Stress Testing the Indian Rashtra
CHAPTER 6: STRESS TESTING INDIA
Excerpt 1 (pp. 261):
….. My research on the likely impact of AI on India has entailed numerous conversations with thought leaders and the study of the written materials available. NITI Aayog, India’s leading government policy think tank, has provided helpful reports on the subject. I also recently read Bridgital Nation: Solving Technology’s People Problem written by the Indian industrialist, Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons.
….. Most reports I have read on AI’s impact on India adopt the framework used by Western industry analysts as their starting point and fine tune the conclusions by plugging in Indian statistics. There is a lack of fresh studies that start from the ground up in India, beginning at the grassroots and working up, rather than going top-down from the West to Indian corporates and then further down.
Some of the glaring blind spots are as follows:
1. The focus of most reports is on the big corporates. The impact on the bottom 500 million Indians in economic status, if considered at all, is addressed as an afterthought.
2. Most reports do not build financial models to accurately estimate the capital and operating expenses involved in implementing AI. Their forecasts are largely based on surveying industry executives and employees with leading questions of a positive kind, while avoiding the troubling issues except in passing. Many respondents are not sufficiently informed about AI to give useful views of the future.
3. The problems of unemployment and inequalities are brushed aside as non-issues: The conclusions of some Western reports that new jobs will replace old ones is quickly assumed to be applicable to India without due diligence on the details. What is not considered are the following:
A) The new jobs created by AI will help a different social-economic demographic group, i.e. those with high standards of education that very few Indian youths get. These few privileged youths with good education are quickly bought off and plucked away to build intellectual property for Western multinationals. But the jobs lost will be from the lower- and middle-class workers that are poorly educated and insufficiently skilled.
B) Many of the new jobs in AI will be geographically concentrated in places like Silicon Valley and Bengaluru. This will exacerbate the rich versus poor geographical divides within India as well as between developed and developing countries.
C) The new AI related jobs will go to the youth and not the middle-aged workers displaced at the peak of their careers. The speed of disruption is too fast to allow the present generation of workers to continue employment for their remaining careers. They will become obsolete in their vulnerable middle-age. This is a serious inter-generational disruption.
D) The financial burden of the massive re-education of millions of workers is not something we can assume the corporates will automatically do. The rosy promises of re-training workers are simply not backed by credible commitments. In fact, some reports suggest that such talk by industry leaders serves as good public relations to mask the calamity of unemployment, by kicking the can down the road rather than dealing with it…..
….. India has recently started taking AI seriously, but the response is weak and has come rather late. China and the US have a head start of more than a decade, and it will be difficult for India to catch up. The ramifications of being left behind will be serious. Further, India’s path forward is crippled by several factors.
• India’s budget for AI development is tiny compared to levels in the US and China.
• The main opportunity in AI that has been identified is for Indians to supply labor for foreign clients. Subordination to other countries will perpetuate the problem of Indians serving as the labor class that builds intellectual property assets for others.
• Many AI start-ups in India are funded by foreign companies with deep pockets and a tentacled hold, so that the occasional Indian success story is quickly acquired and digested into the global brand. Those that are funded domestically often look to sell out to foreign tech giants as their exit strategy. Examples include Halli Labs and Sigmoid Labs, both AI start-ups in India that got acquired by Google.
• Many Indian start-ups are “me-too” copycats offering little original intellectual property leadership—mimicking a foreign platform, Uber, Amazon, or Airbnb, etc……
….. India’s pride often includes the feeling that it is the vishvaguru, or the guru of the world, at least in a spiritual sense. But what is seldom discussed in these proclamations is that such a lofty status also brings corresponding karmic responsibilities. In claiming such a status, has India succeeded or failed in its responsibilities?
Indeed, there is great enthusiasm in India about becoming a global soft power. For instance, India has adopted the posture of leading the world’s yoga movement and is starting to do the same in Ayurveda. The film industry and other popular cultural movements have already become established in the global discourse as Indian exports.
However, the following reality check needs to be considered.
