And yet the concerns have not cast their shadow over India since AI research is still in its infancy in the country
Artificial Intelligence or AI is the new digital frontier that will transform the way the world works and lives. Profoundly so. At a basic level of understanding, AI is the theory and development of computer systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition and even decision-making.
Its gradual development in the half century since 1956 when the term was first used gave us no hint of the extraordinary leaps in technology that would occur in the last decade and a half.
A research study by the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) underlines this phenomenon with its findings: since the 1950s, innovators and researchers have published more than 1.6 million AI-related scientific publications and filed patent applications for nearly 340,000 inventions, most of it occurring since 2012.
Machine learning, finds the WIPO study, is the dominant AI technique, found in 40 per cent of all the AI-related patents it has studied. This trend has grown at an average rate of 28 per cent every year from 2013 onwards.
More data, increased connectedness and greater computer power have facilitated the new breakthroughs and the AI patent boom. As to which sectors are changing rapidly, the study shows it is primarily telecommunications, transportation and life or medical sciences. These account for 42 per cent of AI-related patents filed so far.
In short, super intelligence, which most of us believed was science fiction and a development far into the future, now appears imminent. That’s why there is so much concern over the risks associated with AI from the greats of science like Stephen Hawking to technology giants such as Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk.
Of a piece is the unexpected caution being shown by the US Patent and Trademark Office. It has sought public comments on a range of AI-related concerns, many of which are centred on the diminishing role of humans in AI breakthroughs.
Among the questions it has posed is: What are the different ways that a natural person can contribute to the conception of an AI invention and be eligible to be a named inventor? Should an entity other than a natural person, or company to which a natural person assigns an invention, be able to own a patent on the AI invention?
The dilemma for patent offices which have not addressed this worry is whether existing patent laws on inventions need to be revised to take into account inventions where an entity (computers) other than “a natural person” has contributed greatly to its conception.
Such esoteric concerns have not cast their shadow over India, understandably so since AI research is still in its infancy here. The Global AI Talent Report 2018 finds that India is a bit player in this critical area where, predictably, the US and China are in the forefront. Of the 22,000 PhD educated researchers worldwide working on AI, less than 50 are focused seriously on AI in India.
A NITI Aayog strategy paper on AI offers little hope because of the low intensity of research which is hobbled by lack of expertise, personnel and skilling opportunities and enabling data ecosystems. For momentous developments, watch the Chinese and American space.
(This article was first published in Down To Earth's print edition dated September 16-30, 2019)
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