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AI Task Force to study National Security and Defense needs

The Ministry of Defense has set up a task force to study the implications of Artificial Intelligence towards National Security and Defense. An earlier Task Force by the Government of India had stated national security as among the subjects it would make recommendations on. The memorandum announcing the task force recognizes the transformative impact of AI in fueling growth as well as to “provide military superiority”.

To study the whole gamut of issues surrounding strategic implications of AI in national security perspective, in global context, it has been decided to constitute an multi-stakeholder Task Force.

The Task Force is expected to give its recommendations in three months.

The memorandum names the members of the 18 member task force as follows:

  • Shri N. Chandrasekaran, Tata Sons – Chairman
  • Dr. Gulshan Rai, National Cyber Security Coordinator
  • One representative each from the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force (Of the Rank 2/3 Stars General/Admiral/Marshal heading appropriate directorate)
  • CMD, BEL
  • Director, CAIR, DRDO
  • Representative ISRO, not below the rank of Addl. Secretary, GoI
  • Representative AEC, not below the rank of Addl. Secretary, GoI
  • Prof N Balakrishnan, IISc Bangaluru
  • Shri Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, IIT Bombay
  • Dr. Balaraman Ravindran, IIR Madras
  • Shri Ankit Mehta, Idea Forge
  • Srikanth Valamkanni Fractal Analysis
  • Shri Shashank Reddy, Carnegie India
  • Dr. V Sumantran, Chairman Celeris Technologies
  • Additional Secretary, Department of Defense Production, Ministry of Defense – Member Convener

As Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitaraman had been showing a sustained interest in IT and AI. On 25th August 2017, the Ministry for Commerce and Industry had set up a Task Force on AI to “submit concrete and implementable recommendations for government, industry and research institutions”. In September, the same Task Force appears to have been promoted again as a Government of India Task Force (with no mention of the Ministry for Commerce and Industry). The scope expanded as well.

The task force would attempt to create a policy and a legal framework to accelerate the use of AI technologies in manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and food processing, education and retail and customer engagement to human and robot interaction, intelligent automation, UIDAI, environment and even national security.

In June, she had committed 1.8 crore out of her MPLAD funds to a “start-up incubation centre” planned by the Dakshina Kannada district administration and the Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) in Mangaluru.

Soon after these developments, she was elevated to Defense Minister of India – the first woman since Indira Gandhi to hold the post. Not much is known of the two initiatives since then. If the task force made any recommendations that significantly boosted AI and IT, it is not very obvious in the recently announced budget, as also evidenced by the post on iSpirt’s blog Product Nation which appears to have nothing to say on any developments indicated on the horizon and comments on taxes alone.

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The IIT, however, has made a website soliciting public opinion on AI. This too does not appear to have been updated since September.

AI scientist, Dr Anupam Guha cautions against solutionism of any sort when creating a national policy on Artificial Intelligence. “Solutionism is the application of technologies on a problem without understanding the structural reasons for the problem,” says Dr. Guha, who holds a Ph.D from the University of Maryland and works in the areas of Artificial Intelligence and Computational Linguistics. He is currently conducting a series of talks on Artificial Intelligence in IITD, IIIT, JNU, NLU and other colleges Delhi.

“AI is a very potent accelerant of power with the capability of either strengthening or dismantling existing social power structures depending on how it is used,” he stresses. “The sociology and political-economics of AI is a new and thus not mature field. With something as potent as this, questions like who runs this AI infrastructure, is it property or a collective good, and what are the oversights used etc. are very important.” A lot of this is unchartered territory and will require careful attention to policy and detail to ensure that the results are in alignment with the intention.

At this point, it is unclear whether this Task Force replaces the previous or both Task Forces are expected to make recommendations.

Medianama’s take: Artificial Intelligence is an emerging and controversial field of technology. While the potential is undeniable, the concerns are very real as well and the debate on the subject is just beginning in India. While it will not be easy to find professionals and experts to engage with on an emerging field, it is important that initiatives exploring it be sustained over time and that they follow a robust process that is driven by science and national well being. We await with interest the recommendations of this task force. If the government and country can learn from the painful Aadhaar experience to build technology solutions that are well researched, planned to serve the interest of the widest number of people and tested from the ground up, regardless of the field of application, this can only be a good thing.

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Written By

Vidyut is a commentator on socio-political issues with a keen interest in behavioral sciences, digital rights and security and manages to engage her various proficiencies to bring an unusual perspective to issues related with the intersection of tech and people.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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