Culture ≠ soft power: Just because a country has a wonderful and robust popular culture does not necessarily mean that it has turned this into any power per se. Soft power is the ability to influence others’ policies according to one’s own interests. Culture, exotica, and tourism are separate entities from soft power. It is a persuasive power over others in a pragmatic sense. Only when culture is transformed into concrete influence over others does it become soft power. Despite their growing popularity, yoga and Ayurveda do not constitute soft power for India. In fact, the Ayurveda certification in Western countries is not controlled from India. The New York-based Yoga Alliance is advancing its goal of standardizing yoga practices decoupled from Indian traditions. The Indian government’s efforts to spread awareness of yoga are commendable, but they have not produced any power per se.
Hard power as a foundation for soft power: The real question to ask is whether soft power is sustainable without hard power. Is soft power by itself viable? Or is that merely the fallback position of those that fail to compete in the hard power kurukshetra (battleground), a cover for their weakness by claiming soft power as a consolation prize?
Individual success ≠ collective soft power: India is also justifiably proud that its diaspora is asserting its Indian identity and has excelled as doctors, technology entrepreneurs, financial industry experts, pharma industry leaders, chefs, filmmakers, and other professionals. Indians head some of the world’s largest multinational companies. There is, however, a big difference between the power of individuals for their own personal success and the power of India’s institutions for global impact. There is a difference between Indians using their heritage for personal gain and those sacrificing their personal success for a greater national interest.
CHAPTER 7: TECHNOLOGICAL DEPENDENCE
EXPORTING MANPOWER AND IMPORTING TECHNOLOGY (pp. 278)
The telecom and information technology revolution, including the spread of the internet, mobile telephones, and social media, has been largely pioneered by Western firms. But it is fair to say that Indian engineers played a significant role as employees and contractors working for the companies that own the intellectual property.
At the same time, India has become one of the largest markets importing these technologies. India is proud of having the fastest-growing installed base of mobile users, but the technology used in the networks is largely US and European, and the handsets are mainly Chinese. India takes pride in that it has the second-highest number of internet users in the world, and this number is growing faster than any other country. India also has among the world’s largest installed bases of users on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Indians buy mostly Chinese hardware and use it to access US digital platforms. These facts indicate Indians’ eagerness as consumers of foreign products and services, but also highlight the failure of domestic technology developers. Even when manufacturing is done in India due to cost advantages, the research and engineering controlled by foreign entities give them the power over intellectual property.
….. My concern is that India has failed to adequately educate the youth and enable them to realize their potential. The civilization that was once a world-class knowledge producer and exporter has become the biggest importer and consumer of foreign products and services—from agriculture to technology. Even in the realm of accolades, Indians chase Academy Awards, Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes, Rhodes Scholarships, Fulbright Scholarships, and various other international awards, much more than domestic recognitions of achievement.
….. To understand how India has slipped, consider the following analogy. Suppose a contractor recruits poor villagers from Bihar and brings them to Delhi as laborers on a construction site. The laborers do not own any equity in the project, not so much as a single brick. The bricks they install belong to the client who owns the building. When the construction project is completed, workers must look for the next job, and then yet another one. Their labor does not translate into any equity or long-term security. But the contractor organizing this labor makes a handsome profit quickly with little effort or value added.
At first this arrangement looks promising for the workers, because they can send money home to support their struggling families. And they may earn enough money to buy some consumer goods that are the envy of people back in the village. Maybe they own a fancy smart phone or a scooter. Compared to others in the village, their lifestyle is superior. They are the village heroes, and their parents are proud. They are sought after as a good catch for marriage.
India’s software lead was similarly based on labor arbitrage with foreign clients, which is inherently a rickety business model in the long run. The middlemen in India hired computer programmers for low salaries compared to Western levels. They marked up the rates and sold cheap Indian labor to foreign, particularly US, companies. Clients saved money because the wage rates in the US were much higher than in India even after the markups. This system appeared to bolster India’s economy. But in the long run, labor arbitrage is self-defeating as explained below:
• It only works if Indian wages remain sufficiently low compared to the client country. Indian tech workers must be kept below a wage ceiling for the model to remain viable. But suppressing wages merely encourages the best minds to leave India in search of fair compensation.
• Other developing countries also enter the same field using their own low wages as an advantage, and they may underbid the Indian wages.
• Client countries inevitably tighten immigration laws to save their own jobs. India’s export becomes contingent on the internal politics of the client country.
