How is Artificial Intelligence changing the world? What Nepal should do to tap it?

There should be laws, plans and national strategies to regulate AI. We also need clear laws for dealing with malicious use of AI, identity theft, infringement of intellectual property rights and illegal use, abuse or misuse of AI.

Photo: Pixabay
  • Read Time 7 min.

Over the last decade, there has been promising progress in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications. The dawn of technology-driven education, economy and globalization are pressing AI methods, which are usually the sequence of technologies that power the machines to function with higher intelligence levels for new efficiencies in workflow.

Of the latest developments, AI is one of the hotcakes for people as it describes a computational system with intelligent behavior suitable for achieving desired goals in a mature way. Robots, auto cars, smartphones, online education, drone technologies, and other software are the boons of AI. That’s why it is said the world we live in is in the era of modernity of AI, science and technology.

The term AI was coined by John McCarthy, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University, in 1956. In the 1950s, the scientists’ and researchers’ main focus was to develop high-quality machines to improve the quality of human lives by reducing the human interventions for performing difficult tasks in simpler ways.

How AI transformed the world

The AI has become the characteristic features of the modernized and globalized world. AI is everywhere. It’s omnipresent in our daily lives. Even when we don’t see it working, it sees us, hears us, and is repeatedly learning from our behaviors. In Gmail, Whatsapp, or other social media platforms, we can see the use of AI predicting what we wanted to write about.

There is no exhaustive definition of AI. In the words of Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig, Artificial Intelligence is a system that thinks like humans, acts like humans, thinks rationally, and acts rationally.

In India, in 2019, Kerala police inducted a robot for police work. Then, it was the turn of Chennai to get its second robot-themed restaurant in 2019 itself. These developments symbolize the arrival of AI at the doorsteps of people. Even differently-abled citizens in India and Nepal are in a position to be benefitted from different mobile applications. They could get knowledge on a particular subject in their own language as Google has introduced live transcribe options for over 70 languages, including Nepali and Hindi. By using AI, we can scan a book, analyze and understand the texts in a simple way and then we can press command for creating questions based on a particular text. It will be beneficial for students in many ways. As such, neither Nepal nor India can afford to ignore AI. 

AI in Nepal and India 

Nepal lacks policy-level intervention on Artificial Intelligence but the use of AI-based technologies in banks and health sectors shows that Nepal is not far behind in technological advancements.

The Naulo Restaurant in Kathmandu has five robot waiters under the slogan of “where the food meets technology”.  The robots are designed and manufactured by Paaila Technology, which is a Nepali company established by young engineers specializing in robotics and AI. Interestingly, Naulo is the first digitalised robotic restaurant in South Asia.

Photo: TripAdvisor

Machine Learning (ML), a subfield of AI, is widely adopted by banks across the globe. The scope of AI is widening day by day with the advent of digital platforms and smartphones. Nepal’s banking industries have digitization, fin-tech, mobile banking, SMS banking, internet banking, payment gateways and e-wallets which are also, in one or other way, use of AI.

Previously, the use of AI could be seen in Nepal SBI Bank’s robotics introduced in 2017 and Macchapuchhre Bank’s MAYA, a chat assistant on its website, and Facebook messenger in 2018. The use of AI in Banks and Financial Institutions and other sectors has proved to be a boon, for the software helps banks to link transactions, detect fraud/disasters and thereby ensure regulatory compliance.

The government of Nepal has endorsed a program of “Digital Nepal Framework, 2019” which is to be implemented in five years, with the vision of ‘digital Nepal for good governance, development and prosperity’. With this policy level intervention, the Himalayan Republic aims to ensure digital development in agriculture, education, health, energy, finance, tourism and urban infrastructure. The Framework is like a lamppost showing the vivid path to the country in its journey toward becoming a digital state.

The Nagarik (citizen) App, released by the government in 2019 but implemented in January 2021, is an online service for various government and public bodies. This App provides information about government and public offices. It would have been better had the government launched an App like India’s Aarogya Setu which is integrated with the vaccine registration and it has the potential to trace Covid-19 infected persons relatively easily. In fiscal year 2020-21, the government has allocated budget for increasing the quality and reliability of broadband internet service within two years.

The AI has been making progress in Nepal and possibly changes will be seen at a time when the government and non-government sectors digitize their official business and set aside paperwork. Like other democracies, Nepal has a wealth of software talents in AI and IT sector. AI has been introduced as a discipline in university curricula. Kathmandu University has launched B Tech and M Tech programs in Artificial Intelligence from the academic session of 2021.

Nepal lacks policy-level intervention on Artificial Intelligence but the use of AI-based technologies in banks and health sectors shows that Nepal is not far behind in technological advancements.

“The AI is a hotcake and it’s not only future for Nepal but for all humankind. The students with a degree of AI would be placed in the public sector, judiciary, journalism, human rights, health, agriculture and among other industrial establishments,” said Prof Dr Bal Krishna Bal, who heads the Department of Computer Engineering at Kathmandu University, in a recent conversation with us. “It has no boundaries. Still, the necessity of law and robust policy on AI is being felt and discussed in Nepal.” 

