venture.

Sri Lanka’s policy paper is not yet in the public. The launch event of draft policy paper emphasizes the sectors which have already been mentioned in the case of India. How Sri Lanka is going to realize this is yet to be seen.

Of the three policy papers, Bangladesh appears to have drafted a well-researched plan with the timeline of the AI deployment in the priority sectors along with the legal framework. It has a proceduralist framework with research, AI skilling of the workforce, setting up of digital infrastructure, drafting a legal framework, investing in the AI development, commercializing lining up respective order (Information and Communication Technology Division, 2019).

Pakistan has an educational forum – Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing launched in 2018 (Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence & Computing, 2019). It provides skill enhancement and foundational courses in different parts of the country (Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing, n.d.). However, it lacks a national policy to lead the various AI initiatives.

Afghanistan, with its political instability and ongoing peace talks with the US and Taliban, it has other priorities to AI. While Nepal and Bhutan could have leveraged the neighboring countries’ policy developments and made an effort to have joint effort with either India or China. It would have ensured a spot in the Global AI race.

Even though Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India stepped up for the AI race, the entire region has a diverse set of challenges. All the countries in the region are not digitalized. There are a good number of government departments where the records are not yet digitalized. Also, skilling becomes a difficult job for the state. For example, ASER report of rural India, which focuses on the evaluating learning outcomes of schoolchildren found that only 27.2% of Standard III, can read Standard II level text, 50.3% of Standard V students can read standard II level text and about 73% of standard VIII students can read standard II level text (ASER, 2018). Research similar to ASER is absent in other countries of South Asia, but it would be reasonable to assume that there would be similar learning outcomes in the rural regions of the Indian sub-continent.

Given these fundamental challenges, AI adoption by South Asia would require revamping of  education policies, industrial policies, legal frameworks and to have an umbrella institution catering to the inter-departmental coordination between the emerging technologies and societal requirements. Such institutions would be established at the national levels. As all the countries are not equipped to accelerate their developments to match the AI era, a regional institution within SAARC would be a welcome move.

Table1: Country-Wise AI policy focus areas and developments in South Asia

CountriesFocus AreasPolicy Developments
Sri LankaEducation Health Care Agriculture AI Skill development Emphasis on Private collaborations GovernanceSLASSCOM AI policy
IndiaEducation Health Care Agriculture AI Skill development Emphasis on Private collaborations GovernanceNational Strategy on AI -NITI Aayog discussion paper, 2019 – Data protection law, 
BangladeshPublic service delivery, manufacturing, agriculture, smart mobility and transportation, skill & education, finance & trade, and health.National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence
PakistanEducationPresidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing
AfghanistanNo PolicyNo Policy
BhutanNo PolicyNo Policy
NepalNo PolicyNo Policy

References

ASER. (2018). ASER 2018 Rural India – National Findings. ASER. Retrieved from http://img.asercentre.org/docs/ASER%202018/Release%20Material/aser2018nationalfindings.pdf

Division, Information and Communication Technlogy. (2019). National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. Ministry of Posts, Telecommunication, and Information Technology, Information and Communication Technology Division. Retrieved from https://ictd.portal.gov.bd/sites/default/files/files/ictd.portal.gov.bd/page/6c9773a2_7556_4395_bbec_f132b9d819f0/Draft%20-%20Mastering%20National%20Strategy%20for%20Artificial%20Intellgence%20-%20Bangladesh.pdf

Niti Aayog. (2018, June). National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved April 12, 2020, from Nitiayog: https://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/NationalStrategy-for-AI-Discussion-Paper.pdf

Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence & Computing. (2019). Entrance Exam Merit Ranking List. Retrieved from https://www.piaic.org/docs/meritlist#:~:text=In%20December%202018%2C%20the%20Honorable,latest%2C%20cutting%2Dedge%20technologies. 

The Artificial Intelligence Task Force. (2018). Report of Task Force on Artificial Intelligence. Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Depart for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. Retrieved from http://dipp.nic.in/whats-new/report-task-force-artificial-intelligence


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.


About the Author Global South Studies Series

Global South Studies Series (GSSS) is the Online Publication of Jindal Centre for the Global South (JCGS), a research centre affiliated to the School of International Affairs (JSIA) at O.P. Jindal Global University, Haryana-India.

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