Only in the past few years did India’s government and corporations wake up when the US started clamping down on outsourcing, and when Indian tech workers sent to the US also faced increasing competition from American professionals. Labor arbitrage does have value for the short term, bringing quick employment and helping train the local workforce. But the middlemen should not accumulate wealth at the expense of workers, and government planners should not consider it as a sustainable strategy.
ECONOMICS AND HUMAN CAPITAL (pp. 291)
Population Tsunami (pp. 296)
….. India has touted its large youth population as a demographic dividend rather than looking at it as a mixed blessing. Young people do have hands to work with, but they also have stomachs to feed. And those hands are productive only if they have jobs. The reality is that a large amount of resources—food, energy, housing, education, etc.—are having to be spent on subsidizing the basic needs of hundreds of millions of people. Urgent government intervention is being required in many regions for basic services such as food and drinking water, land reforms, housing, education, power and fuel, infrastructure, farming, industries, employment, and public health. The larger the population, the greater this burden and the more it drags down global competitiveness. The rate at which new jobs must be created to control unemployment is greater than the economy can genuinely produce. To meet the demand for new jobs, the underlying economy would need to grow at a much faster pace, and consistently rather than in spurts.
To make matters even worse, large-scale migrations from Bangladesh and Nepal are adding to India’s population. These migrants are mostly extremely poor and uneducated, becoming liabilities on India’s economy and infrastructure. Unplanned rapid urbanization is causing heavy congestion in the cities. In 1975, 20% of the population lived in urban areas; by 2030 this figure will rise to 40%. The need for urban infrastructure and facilities is skyrocketing even as overurbanization increases congestion, pollution, and demand for public services. Clearly, India faces huge challenges in balancing the asymmetries between population, resources, and technology.
The implication of all this is that India’s exceptionally large population is an albatross that will amplify the challenges of AI. India is neither nimble enough, nor adequately prepared, to navigate through the rapidly changing technological landscape. If, hypothetically, India had only a fraction of its population, it could advance with the use of modern technology. In reality, too many people are chasing too few resources.
Uneducated and Unemployable (pp. 299)
Even after decades of Independence, a large portion of India’s population is uneducated. Enrollment is slightly above 50% in higher secondary schools, and only 25% at the university level. Half the children in grade five cannot read a grade two text, and less than 30% in grade three are able to do even basic subtraction. Women have a lower participation rate than men; the middle level of education among women is almost completely missing. Only 30% of Indians have a secondary school education, designated for ages fourteen-eighteen. About 66% of the workforce has only an eighth-grade education. Only a tiny portion of workers have any kind of formal vocational training.
Because of the abysmally pathetic education standard, too many Indians are deficient in rudimentary knowledge, reading skills, and learning habits and suffer from short attention spans—a characteristic that makes them gullible and inclined to chase emotional sensations and experiences rather than pursue knowledge. Even those who have formal school certificates often lack job skills and are deficient in analytical competence.
…… The sad truth is that most Indians, particularly the youth, are poorly educated by world standards and a large percentage are unemployable. Mediocre education and lack of training make Indians especially vulnerable to AI’s inevitable disruption in the fiercely competitive global labor market. Yet, discussion of these shortcomings is considered politically incorrect. India has recently introduced a new education policy which shows the authorities are aware of the problem. But it requires a detailed evaluation before one could pass judgment on its merits.
The silver lining behind all these grim facts is that surveys of Indian workers in the corporate sector indicate they are among the most enthusiastic in the world about wanting to learn and use digital technologies. Most of them want careers that offer both formal training and on-the-job training. They are even willing to have their work habits monitored by surveillance systems. However, very few in the workforce have been educated in India’s elite institutions and these brightest and best employees quickly get picked up for lucrative jobs with large multinationals, which are in effect buying off the cream of India’s youth whose education was paid from public funding. The vast majority of youth are left behind because of India’s abysmal investment in primary and secondary school education.
CHAPTER 8: DIGITAL COLONIZATION
INDIA IS FOR SALE (pp. 303)
There is a risk that India is already well on its way toward digital colonization; its strategy on AI is not even an effective defense, much less a plan for a leadership role in the AI epoch. Yet Indian intellectuals fail to address the issue with enough seriousness. In fact, some well-meaning persons have advised me to avoid writing on this topic because it might upset the fragile psychological equilibrium of many Indians.
