The global AI race for supremacy is intensifying: India must define its role

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In less than a month, leading economies have formally underlined their commitment to the development of responsible artificial intelligence (AI). In the US, President Joe Biden issued an executive order setting out standards for AI safety and security. The UK’s AI Safety Summit saw 28 countries and the EU coming together to release the Bletchley Declaration, promising “to work together in an inclusive manner to ensure human-centric, trustworthy and responsible AI.” The G7 leaders released their International Guiding Principles on AI and a voluntary code of conduct for AI Developers under the Hiroshima AI process. As AI continues to evolve at an alarming rate, so does the race among countries for global AI dominance. These developments have immense geopolitical implications, with different countries presenting their own vision of this technology. This global quest raises two important questions: What will be the determining factors for establishing AI supremacy? And what role will developing economies like China and India play in this global race?

Today, all major powers are acutely aware of the economic, military and geopolitical advantage that AI can grant over competitors. AI supremacy will be a strategic objective of countries with resources to compete. This is already the focus of the ongoing US-China geo-strategic rivalry. Both sides are investing heavily in developing AI capabilities while also implementing measures depriving each other of necessary inputs to leverage the potential of this technology. For instance, the US’s export control rules on AI and semiconductor technologies restrict US AI computer chip designers (such as Nvidia) from selling their chips to China. As per news reports, China responded with export control rules on germanium and gallium, typically used in making semiconductor chips and optical fibres.

Beyond the US and China, countries like the UK, France, Russia, Singapore and India are also emerging as prominent players by implementing strategies to encourage AI innovation at the domestic level. Then there is the EU seeking to establish itself as a regulatory superpower by designing a comprehensive legal framework for governing AI applications. Through the EU AI Act, the EU seems to be replicating the influence its General Data Protection Rules had in shaping data-protection laws elsewhere. There will also be countries that do not have the resources or know-how to compete for AI leadership and will depend on their ties with other countries and companies for access to AI tools. This dependency may accentuate existing power imbalances. Further, AI will also empower non-state actors (tech companies) as geopolitical players and bring about a shift in the balance of power.

Finally, the quest for AI dominance will be determined by access to crucial building blocks such as computing power, talent, training data, the physical infrastructure necessary for AI development and the norms set for AI governance. The US typically fares well on most parameters. It can leverage its position in the semiconductor space to control access to high-end chips needed for AI development. Other countries would have ample opportunity to design domestic policies and frameworks for responsible AI innovation. The complexity and speed at which AI advances means that these must be as innovative and agile as the technology itself. However, the cross-border nature of AI requires that domestic policies must be complemented by a global framework for AI, which currently appears to be emerging in a fragmented manner. This framework must focus on promoting innovation while also identifying and mitigating the risks posed to global stability by AI. In designing such a framework, it will be useful to consider some formal institutional arrangements. Learnings may be drawn from experiences of the financial sector, where the Financial Stability Board, which comprises government representatives from member countries, has a mandate to identify and mitigate risks to global financial stability by designing standards and policies and fostering their coherent implementation.

This is also an apt moment for India to define its role in shaping the global narrative for AI development and governance. India’s emerging tech diplomacy was in full display during its G20 presidency as it forged a consensus on digital public infrastructure (DPI). It is also visible in recent bilateral agreements on strategic and economic cooperation in the technology sector, such as the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology. As for the building blocks discussed earlier, India fares well insofar as AI talent concentration is concerned, with one report suggesting that we produce 16% of the world’s AI talent, the world’s third highest. In the context of access to data, India has been a vocal critic of “data colonization” that results in a loss of agency, privacy and sovereignty. During the G20 summit, India tactfully sought to address these concerns by presenting its DPI story. As the chair of the Global Partnership on AI, India must seize another opportunity to assume a key role in designing a global governance framework for AI and forging a consensus on it.

Our response to the AI revolution is far more significant than many think. It can become a model for future policy responses to similarly disruptive technologies.

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