Missing Piece in Artificial Intelligence for All
Yet in the nascent stage of its adoption worldwide, recent technology developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) has leapfrogged and evolved to a level that far exceeds its original conceptualization. With exponential and incredible advances in data collection technologies via sensors, software, scripts etc., continuously enhanced processing and computational power, intelligent system capabilities, can now be leveraged to replace a variety of tasks, enabling seamless process automation and substantially enhancing the overall productivity in almost all the domain of human interactions. The only caveat, I can see through, with my limited understanding, is that till date, predominantly, AI has been driven primarily for a commercial perspective with few exceptions.
Being once-in-a-generation sort of disruption and with the recent evolution in economic theories – accentuating the dire need to integrate technological innovation with human capital into the initiatives & programs of national (macro) economy development & economy policy framework for the well-being of current society and to be very precisely – for next generations.
The 50th Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics 2018, has been awarded to two American economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer. I believe we all must appreciate and thankful to Mr. Nordhaus for his exceptional foresightedness during early 1970s to visualize and conceptualize with relatively greater precision, the negative effect of anthropogenic climate changes in the era where the real impact of it was too subtle to consider, but nevertheless, today it is highly visible to us and predominantly irreversible negative repercussions will be experienced by next generations. Inevitably, Mr. Nordhaus has naturally became one of the key noddle force for creating & propagating the constructive disruption in almost all the world leadership forums of recent times with a sense of urgency to prioritize the agenda of “Global warming.”
Interesting question is why the impact of anthropogenic activities on our ecological resources was not perceived before time and what restricted us and our policy makers to spearhead initiatives to mitigate the negative impact. The answer lies in the inherent bias and gaps of our system of accounting to selectively quantify and qualify the risks involved while considering anti-global warming interventions for commercial benefits.
As a matter of fact, in general, board room private decisions of both private and public sector are purely focused on certain selected objectives driving top line growth; which directly or indirectly create negative impacts for a set of people who have no voice in the decisions and are predominantly, not the part of these transactions. The costs incurred to society as a result of these externalities are often subtle, but nevertheless, substantial.
To make it simple to understand, let’s consider an example of human desire to have good designer wooden furniture to reflect his choices, status, and/or instant gratification to demonstrate his buying capacity which he pays to the supplier. During this transaction, the price of the product does not include the ecological risk involved by cutting the trees. The critical missing piece here is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of converting a tree into designer wooden furniture. Forest will continue to be cut as long as the final finished product delivers a perception of greater market value. Risk assessment capabilities of our suppliers do not factor the risk involved in cutting trees which help the sustainability of our ecological system at multiple layers – a) absorbs CO2 b) natural source of moisture c) binds the soil d) provide shelter to number of species.
Unfortunately, to evaluate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of depleted value of our ecological system has escaped from our accounting system of risk assessment capabilities because they are not tangible at the time of the physical transaction as the impact would be visible in long term, hence therefore, very difficult to quantify and to appropriately price to a level which can be added to the final product and acceptable to the buyer to pay the price. Similar examples can be considered for fuel consumption and toxic effluents get emanated by manufacturing & chemical industries. To aggravate the imbalance of ecological sustainability, our authorities and government policy framework are; knowingly or unknowingly; designed to inaccurately price the utilization of natural resources, rather allowed the depletion of – forests, minerals and other natural resources – under the cover of unavailability of technology innovations to accurately quantify the total cost of ownership.
This is where these Nobel laureates contribution came in, arguing that technological innovation and human capital were essential to the modelling of societal healthy growth, in turn improvements in real macro economy of the nations by factoring total of cost of ownership with respect to ecological sustainability, in the actual price of the commodities. As an outcome to ensure that governments, corporations and individuals must understand the actual price of anti-global warming interventions. There is a dire need for appropriate investments; in the right context along with the honest intent; to spearhead technological innovation by leveraging Artificial Intelligence and imperatives of producing skilled human capital.
In the Indian context, the while paper published on National Strategy For Artificial Intelligence #AIforALL by Niti Ayog, has decided to focus on five sectors that are envisioned to benefit the most from AI in solving societal needs: a) Healthcare: increased access and affordability of quality healthcare, b) Agriculture: enhanced farmers’ income, increased farm productivity and reduction of wastage, c) Education: improved access and quality of education, d) Smart Cities and Infrastructure: efficient and connectivity for the burgeoning urban population, and e) Smart Mobility and Transportation: smarter and safer modes of transportation and better traffic and congestion problems.
These strategic directions are definitely appropriate to consider to start with. Also the need for AI solutions for climate change, are considered in one of the identified sector “Agriculture” in the #AIforALL as Agriculture sector in India, is too much dependent on climate to ignore.
But looking at the urgency and importance for holistic ecological sustainability, the missing piece/sector in #AIforALL is – Environment for Ecological Sustainability to ensure that technological innovation for ecological sustainability and skilled human capital can be integrated into the initiatives for macro-economic growth. India is the second-largest coal consumer after China, putting at risk to disasters caused by climate change. Over 4,800 Indians died due to heat waves across the country over four years to 2017. Their frequency disasters will also increase by 3-9 events in the next 30 years, reaching 18-30 events by the final quarter of the century.
The kind of substantial differentiating edge shown by Indian experts and technocrats in Information Technology sector at Global platform in last two decades along with overall constructive disruption created by successful start-up stories in new emerging technologies – Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Machine Learning and automation – India can pioneer on disruptive technological innovation required for Ecological Sustainability and enabling the skilling of the human workforce as the real sources of economy growth.
Looking at the Black Swan sort-of-events like Kerala floods and increased frequency of droughts; we definitely do not require any government panel or committee to do research for years to conclude that Ecological Sustainability must be one of the top priority of National Strategy for #AIforALL. Only actions can demonstrate our unflinching determination to achieve such challenging but urgent objectives (if somebody really have it!).