Most leaders are fully aware that India has big data unique to its immense diversity of genetics, culture, and natural resources. However, most of India’s big data assets are sitting in raw unorganized form and not integrated; disconnected ministries have jurisdictions over the silos. Such fragmented data is sometimes being siphoned off by foreign entities that understand its value more than the Indian authorities do. These national assets should not be given away by foolish officials and politicians.
….. Indians, both in their individual capacity and as officials running institutions, are supplying precious data to train foreign AI systems, and these models are used to understand and engage the Indian mindset in a variety of situations either openly or secretly.
Artificial Intelligence systems have been processing immense amounts of raw data to develop psychological profiles for various segments of the Indian population. Machine learning systems are figuring out Indians’ most intense desires that can be used to get them hooked. These systems analyze what various users like and dislike, their habits, strengths and vulnerabilities, key relationships, shopping interests, ideological leanings, affiliations, and so forth. Facebook, Twitter, and Google know more about Indians than social scientists, government, gurus, or even the people themselves. This gives them the power to influence the public.
Indians are addicted to the foreign digital ecosystem and depend on it to communicate among themselves and to transact critical services across all sectors of society. Foreign social media platforms choose which individuals and messages will go viral, and hence control the image, career, and social profile of Indians. They undermine the traditional sources of authority, replacing them with algorithms. In the name of fairness and the public interest, they censor and manipulate users by injecting their own ideological premises in the social discourse. Every time there is a public controversy or scandal, these US companies take sides under the pretext of social responsibility. This is exactly the rationale the British colonizers gave for their meddling and divide-and-rule policies. This is social engineering in the digital age.
If a digital platform company champions specific values (which are invariably based on its civilizational ethos), whatever those values might be, it cannot be considered neutral. Moreover, despite what digital giants claim about championing diversity, their core strategy depends on getting people to think and act the way they and their advertisers want. The business models are based on psychologically influencing people’s thinking rather than encouraging independent thinking.
One is reminded of the eighteenth-century Indian elites that collaborated with the British, exposing Indian culture’s weak links and helping them map the country’s vulnerabilities. The British colonizers gave birth to Indology to study Indians, build psychological models of individual and social behavior, and establish policies for dealing with different segments of society. In today’s jargon we could say that Indology served the purpose of surveillance to compile big data and build models. After the Second World War (1939–45), this role was passed on to the US, which started the academic discipline of South Asia Studies and took the social-psychological mapping exercise to new heights. The new digital technologies are the latest evolution in this enterprise.
GOOGLE-DEVATA (pp. 320)
In many ways, Google is even more predatory than Facebook in its secret exploitation of data belonging to others. In fact, Google’s leaders have been explicit about their grandiose ambitions of reshaping the world order, and their strategy to achieve this is to control all the data they possibly can about your whole life. When asked to define what Google’s core business is, co-founder Larry Page said it is,
“personal information … The places you’ve seen. Communications … Sensors are really cheap … Storage is cheap. Cameras are cheap. People will generate enormous amounts of data … Everything you’ve ever heard or seen or experienced will become searchable. Your whole life will be searchable.” (Edwards, I’m Feeling Lucky, pp. 291)
As part of its Google collaboration, Reliance Jio bragged that it will make 5G phones built on “made-for-India” Android operating system. It will “join hands with tech giant Google to build an Android-based smartphone operating system”. The key issue is simply ignored in the announcement: whether Jio would control the source code, not only of the Indian adaptation of the operating system but also of the main Android system. This is needed to prevent becoming dependent on something critical controlled by the foreign party. The Indian adaptation will need to keep up with the frequent enhancements in the main Android, and this would require having the source code and proficiency in its use. Otherwise, the Indian version would soon be obsolete. It seems like a deal that fixes Jio’s dependency status long-term.
The saddest part of this is that India’s high-profile thought leaders and social media activists have not come to the mat to wrestle with these complex issues. There should have been public hearings or government hearings like in the US and EU to cross-examine the tech giants. If nothing else, it would have shown a spine and backbone on India’s part. If India is for sale, at least it should not be sold off so cheap!