Interestingly, India’s prioritization of emerging technologies could be evident from the country’s use of biometric identity project, Aadhar Card. The Aadhar Card can also form part of AI applications and projects in the coming days.

The government of India on July 1, 2015, launched the “Digital India” project with which the government aims to enable access to better services for education, healthcare, and agriculture. The government’s approach to cashless and paperless governance in private, public and business transactions would contribute to the Digital India movement. These initiatives are certainly part of AI. Prior to the “Digital India” campaign, the government of India launched the “Make in India” campaign to transform India into a global design and manufacturing hub.  

The Union government in 2018 allocated substantial funding in research, training and skills in emerging technologies like AI. In addition to this, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry established Artificial Intelligence Task Force in August 2017.  In January 2018, the Task Force, in its report, recommended forming an Inter-Ministerial National Artificial Intelligence Mission to act as a nodal agency for AI-related developments and activities in India. The Ministry focuses on embedding AI for the country’s holistic development in the fields of economy, polity, legal sector, industry, healthcare, agriculture, education, retail, human and robot interaction, Aadhar, environment, national security and public utility services.

The Union government’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology formed four committees to prepare a roadmap for the national AI program. The New Education Policy (NEP, 2020) underscores the need of incorporating AI into the curriculum.

Global landscape 

The State Council of China has unveiled a program whereby it aims to be at par with the best in the world by 2025. The Communist Republic plans to have major breakthroughs in AI and for AI to become the primary driver of China’s industry and by 2030 it aims to become the world’s premier innovation and research center. Also, the government is planning multibillion-dollar investments in enhancing research and innovation in AI. The National Academy of Engineering of the US has announced a list of grand challenges for engineering in the 21st century, which includes things like securing cyberspace, advanced health informatics, personalized instruction and so on. In China, AI is a Mission Mode Project with clear targets and PPP partnerships.  China is aiming to become the world leader in AI by 2030 with the aim of making the industry worth one trillion Yuan.

In Canada, the government has announced enhancing funding for Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). The government has declared that the CIFAR will invest a $125 million Pan-Canadian AI Strategy for research and talent, toward securing Canada’s position in world in the field of AI.

In Singapore, the government in 2019 released Model AI Governance Framework which is tasked with the responsibility of “providing detailed and readily implementable guidance to private sector organizations to address key ethical and governance issues when deploying AI solutions.”

Photo: Pixabay

In the United States, Algorithm Accountability Act of 2019 envisages that commercial enterprises would conduct assessments of high-risk systems that involve personal information or make automated decisions with the use of AI or machine learning. The US has HIPAA Privacy Rules (2000) and Garaham Bliley Act (1999) for the governance of data in the health and finance sector respectively.

In India, SEBI issued a circular in early 2019 to stockbrokers, stock exchanges, Mutual Funds, Trustee companies on reporting requirements for AI and Machine Learning (ML).

In the US, National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an R & D budget of more than $30 billion, the Department of Labour’s R & D has budget $14 million.  The automated cars are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within Department of Transport and aircraft are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The developed countries, like the UK, Canada, the UAE, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and China have introduced their national AI strategy.  

The studies show that AI could have economic impacts. The United States believes that the “commercial drone industry could generate more than $82 billion for the US economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.” 

The Model AI Governance Framework (of Singapore) and Principles for the Stewardship of AI Application (of the US) prescribe for the ethics and minimum compliance mechanisms for AI. These principles suggest that AI should be trustworthy, fair, cost effective, and free from bias and insecurities.

Regulating the AI 

Undoubtedly, there is a dire need of ensuring a favorable ecosystem for the development of AI which would, ultimately, scale-up overall social development and inclusive agenda. The state’s commitment and investment would play a crucial role in this job. However, there should be laws, plans and national strategy to regulate the business of AI, and at the same time, there should be clear law for dealing with malicious use of AI, identity theft, infringement of intellectual property rights and illegal use, abuse or misuse of AI.

The government and private players need to collaborate with the government agencies, corporate and academia for healthier development of AI because such an initiative would have a positive impact on nurturing entrepreneurship, promoting re-skilling, research and innovations.

There is a tremendous opportunity for India and Nepal to lead and make huge impacts in AI. The two countries can introduce AI courses in university curricula. We deserve to have mature e-commerce, AI-based tourism sector, health, education, economy and trade for smoother development and also for creating new job opportunities for youths. 

Digital literacy should not remain as a national challenge. Digital divide and reliance on paperwork would also emerge as barriers before the equitable development of AI. The adherence to transparency, accountability and respect for right to privacy, health, environment, cyber security and sustainable development would ensure healthier development of AI that would ultimately contribute in the overall national development.

Jivesh Jha, formerly a Lecturer of Law at Kathmandu University School of Law, is currently a Judicial Officer at Dhanusha District Court, Janakpur. Dr Alok Kumar Yadav is Associate Professor of Law at Lucknow University, Lucknow, India.