Professor asked me to attend the inauguration of Wadhwani AI, India’s first research institute dedicated to developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions for the social good. Wadhwani AI will focus on researching ways to harness the power of AI to solve deep rooted problems in healthcare, education, agriculture, and infrastructure to accelerate social development.
“What about environmental management and sustainability?” I whispered to the Professor. Professor didn’t pay much attention to my whisper as he was busy listening to the opening remarks from the PM.
The PM said “Wadhwani AI is a prime example of how the public sector and the private sector can come together with good intentions to build a world-class institute, aimed at benefiting the poor”
I couldn’t disagree with PM’s emphasis on the Poor. Benefiting poor was rarely the focus of research in AI. I also realized that the PM was using technology like AI for positioning him (and his party) in the forthcoming elections. Very clever.
Founded by Indian-American tech entrepreneurs Dr. Romesh Wadhwani and Sunil Wadhwani, the institute will be led by AI pioneer and founding MD of Microsoft Research India, Dr. P. Anandan. “We will apply AI in all key domains such as education, public health, agriculture, infrastructure and financial inclusion. These efforts will bring innovative solutions that achieve large-scale positive social impact. We hope this will transform how AI research is conducted and applied to help” Dr Romesh Wadhwani spoke after the inauguration by the PM.
On our way back, Professor said that we should stop by the office of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) near Sion. “We will say hello to the Member Secretary and you would see some of the little work I have done” He said. I protested saying that the coffee at the PCB is no good, but Professor didn’t pay any heed.
When we stepped in the office of the PCB, we saw in the reception four machines that were blinking and making “gurrr… gurr…” sounds resembling robots. In front of these machines, folks from industries had queued asking for the Consents to Establish (CoE). Each person was getting interrogated by the “robot” using arficial intelligence.
One man wearing a black suit and red tie was asked to indicate the location of the proposed manufacturing plant on the map of Maharashtra. He pointed his finger. Next, details about the manufacturing activity, scale, usage of raw materials, products and processing technology were asked. Aftter receiving few such details, “gurr… gurr” became “GURR… GURR” (I mean louder) for a little while (looked like some “thinking” was going on) and the robot displayed on the screen results of information processing. The screen displayed that “CoE was approved but with following conditions…..” . A technical guidance was offered on how to embed environmental and social considerations in every activity. A list of useful contacts of “approved” environmental consultants, monitoring agencies etc was sent on email including pointers to potential investors/sponsors.” The robot ended the “transaction” (similar to a ATM) saying “Thank you for visiting Us and best wishes for your endeavours” in a humanoid voice but in American accent as the Robot found out that the person in black suit and red tie was educated in the United States of America. I found the entire transaction to be intelligent, responsible and customer friendly.
“Well Dr Modak, this is not as simple as you may perhaps think. A lot has gone behind the “GURR… GURR”. Professor said.
“We have essentially emulated the Consent Evaluation Committee of the PCB by tapping knowledge and experience of a top team of multidisciplinary experts and using data-based decision-making process. The Consent Evaluation Committee is now abolished. The AI based algorithms planted in the robots ensure that the decisions are made on objective basis, considering future sustainability of the region and paying attention to the interest of poor and vulnerable. The problems of present human based committees are well-known to you Dr Modak” Professor said
“You mean, poor knowledge in taking decisions, political interest, inconsistent and impractical recommendations?” I spoke like reading bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. Professor smiled.
“Well even much more happens here. After the transaction is over, the robot will update the database and maps and re-establish the available carrying capacity for next decision making and send emails to local representatives in the project area that a project of this kind has been given a consent to establish”
I was extremely impressed with this feature of immediate upkeep and adaptation as well as transparency with the stakeholders. Wow! I said to myself. India is truly reforming,
Member Secretary was not in the office. He was on a vacation as most of the decision making was now done by the Robots. So, we headed towards our usual coffee shop that served the Ethiopian coffee. We took seats in the veranda on the cane chairs and Professor lighted his cigar.
In the next half hour of his discourse, I learnt that the Professor had developed, and installed AI based Robots in all situations wherever “committees” were used to come up with so called “collective decisions” on the subject of environmental management and sustainability.
“Today, the way we constitute and operate our environmental committees is no good. Abolishing them and replacing with robots with “green intelligence” will address the issues we face.” Professor said this summarily.
“Why dont we train the members of the existing committees?” I made a suggestion.
“Well Dr Modak, most committee members feel that they are the best experts so how can you dare to train them? But in reality they cannot be salvaged by any amount of training. This is where AI comes in for the interest of social good” Said the Professor
I thought Professor was absolutely right. But I also realized that abolishing these (useless and ineffective) committees would certainly need a political support.
“And the lacunae are not just limited to the Government sector. For instance, I have provided all the major corporates in India to use my machines as a “substitute” to their CSR committees as a Pilot. My experience is that the CSR committees at most corporates are skewed and come up with basket of arbitrary projects without a strategy to innovate and achieve region-wide sustained impact. Besides, very few corporates factor what’s been already done by the Government and remain in sync with other CSR players in the region, mainly because of competition. The AI algorithms we have developed provide much rounded decisions on CSR projects with guidance to ensure both effectiveness and long-term sustainability of the proposed interventions”
“This is very nice Professor – but what about the Investment Committees (IC) at the Bankers?” I asked. “Of course, we are addressing this need as we want ICs to be sensitive to the sustainability perspectives of the proposed investments. I am working on AI algorithms that will look at environmental and social dimensions and monetize both risks and opportunities during credit appraisals. Bankers in India are most insensitive, blind folded and do not have trained staff in this arena. So, the robots will help. The foreign direct investments will increase”.
Professor extinguished his cigar, hinting that the discussion was now over. He whispered. “ Dr Modak, I have been entrusted a very secretive project to develop a Sustainability MicroChip (SMC) that can be planted in the human brain. This chip will ensure that all the thought processes will factor sustainability both in perception, decision making and evaluation. We will program this chip and provide the SMC implant at no cost under newly proposed Health Insurance scheme. The chip will get updated daily via a massive cloud server”. I was shocked with this radical idea. Truly transformational and simply unbelievable – I said to myself
“But Professor, this SMC needs to be piloted and tested carefully” I couldn’t resist asking.
“Well Dr Modak, not to worry. Our PM has himself volunteered for the pilot” Professor said
I then become confident that the PM will certainly win the next election!
Cognitive technology, enabled by artificial intelligence is uniquely adapted to helping with sustainability challenges. See https://www.greenbiz.com/article/4-ways-ai-helps-business-protect-environment where you would see examples on Better conservation of natural resources, Earlier pollution detection, Accelerating sustainable options, Proactive environmental regulation compliance and Learning from nature’s ecosystems. I would like that students from computer science and environmental management work together to explore these areas.
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