When Artificial Intelligence is discussed, Indian leaders often lack the knowledge and insight to grasp its seriousness. Some people are mesmerized by the romantic vision of robots with American accents at their gatherings. I am shocked by the incompetence of many speakers at literary festivals, think tanks, conclaves, and the media in general. They seem focused on arousing public emotions with the latest scandals, gossip about celebrities, and other shortsighted outbursts. The looming tragedy, though, is that India’s youth are unlikely to achieve their aspirations because their future has been compromised.
The lack of serious Indian opposition and scrutiny of the foreign tech giants is appalling and raises suspicions of the secret inroads they have made. Contrary to this, Google and Facebook, in particular, face escalating legal, political, and public relations fights in the West. US Congressmen have held hearings in which they have accused Google of stealing content from Americans. And the Australian and EU governments are cracking down against the US tech giants as well. But Indians feel proud of being included in this new world order and unconcerned about the subordinate place it is being assigned to.
CHAPTER 9: PSYCHOLOGICAL HIJACKING
Vedic Social Science (pp. 324)
…… The collective consciousness of Indians and the outlook of modern institutions ought to be shaped by indigenous worldviews. The guiding principles should be traditionally integrated and unified, while remaining flexible and relevant for current times. However, little serious work has been done to adapt and apply aspects of the traditional teachings to today’s policymaking.
This is relevant to AI because as discussed in Chapter 4, AI platforms are culturally biased and not neutral. Machine learning systems have certain implicit or explicit values, norms, and ideals that serve as the target for training the algorithms. Artificial Intelligence is a force multiplier that strengthens whatever values and policies are embedded within it, whether visible or not. The ideology to be implicitly embedded in the AI-based models is defined by whosoever controls the models—currently it tends to be driven by worldviews based in the US or China. The US digital giants incorporate an American set of social-political premises cherished by their elite owners; in China the government supplies the narrative.
India has missed a key opportunity to develop an Indian grand narrative that could serve as the substratum for its own AI platforms. Such a narrative would enhance the shared identity across the population and help Indian society coalesce and function under a common value system. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is happening. India’s elites have adopted digital platforms from US and Chinese companies, subjecting its public to foreign influences that do not align with Indian values and customs.
….. Today’s Indian society is tamasic (laden with lethargy and toxicity) because artha and kama have become disconnected from dharma. This problem is not with the Vedic social system, but with contemporary society. The shift from Vedic to Western social theories has made Indian society vulnerable because its people are lost between the two worlds.
The AI systems proliferating today are intended to attract and influence people that have abandoned dharma and lost their moorings. The machine learning systems of American digital platforms are using big data to build the personal profiles of people’s kama and artha weaknesses on an unprecedented scale. Each individual and group is meticulously tracked and modeled as a portfolio of predispositions that can be targeted, influenced, and manipulated. By stroking their personalities and weaknesses, AI systems easily sway people with external stimuli for commercial and political purposes.
In contrast, people anchored in dharma have a more cultivated conscience, a deeper and more vibrant awareness of the consequences of their actions, and they are less likely to be swayed by kama–artha-based temptations.
Psychological Decline (pp. 329)
Lapse of Kshatriyata
A psychologically resilient society requires the traditional quality of kshatriyata (the attributes of a kshatriya), which is leadership with valor and a willingness to sacrifice for a higher cause. It requires courage, but also strategic thinking, astuteness, and perspicacity. Kshatriyas are in control outside their comfort zone and face opponents head-on. Encounters in the kurukshetra are useful for kshatriya training just like big data is needed for machine learning.
Kshatriyata is often confused with activism. In fact, one reason for the lack of kshatriyata today is that social media activism is a quick and easy path bypassing the required rigor and training. Low-caliber activists resort to internet brawls and mudslinging; winning inconsequential internet battles assumes far too much importance and sucks up considerable energy. Living the social media romance of heroism by winning virtual dogfights has become a popular form of entertainment. All such pursuits are counter to kshatriyata.
….. Today’s armchair activists have precious little experience fighting in the kurukshetra but are becoming popular by pontificating from digital platforms, keeping well within their comfort zones in the company of like-minded people.
The present crisis of kshatriyata came about as a result of India’s prolonged history of oppressive foreign rule. To survive brutal rulers, people improvised jugaad methods for personal success, and the collective good of their communities took a back seat. Assertive leaders were eliminated by the invaders, as when the brave Sikh gurus were tortured and killed by Muslim rulers. Under British rule, those who cooperated were rewarded for their capitulation as in the case of zamindars (Indian landowners appointed by the British) and babus (Indians serving in administrative positions helping British rule). Survival required playing it safe and not taking risks.
