Google’s Big AI Push To Make India’s Digitisation Journey Equitable, Inclusive & Safe

Google’s Big AI Push To Make India’s Digitisation Journey Equitable, Inclusive & Safe


The tech giant hosted its “Google for India” event in New Delhi on December 19

The event's core theme was to harness the power of AI to enhance how Indian users access the internet through text, image, and speech

Google announced a slew of new initiatives to use AI to improve its products to make them available to a large population of the country

India is an important and one of the largest markets of tech giant Google. In 2020, Google announced the $10 Bn ‘Google for India Digitization Fund’ to accelerate India’s digital economy. After two years and achieving several milestones, Google will now refocus its efforts towards AI in the country to make the internet inclusive.

The theme of Google’s annual ‘Google For India 2022’ event, held in New Delhi on December 19, 2022, was harnessing the power of AI to make India’s digital journey equitable, inclusive, and safe for all users – new and existing.

Sanjay Gupta, country head and vice president at Google India, said that despite India having an internet user base of over 700 Mn, only about 50% use the internet to participate in the digital economy through ecommerce, netbanking, and digital payments. Besides, only about 50 Mn users are harnessing the power of technology to drive personal progress through knowledge, upskilling, or using the internet for their health and well-being.

“This drop off at each step represents a huge missed opportunity not just for people but the economy as a whole. This happens because even today in 2022 the internet is not fully inclusive. It is text first, largely driven by English and most worryingly safer for some and less safe for others,” he added.

Google believes that the solution to this problem is in utilising AI to enhance the way Indians access the internet through text, image, and speech.

Google’s Big AI Push To Make India’s Digitisation Journey Equitable, Inclusive & Safe

Why AI?

In its opening presentation during ‘Google For India 2022’, the tech giant said that building products for India has helped the company make better products for users everywhere in the world.

“Combination of affordable smartphones, low-cost mobile data, and digitisation of critical government services has laid a solid foundation for the digital economy. India is at a momentum where it can bring a billion citizens online by 2025,” Gupta said.

In a fast-developing country like India, with economic momentum and a sustainable future, the power of AI can help make energy and food security future-proof. Google said it aims to make the country a leading digital economy and the only way to move towards it is to use the multiplier potential of AI, and through strategic partnerships and collaborations.

Highlighting the importance of AI, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that AI will touch every sector over time.

“One of the key parts of the mission is to make Google universally accessible and useful. We are increasingly using AI to scale up the language we can offer. We are working on one powerful AI model that can bring information across a thousand languages,” Pichai said.

“Over time, I think the biggest challenge is…as humans we look at the world around us, we listen to what’s happening and we see with our eyes and that’s how we consume information. Being able to bring all that, we call this multimodal, to get that rich answer back is where AI will end up playing a role,” he added.

Google India: Key Focus Areas For AI 

Speaking at the event, Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw also said that AI will play a big role in India’s tech story going forward and the technology will make a significant impact in multiple areas.

“Agriculture is one such field, and the diversity of languages that we have is the other. Then, making credit accessible to people at the bottom of the pyramid is going to be a major task ahead in which we will be using AI,” he said.

Here are the key areas in which Google would be deploying AI in the future in the country: 

AI For Agriculture Landscaping

India’s agriculture sector, which is worth $370 Bn, continues to remain the primary source of livelihood for more than 40% of the population while contributing just 19.9% (FY 2021) to the GDP.

Google said it will use AI, ML and remote sensing technology to develop a model that can help generate a holistic understanding of India’s agricultural landscape. This project will also enable AgriStack and other solutions for India’s agricultural ecosystem, with a focus on identifying farm-level landscape and farm boundaries, and potentially identify crops grown in each field. This information will support building a publicly-accessible dataset for enabling digital public goods and services, while spurring innovation across the agriculture value chain.

In partnership with the Telangana government, this model will help facilitate agricultural solutions at a field level, and benefit the broader agricultural chain.

AI To Make Healthcare More Accessible

Google is working on bringing a state-of-the-art AI and ML model that can identify and highlight medicines within handwritten prescriptions. This will act as an assistive technology for digitising handwritten medical documents by augmenting the humans in the loop such as pharmacists. However, no decision will be made solely based on the output provided by this technology.

