By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun,22 Nov: There were two very interesting conversations on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in two different sessions on the concluding day of the Valley of Words Literature & Arts Festival at Hotel Savoy in Mussoorie. One was titled, ‘The Future: Will Artificial Intelligence Fight Wars?’ The speakers were noted author and researcher Rajiv Malhotra and Lt Gen PJS Pannu (Retd) while the moderator was Air Vice Marshal Bahadur Manmohan (Retd). The second was the launch of the book, ‘Artificial Intelligence: Is India ready?’ authored by noted researcher and author Rajiv Malhotra, who is based in US. He was in conversation with the Curator of the Valley of Words Literature Festival, Dr Sanjeev Chopra.
In the first session, taking up the subject of possible uses of Artificial Intelligence in wars, Rajiv Malhotra said that it had made rapid progress in the past few years but strangely there was little general awareness about its potential to disrupt the world. He added that, in the future, AI was quite likely to become a powerful tool towards digital colonisation of the world where there would be a handful of colonisers and the rest would turn into digital colonies, putting even sovereignty of the nations in jeopardy. He said that work was now underway on Quantum Computing and once it reached a developed stage, it would just invade the entire world and disrupt practically every existing system leading to digital colonisation of the countries. He pointed out that, earlier, a very humble beginning was made towards creating driverless cars. Competitions were organised in US inviting the private sector to showcase their products. Initially, most cars failed to cover more than a few metres with AI navigation. However, driverless cars are now a reality. Hence, the fears in respect of what AI could do are not unfounded. In the future, more weapons completely operated by AI are likely to be produced. Most countries in such an attack would not be able to defend themselves against Quantum technologies driven by Quantum Physics led AI. Network-centric and satellite dependent AI weapons were being developed already. One example is the recent use of drones.
Malhotra further opined that countries like India were not paying enough attention to this inevitable threat of AI but US and China had gone far ahead in this respect. India ought to rapidly place an ecosystem involving the private sector and the government system and work seriously towards not only dealing with but effectively using AI for defence and corporate needs. Malhotra also lamented the fact that India and Indians celebrated the best of the country’s brains going abroad and leading big companies rather than the country harnessing its talent for the optimum gains and ownership of technologies. India needed to harness and invest in ownership of technologies in order to avoid security risks of data piracy and cost and time overruns.
In response to a question by the moderator, Air Vice Marshal Bahadur, Lt Gen JPS Pannu agreed that China using microwaves against Indian Army and swarms of drones in Ladakh was a fake news. He added that, at such heights, this was not presently practical. However, he did not discount use of drones in the plains in future wars that India might have to fight. He also expressed concern at lack of ownership by India of chips, other hardware and software which could be used in future wars that India would have to fight. Lack of development of own chips, other hardware and software in the defence sector would leave a door open for data hacking, hampering use of AI weaponry by the country. Imported weapons could still be controlled by other nations.
All the three panellists also said that the administrative setup in the country was such that it inevitably led to procedural delays and cost overruns. India needed to recognise this problem and tackle it effectively.
The second conversation was about the upcoming book by Rajiv Malhotra, between him and Sanjeev Chopra. Malhotra said that Artificial Intelligence would increase the inequalities in the world. It would disrupt the world in a big manner. Many more jobs would be lost than created by AI. He cited the examples of Ola and Uber, which had affected many cab drivers in a very adverse manner. He also said that a significant proportion of the global population would be rendered jobless once AI took over and those in the middle of their careers would be the most affected. He said that IT driven companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Alibaba of China had grown so big in the past few years that they had overtaken the total capital value of the Tatas and Reliance Industries. Chopra felt that in the past, too, technologies had changed the world but the world had learnt to deal with them. Malhotra disagreed and said that AI was much more powerful and, unlike in the past, it had the potential to disrupt the whole world rapidly. In previous technology revolutions, transition was not so fast. But in the case of AI, it would be very swift. He said that online retail business had already affected significantly the neighbourhood retail businesses across the world. He further cited the industrialisation revolution and noted that it created many jobs in Britain but many more jobs were lost in India which was a British Colony at that time.
He further lamented the fact that India was not prepared to deal with the potential and threats of AI. Nothing was happening here. The bureaucrats and the politicians were sleeping and, therefore, India stood to lose much as a result. Chopra disagreed with him, claiming that it was not as if there was no cognisance in the country about AI. He said that he was in touch with many fellow bureaucrats in Uttarakhand and elsewhere across the country and was aware that there was reason to be upbeat on India, though sitting on the other side of the globe, Malhotra was in a better position to look at India’s scenario in a dispassionate manner and in a critical way. He also mentioned that Indians were good at IT technology. To this assertion, Malhotra responded that big Indian names in the global software and hardware working abroad were not serving India. Rather, India was importing the products developed by them at huge costs. This was not very sustainable economically and strategically in the long run. In contrast, China too initially offered its labour to the world at cheap rates and invested in India and the gains were ploughed back by China to fund its own development and manufacturing of technologies. India’s gains as a result of top Indian brains serving abroad were very limited and the money earned by these experts was private money which was never ploughed back into the Indian economy and technology development in India. Therefore, he did not feel that it ought to be a matter of pride for the country that its top brains were serving other countries. Many good brains left in India were also serving in Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies and it was not helping the country much. He further claimed that AI had the power to disrupt and hamper entire civilisations. With technologies such as robotics, a significant population would be rendered jobless and thus lead to unimaginable violence and even thoughts of curtailing the population though presently it could look immoral.
Chopra commented that the arguments made by Malhotra had some merit and India, though aware of the potential of AI and considering the use of AI technology, ought to be more serious and make the school children also more aware about it. That way they could be groomed to meet such future challenges.