DIGITAL OPIUM OF THE MASSES (pp. 338)
Identity Vacuum (pp. 338)
…..The Vedic ideal is rooted in the ancient nation called Bharat. The new Westernized society of Indian elites can be called the Sensex nation, because this section of society is guided by the values of large corporations measured on the Sensex stock market index. There is a clash between the narratives of Bharat and Sensex—not because dharma is against commercial success but because the Sensex nation pursues the maximization of artha and kama detached from a dharmic substrate.
Western consumerism is now fully entrenched in India’s culture, especially among the young and urban population. Indians have visibly been influenced by Western values such as instant gratification and the use of credit to live beyond their means, which were once decried in Indian society. Unlike prior generations when people were expected to work hard to earn and fulfill their basic needs, the youth today have assumed a grand sense of entitlement to have their desires satisfied. The youth are drawn toward leaders who dish out platitudes to make them feel good without demanding perseverance and rigor.
As long as India chases Westernization, it cannot claim to be the vishvaguru in a Vedic sense. The destruction of traditional sources of authority, texts, and reference points creates a vacuum in Indians’ self-image, giving digital platforms an opportunity to insert their own principles.
Aspirations and Fantasy (pp. 344)
Indians are prone to make-believe realities of the kind provided by the film industry, cricket, song and dance, fantasy, hero worship, and other escapes from reality. These serve as emotional doorways into people’s hearts. In the past these fantasy worlds were rooted in Indian narratives such as those found in itihasa (narratives of the past), but now the narratives of Disney, American cowboys, and foreign designer brands have popularized alien tropes, heroes, and values.
This hotchpotch popular culture is becoming incorporated into virtual realities using artificial/digital heroes and villains, fake news, inducements, and sensory gratifications. As noted earlier, Indians commonly abrogate their responsibility and agency to gurus, parents, and public icons, making them vulnerable to AI systems that promise paternal comfort and instant gratification without any effort.
….. Especially dangerous is the rising aspirations of Indian youth to unrealistic levels; this is being fed by the popular rhetoric that India is a superpower. This is a dangerous cocktail: overemotional, overconfident, aggressive, and marginally educated people with a false sense of entitlement demanding instant gratification. Artificial Intelligence-based systems can manipulate the masses whose aspirations far exceed what they can achieve through legitimate means. The gap between aspirations and reality could turn into a tinderbox of social unrest.
The fantasy of having a Western identity is an emotional high ground. Even those who claim to oppose the mimicry of Westerners often chase Western accolades. Recently, some Westerners have become instant icons on Indian social media merely by restating some obvious points; they take advantage of the fact that Indians who suffer from an inferiority complex feel proud when a White person pats their back.
….. While the anglicized Indian youth in big cities mimic American popular culture, the youth in rural areas aspire to be like their urban peers. In short, urban youth are wannabe Westerners, and rural youth are wannabe Indian urbanites. Migrant workers share stories of their lives in the city with their friends and family back in the villages. In pre-internet times, such influence moved slower but today it travels at the speed of light. Fashion trends zip through multiple layers of society, especially among the youth. Therefore, it is a false assumption that rural Indians with a low-income lifestyle can withstand economic shocks. The trickle-down effect has raised aspirations of all strata of society.
The digital equivalent to becoming Americanized is to participate on American platforms and have one’s private data included in the big data—giving one the feeling of having arrived on the world stage. Indians have given up too much agency to these foreign platforms and the captains of society are complicit.
CHAPTER 10: HOW ROBUST IS THE RASHTRA?
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND BREAKING INDIA FORCES (pp. 349)
….. Indians who celebrate the use of digital technology do not realize that the platforms are controlled by foreign giants whose global clout compares to the East India Company. Ironically, the very same activists in India who wave the flag of decolonization are competing for blessings from Twitter, Facebook, and Google.
Through AI-enabled networks, people can be managed as obedient and happy consumers encouraged to follow guidelines and advice designed especially for them. They can also be made rebellious, angry, and mobilized for violence. Artificial Intelligence-based algorithms can play one Indian against another, promote one ideology over another, and monetize these divisions and disruptions for the benefit of clients. Social media can sway voting patterns and even incite mobs to violence. Hundreds of millions of unsuspecting Indians have helped US and Chinese tech giants accumulate a treasure trove of big data on India by using Chinese hardware and American digital platforms.
