Utpal Chakraborty, Head of Artificial Intelligence, Yes Bank and AI Researcher
Russian president Vladimir Putin stated- “AI is the future and whoever becomes leader in AI will become the ruler of the world”. Chinese president Xi Jinping declared that “China wants to be the world leader in AI by 2030”. US White House administration voiced- “America has been the global leader in AI, and the Trump administration will ensure our great nation remains the global leader in AI”. Similarly, National strategy for Artificial Intelligence, India published by NITI Aayog indicates its vision as “AI-for-All in India”. These statements clearly indicates that the race for the supremacy in the field of Artificial Intelligence had already taken a great momentum and AI has managed to influence even main stream politics and the world leaders in a great way.
On the other hand, many experts across the globe are already in a big hurry to proclaim which country is going to be the AI superpower and who is already ahead in the race. Some of them even persuasively claiming themselves to be an AI superpower just by building a simulated bubble to attract the extra attention from the world and some investors. Keeping aside all those hidden agendas and before even jumping into some conclusion, we should first consider the prerequisites to be mere a contender in this race. Because it’s not going to be a wholesome competition especially when we have contenders who are not going to shy away from attempting any possible means whether ethical or unethical to be ahead of the competition. Few of the countries are already leading in the race, at the same time there are strong contenders who have huge potential to be in the list of leaders in the near future.
Before taking this debate further we also need to define the parameters to measure the supremacy and the factors influencing the same. Is it how much dollar generated utilizing AI by a country or what all core problems solved for humanity by uplifting the quality of life of the citizens of a nation? Also, priorities to be addressed are country and region specific.
For example, predicting what movie or what ad an user will like using AI may not be something so compelling when it comes to a developing country like India; rather if AI can address some of the core areas like healthcare & medicine, agriculture, food, water, education, urbanization etc. will be much more compelling; and the success of AI in this case should be measured in much higher terms. To understand this let’s take a step back and discuss the factors that can essentially fuel contenders to be the leaders.
Technically there are five major prerequisites which are essential for an AI ecosystem to flourish in a country but there could be many others that can largely contribute to its advancement and implementation.
AI Research – AI is essentially an evolving field and many of the AI technologies are maturing and getting better off with research, evolution happening in terms of the better approach to tackle some of its technical limitations. There may not had another groundbreaking breakthrough after the “Deep Learning” in last couple of years but there has been many improvements and there were small and medium innovations in terms of how deep learning and other AI technologies can be applied effectively in many different areas; and all those are essentially due to continuous researches happening in the field. So, an ecosystem embracing AI research is very essential for a country to progress in the field of AI whether such researches to be carried out in academia, within R&D cells of AI companies or in collaboration with the government.
Usable Data – Usable data comes from the real-world physical services that has been digitized so far, which means how many physical services has been digitized in the country and the data from those services has been collected, stored and made available for AI companies, researchers to use for feeding and enriching their AI models.
Wealth of AI Engineers and Data Scientists – Traditional software engineers to become AI affluent needs special skills in the areas of machine learning, deep learning, NLP etc. AI researchers coming from data science background need even higher skills and background to carryout research on different areas of AI. Adequate pool of such AI engineers and AI researchers are essential for AI to grow in a country. The more your Tech colleges and universities producing these skilled resources the more your chances to be the leader in the race.
Support from Government and awareness among citizens – Backing from the Government and their support; may it be building infrastructure for AI, framing policies that supports AI to grow, encouraging enterprises in adoption of AI or whatever other form it could be; the government of a country plays a major role democratizing a rising technology like AI.
Funding and VC Ecosystem – Proper funding and a mature Venture Capitalist ecosystem is vital for AI startups and other AI initiatives in a country to grow. Sometimes it’s not just funding the AI startups but essentially guiding them through their journey, believing in and being part of their vision is very important which can only be expected from a mature VC ecosystem. Despite having all other AI ingredients most of the developing countries like India and its young entrepreneurs and startups are essentially struggling in this particular space.
