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Bennett University webinar: Need to tap Artificial Intelligence to fight Covid, says IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad


NEW DELHI: The world needs to delve deep into artificial intelligence (AI) and come up with solutions to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, said Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for electronics, IT, communication, law and justice. This is a “very big challenge,” he said at a webinar organised by Bennett University, part of The Times of India Group that publishes ET, on Monday.

“This world will not remain the same as it was till now. Your life habits, your approach to life, maybe your over-aggrandizement of the world as a nation will change. In this light, do we need to reflect on the application of AI in a completely different way?” Prasad said.

The debate that emerges from the webinar will help policymakers like him to enable the right ecosystem, the minister said. Organised by the university’s Department of Computer Science Engineering, the webinar on ‘AI Solutions for Covid’ brought together eminent policymakers, scientists and industry leaders to brainstorm on strategies to accelerate artificial intelligence and data science adoption for finding solutions to tackle Covid-19.

Privacy Concerns of AI

Prasad said that the geopolitical and the geo-economic narratives are staring at changes due to the pandemic and this was the basis for PM Narendra Modi calling for “atmanirbharta” or self-reliance.

“When we talk about self-reliance, we do not mean isolating away from the world. Foreign direct investment is welcome, technology is welcome,” he said. “But a lot of it is about self-reliant India, which translates to being a bigger and more important part of the global economy.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the ₹20 lakh crore Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan on May 12, a stimulus package aimed at reviving the economy that had stalled on account of the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown aimed at curbing the disease.

While the government has used technology extensively to tackle the coronavirus threat, AI poses challenges in the areas of privacy and ethics, Prasad said. Top thinkers on the subject should come up with AI solutions that are relevant for the new post-Covid world as well as a way to resolve these challenges, the minister said.

“The biggest campaigners of right to information have become the biggest campaigners of right to privacy,” Prasad said. “When they take the flag of rights to information they want even my noting on the files to be known to them. But suddenly they change roles… They are right, in the case of AI, there are issues of privacy.”

While human beings have a conscience, it’s not clear if AI, which is supposed to process information like a human mind, can have that capability.

He said that while driverless cars excite him as an IT minister, they worry him as a law minister.

“If a driverless car had an accident and someone died, who will be responsible—the car or the owner of the car?” he said. “These are interesting, challenging issues, namely, ethics, conscience, accountability, responsibility and obviously of privacy.”

Prasad said the government is drawing up a “robust” personal data protection legislation to deal with some of these issues. It’s ready and is being scrutinised by a select parliamentary committee.

He reiterated that the Aarogya Setu app is completely privacy proof and has been downloaded by 10 million people so far. Prasad said that the Pune-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) has been asked to use its supercomputing capabilities to come up with AI-based solutions to deal with Covid-19.





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