A big risk India faces is that the breaking India forces are being trained to use AI-empowered interventions to play havoc in Indian society. Such a scenario is imminent because factions like evangelists, Islamists, and Maoists are internationally well connected and their foreign sponsors are savvy about the use of the latest digital weapons for mass psychological manipulation. They are also insulated because they are operating from extrajudicial nexuses located abroad.
Artificial Intelligence is a force multiplier that can be used to undermine the unity of the rashtra, of political parties, and of communities by encouraging the flareups of fragments. Deep learning of individual behavior can be combined with fake news to manipulate psychology and public opinion. This has serious national security implications. For example, a foreign intelligence agency could compromise Indian leaders with sexual or financial blackmail. It is a fair assumption that many Indian leaders across the ideological spectrum are already vulnerable to subtle blackmail by the US and China. The private information stored in big data and machine learning models provide foreign countries and companies with the ability to compromise people at many levels—emotional, professional, and even legal.
Despite all these risks, Indians are not overly worried that foreign digital platforms will end up having too much emotional control over hundreds of millions of people. Artificial Intelligence is barely understood by India’s social scientists, government officials, legal experts, and education leaders. Ironically, India’s public intellectuals—social media celebrities, the blaring mainstream media voices, and political debaters—are heavily invested in supporting the digital media platforms that are recolonizing India. They build their popularity and boast their identities sitting on foreign platforms that are a fake foundation whose strings are being pulled from faraway places.
THE CHINA THREAT (pp. 353)
Another factor in stress testing the robustness of India’s sovereignty is that it is situated in one of the most hostile neighborhoods in the world and the threats to its physical security are worsening. In addition, a lot of manpower resources are spent on anti-insurgency operations within India. A considerable part of the defense budget is, unfortunately, required to be spent on personnel salaries. Therefore, the research and development of advanced weapons cannot compete with China and the US that invest large budgets on advanced technologies for defense.
It is important to understand the depth and breadth of China’s threat. The Chinese have demonstrated their ability to think long-term for nation-building and protecting the Han cultural and historical identity. Their goal is to surpass the West in every domain using AI as one of the primary strategic technologies.
….. The Chinese own a majority share of the smartphone market in India. India has recently banned several Chinese apps because they solicit unnecessary access to camera and microphones on the smartphones and collect large amounts of personal data including location, profession, friends’ identities and interests, and personal photographs. However, deactivation of a user’s account does not result in the old data being returned to the user or being deleted from the server. This ban is good, but it is defensive and reactive to a border conflict. It is not by itself a strategy to jump ahead in AI research.
….. India cannot afford further delay in coming to terms with the fact that the control of most big data and deep learning is effectively in the hands of companies based in the US or China. Americans primarily own the software algorithms, databases, and operating platforms; the hardware is mostly Chinese. India is at the mercy of their technologies. And the foreign owners of the AI technology and digital platforms have no legal accountability in India, nor do they have the interest of Indians at heart to the same extent as their vested interests in their home countries.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND UNIFYING INDIA POSSIBILITIES (pp. 359)
Indian activists should cease the tamasha of bombastic claims that India is on the verge of becoming a superpower on par with the US and China, and even forging ahead of them. Instead, serious thinkers should plan and implement how AI could be used in positive ways to tighten the grip on volatile situations. The widespread use of law enforcement, and propagation of the grand narrative could make AI a force for national stability.
….. As machines become smarter and humans become ever more dependent on them, a shift in the power structure is inevitable. A few powerful elites control the digital systems and these systems, in turn, will increasingly control the masses. Artificial Intelligence-based systems implicitly incorporate the values and ideologies about justice and human rights that are aligned with their developers. The ideological, emotional, and aesthetic control of this mental infrastructure is presently in foreign hands. China, on the other hand, developed its own digital platforms. From the beginning of this digital revolution, China has kept out the foreign influences. India, on the other hand, continues to invite foreign intrusions to penetrate at deeper and deeper levels. The price the country will pay for this will be heavy.
I am convinced that decolonizing AI is an absolute necessity for India to be a viable nation.