Google has also partnered with Apollo Hospitals to build a clinical intelligence platform that would help doctors in not only solving common disorders but also rare diseases using Google Cloud AI and ML technologies.

Further, certain healthcare videos on YouTube will also be available in multiple languages. The users will be able to change the audio language within a YouTube video to either English, Hindi, Marathi, or Punjabi. Videos with multilingual content will have an option called ‘Audio Track’ under the settings button on YouTube, which will have a list of available audio languages for the video

AI To Simplify Search experience

In an India-first innovation, Google is making search results pages bilingual to make it easier for people who use more than one language to seek and explore information. Using advanced ML-based translation models and a cross-language search technology, Google can now serve high-quality and relevant content in a local language, alongside English results.

It has already started rolling out this functionality in Hindi, and will be expanding to other Indian languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, and Bengali, in the coming year.

Google is also looking at addressing India’s dynamic language needs when it comes to voice. It has launched a new speech recognition model that can more effectively understand people who speak in Hinglish. This uses a new, neural-network inspired speech recognition model that takes into account the individual’s accents, surrounding sounds, context, and speaking style.

AI To Provide Vernacular Support

“95% of online video consumption happens in vernacular languages, and 560 Mn Indians are local language users,” said Rajesh Ramdas, Google Cloud’s head of customer engineering (digital natives) while speaking at the second edition of Inc42’s Makers Summit in April 2022.

To provide a boost to the vernacular languages, Google announced ‘Project Vaani’. It is a joint initiative with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, aimed at collecting and transcribing open source speech data from across all of India’s 773 districts, making it available through the Government of India’s Bhashini project in the future. The aim is to capture Indian dialects for building better AI language models.

AI To Secure Payments And Mitigate Social Bias

At ‘Google for India 2022’, Google Pay announced enhanced security features for users paying digitally, including multi-layered intelligent warnings to alert users if the fraud detection system detects suspicious activity.

It also announced the launch of ‘Project Bindi’ to evaluate and mitigate fairness issues in publicly available natural language processing models. The idea is to build understanding of AI models along three dimensions – societal context like family structure and education, technological gaps like access and social culture and norms.

Speaking at Inc42 and Google Cloud’s roundtable on ‘How Startups Can Leverage AI & ML To Work Faster, Better And Smarter’ in September 2022, Kirthi Ganapathy, customer engineering leader at Google Cloud, had said, “Google is already working with Indian regulators such as SEBI, IRDAI and the RBI to help draft security and compliance measures for AI-ML usage.”

Google’s Big AI Push To Make India’s Digitisation Journey Equitable, Inclusive & Safe

India’s AI Initiatives And Road Ahead

Government think-tank NITI Aayog released the National Strategy on AI in early 2021. The vision document sought to highlight the potential of AI to solve social issues in a host of domains. The initiative was envisaged to make the most of rising AI adoption and the increase in the number of AI and deeptech startups in India.

With more than 362 funded deeptech startups and close to 1,000 active investors, AI and ML account for a $7.8 Bn market opportunity in India according to Inc42’s ‘The State of Indian Startup Ecosystem Report 2022’.

It is the next technology frontier that has found favour as an interesting investment category, especially as the Indian government is pushing the adoption of AI and ML, big data, IoT, robotics, blockchain and more.

Here are some of the key government initiatives undertaken in the AI space in 2022. 

Google’s Big AI Push To Make India’s Digitisation Journey Equitable, Inclusive & Safe

Besides, India will also play a key role in deciding the legal framework for tech companies. Highlighting the scale at which technology is evolving and touching the lives of people around the world, Pichai said that technology needs responsible regulations.

“I think it is an important phase and we are engaging constructively. I think India has a leadership role to play here and it is important to make sure that you are putting in safeguards for people, you are creating an innovative framework that the companies can innovate on top of (with) certainty in the legal framework. I hope India can also be a big export economy and will benefit from an open and connected internet,” he said.

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