I will try to list down few of the leaders and some of the strong contenders here. But the order in which the contenders has been listed down in this article and the length of the text written for each has no significance on their capabilities and position in the race.
USA – Undoubtedly USA is ahead in the race both in terms of AI research and some of the large scale AI implementations. US has got most of the best AI researchers of the world, most of the tech and AI giants are US based. Some of the AI applications used globally are again US products. US has huge data available for AI to flourish as most of the physical services there are already digitized. US has the best universities and talents, best AI labs and the best funding ecosystem so far. But there is a twist in the story – unlike other technologies, in case of AI few of the countries are not far behind US and in fact there is a possibility of leaving behind US in future.
Canada – is well ahead in AI research, it has got the finest AI researchers and universities. Canadian universities produces some of the best AI researchers every year. Also talented professionals from all over the world land there to do research on different areas of AI and translate their ideas into implementable solutions. Unfortunately Canadian talents are very academic and research oriented and there is an actual shortage of real entrepreneurs who can take AI beyond the classes and the labs to the road.
That probably is the reason, despite having most of the talented AI professionals of the world still they were not been able to produce best AI products or AI companies. Seems Canadian government has now realized the fact and currently having huge focus on AI implementation and exploring how to generate revenue out of it. Also, recent imposition of immigration restrictions in US has essentially become blessing for Canada and few other AI contenders to attract more and more talents from across the globe.
China – has emerged itself from a copycat to a unique form of inimitable entrepreneurism. The word copycat may sound bit offensive but trust me the word in this particular context of the article has a great significance which we are going to discuss in next few paragraphs. Personally I have got a great regard for China and Chinese entrepreneurs, specially how it has transformed itself in past few decades is incredible and we all has a great lesson to learn from them. Essentially they have gorgeously demonstrated the fact that you can begin with as a copycat and through hard work and dedication can become an innovator. It is not true that you need a great out-of-the-box unique innovative concept or a product to be a successful entrepreneur that many of our young Indian entrepreneurs sometimes wrongly assume. You can essentially transform your ordinary concept into an unique innovative product by adding factors like operational excellence, better usability taking into consideration your user needs; and the same can come out as a great product and that’s what happened for many of the Chinese successful products you see today.
Two decades ago, China started with what we call a straight copycat and they build replica of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Whatsapp and so on, the Chinese version of such products that suits Chinese market and Chinese users. Soon they realized that if they can provide the best of the breed world class services to their users and customers with an addition of regional flavor on top of it, works much better than a generic global product. That’s probably one element of the secret recipe of China’s unique form of entrepreneurism.
Imagine you are capable of copying a market proven product and you have the capability to do innovation on top of it; you will always have an advantage over your competitors. China’s formula of entrepreneurism, innovation and value creation lies on the fact that there is a huge competition among the Chinese entrepreneurs in every domain and the only way to stand out among these competitors is to take your product to a level at which it is far better and inimitable. Many Chinese entrepreneurs has already proved their excellence in execution, product quality, speed of bringing products in the market and better utilization of data in decision making in the business. In terms of excellence in execution and product quality they have been consistently excelling and has reached a stage today which is not only far superior to their competitors within and outside China but also inimitable and not replicable.
That’s the reason Chinese and neighboring markets embrace these products. We all know that any entrepreneurial journey starts with a great vision and an aggressive execution plan to achieve milestones to chase the vision. But we often forget the fact that execution plan needs continuous modernization and monitoring to make it relevant as per the demand of the situation and the dynamics of the market. Chinese entrepreneurs know how to survive in such highly competitive environment where the only way of survival is not just to win but to abolish all other competitors so that they can’t come back again someday.
Also, an advantage the Chinese economy and the Chinese market carries, which again holds true even for India is these two countries has a huge domestic test-ground and user base to try and test any new concept or any product. The affinity of the market is so huge that it can absorb any product or service within that you need not have to even think of any other markets at least in the initial stages.
The AI journey and current situation of other contenders will be discussed in the next edition.
To be continued ….