NEW DELHI: Emphasising that the government’s Aarogya Setu app protects individual user’s privacy, Telecom and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Monday that the coronavirus-hit world needs to adopt technology and artificial intelligence even more strongly and the efforts are required in areas such as agriculture, healthcare, education and innovation.
Speaking at the global webinar on Artificial Intelligence organised by the Bennett University, Prasad said that the government is already focused on harnessing technology to ensure inclusive growth and distribution of relief and social-sector benefits in an equitable manner. Moreover, the government wants that much of the cutting-edge technology could be developed within the country for which it is also encouraging the start-up eco-system and other agencies.
The minister said that AI has to be harnessed for having inclusive and meaningful development. “We have to leverage AI for development in areas such as agriculture, healthcare, education and innovation. My ministry is working very thoroughly on this issue. For example, we are trying to see how can we increase yield of crops by predicting the weather.”
He said if there are concerns around privacy while using technology, the data protection bill – which is still in the works – would tackle it.
“Also, there are the ethical issues. While a human mind has a conscience, does AI has the talent and capability of conscience? We don’t have clear answers here. For example, in case of an accident by a AI-managed driverless car where someone dies, who is responsible? Is it the technology that is driving the car, or the driver? So, we have issues of ethics, conscience, accountability, and responsibility when it comes to larger deployment of AI and technology.”
The minister said that he was glad to be part of the university’s webinar which also saw participation by others speakers such as IBM’s India and South Asia GM Sandip Patel, Google Research (India) Director Manish Gupta, and NVIDIA South Asia MD Vishal Dhupar. The welcome address was given by Professor RK Shevgaonkar, Vice Chancellor of Bennett University.
“I wanted to visit Bennett University in person, though considering the times that we live in currently, I am happy to connect with you digitally,” Prasad said, adding that, “We are indeed living in challenging times. The world has changed beyond recognition in a few months and there is no human control over the course of the events, the tragedy and the deaths that we are witnessing across the world.”
The minister said that the government’s digital initiatives are coming in handy and ensuring that support and subsidies reach the poor and the needy without any pilferage and fraud. “We had opened nearly 37 crore Jan Dhan bank accounts of the poor, and linked these to their mobile, which was finally confirmed to their digital identity through Aadhaar. This is what we call the JAM trinity (Jandhan accounts, Aadhar confirmation, and Mobile). We have started sending entitlement of the poor directly to their bank accounts and these are for various schemes such as cooking gas, ration, and other payments… Through this method, we have saved over Rs 1.7 lakh crore from middlemen and fraudulent claims.”
Speaking about Aarogaya Setu that aims to send out alerts to the public when they are near a corona-infected person, Prasad said that the notifications are sent in various colour patterns, with red being the most dangerous signal. “There are around 110 million downloads of the app. Let me tell you, it is privacy proof and all the details are encrypted,” he said, adding that on request, an individual’s data gets deleted in 30 days, and in case of a corona-affected person, after 180 days. “But if you are still not interested in the app, do not download it.”