AI Adoption: Behooves Heightened Responsibility & Higher Ethics

In July 2022, UK-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) firm Peak commissioned a benchmarking survey to study AI adoption in the USA, UK, and India. The study, jointly conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, included 3000 senior decision-makers from companies with at least 100 employees; the survey was augmented by responses from 3000 middle-level staff as well.

A key finding was the inaugural Decision Intelligence (DI) Maturity Index, an indicator of how prepared businesses in these three jurisdictions were to adopt AI for commercial decision-making. The study found that over the past six years, the percentage of companies that have adopted AI technologies stood at 28%, 20% and 25% in the US, UK, and India respectively. While it was only expected that the US would be the leader, it was surprising that when it comes to leveraging AI in commercial areas, Indian companies ranked highest- they scored 64 (out of 100), while those in the US and UK respectively scored 52 and 44. 

The study also found that 18 % of US workers were unsure whether the companies they work for used AI at all; for India this figure stood at 2%. It was also revealing that Indian enterprises embedded data sciences capabilities within commercial teams, while their western counterparts relied more on central data teams[1]. Of course, it must be acknowledged that China is perhaps much further ahead in terms of deploying AI, although we will likely not get to know the details anytime soon.


AI will play a major role in how our world evolves


Consumers like you and me already experience the power of AI in the form of reminders from fitness apps or what books to read, shows to watch or music to listen etc. Intelligent parking assistance in some cars is another example of AI in action. AI is also at work when we see “deep fake” videos that look and sound so real. AI is not a new field; it has in fact been around since the late 1950s, which is when the term was coined. But it is only in recent years that AI has become less esoteric and more mainstream. 

This shift is due to rapid advances in computing power and speeds as also evolution of models and capabilities around natural language processing, voice recognition, machine vision and other allied areas. It is this pace and nature of AI evolution that gives experts the confidence that AI will play a key role in economic and social development, delivery of education and healthcare services, forecasting natural disasters and managing them, national security and much more.

Several national flagship infrastructure backbones in India, including the GST and Income Tax systems, Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC), Government e-Marketplace (GeM), the Unified Logistics Interface Platform (ULIP) and the Gati Shakti National Master Plan already have elements of AI embedded in them. India’s private sector too, has been actively working on AI-based projects and products that span different use cases and industry sectors.


India is taking steps to prevent unbridled use of AI- but “there are miles to go before we sleep”


A couple of decades ago, movie franchises such as “The Matrix” and “The Terminator” conjured up a world where machines take over the world. Today, the world is closer to being at a stage where inadvertent or deliberate misuse of AI can unleash unknowable harm to society. It can be argued that human avarice has already damaged our planet beyond redemption, but we have done that without much help from AI!

There have already been instances reported in media where the use of AI in some applications has thrown up evidence of discrimination and bias-negative traits that are patently human. The companies behind these applications have rolled them back but they signal a clear and present danger. There has also been much debate in recent times about whether AI-based programs are truly “sentient” i.e., capable of feelings. Maybe we are still some years away from truly sentient machines- or maybe they are already here. Either way, it is important to ensure that AI is governed by appropriate ethics to make it “responsible.”

Clearly, AI has great power; it must therefore also be used with great responsibility. “Responsible AI” has many dimensions, including reliability, safety, privacy, transparency, fairness, and accountability. Just as important is for humans to know how an AI system arrived at a certain conclusion or decision. While most of the above have to do with how AI powered devices and applications are designed and built, it is also critical to ensure that ethics govern how these devices and apps are deployed and what they are used for. 

In the absence of such mechanisms (and punitive actions for violators), think of the myriad privacy incursions that can be easily caused by physical surveillance using drones or digital eavesdropping of phone conversations. Even AI-powered software in place to analyze CVs to identify the “best” candidates can be misused to ensure that only candidates of a certain profile are hired.

AI ethics and governance needs to cover more than just individual companies that develop AI tools and applications. All stakeholders must work together to put in place an overarching framework that includes policies, laws, rules, and SOPs to ensure that AI does not become a Pandora’s Box. A key objective must be to ensure that there is mutual trust.

To support India’s burgeoning AI ecosystem, the Niti Ayog has begun to hold consultative discussions. Its report “AI for All” is grounded in the fundamental rights enshrined in India’s constitution. It suggests setting up of an expert committee comprising specialists in AI, cybersecurity, social scientists, law, various industry domains and representatives of government and civil society to create a regulatory/governance framework. 

Such a framework must necessarily be flexible, to accommodate unexpected changes powered by technological innovations. NASSCOM, India’s software industry association, has launched a Responsible AI hub to ensure that key stakeholders are engaged so that broader societal views are considered and factored into strategies and plans related to not just innovations, development, and deployment but also governance.

A survey by IBM Institute for Business Value has found that the responsibility for leading and upholding ethics has shifted to the CEO. 62% of business leaders agree that AI ethics is important to their organizations. It is a given that the world will never be a utopia. It is time that “leaders” in every field from around the world stand up and take necessary steps to prevent the world from becoming an AI-powered dystopia. AI is too important a domain to be left to the whims and fancies of individual countries, companies, or leaders- whether democratic, despotic, megalomaniac, idealistic or somewhere in between.

AI ethics and governance needs to cover more than just individual companies that develop AI tools and applications. All stakeholders must work together to put in place an overarching framework that includes policies, laws, rules, and SOPs to ensure that AI does not become a Pandora’s Box. The key objective must be to ensure that there is mutual trust.