Maharashtra has always been at the forefront of enterprise and innovation in India, a matter borne out by the fact that it is the financial capital of the country. So, it should come as no surprise that the state is making great strides in the field of technological innovation and the adoption and application of AI. With a focus on encouraging startups that are using AI to tackle social problems in the state, the Government of Maharashtra and NITI Aayog hosted the AI Innovation Challenge 2019 on March 2, 2019 at Taj Vivanta, Mumbai.
With over 400 individuals from the government, startup and corporate ecosystem in attendance, including important dignitaries from the Maharashtra Government, this highly anticipated one-of-a-kind event saw startups and MSMEs with unique AI-based solutions for social problems compete to win a chance to work with the Government of Maharashtra.
Delivering the welcome address, SVR Srinivas, Principal Secretary (IT), Government of Maharashtra, said this conference and challenge would help identify startups doing good work in the fields of agriculture, healthcare, education, and smart cities, among others. " We're looking for startups who can predict diseases using AI in healthcare, optimise production and productivity in agriculture, supplement the shortage of teachers and quality of education, and so on.”
From a large pool of applications, 40 were chosen to pitch before a grand jury. If their use cases were found suitable, the government would use them as Proofs of Concept (PoCs).
"Along with NITI Aayog, we are doing four pilots in the healthcare sector. We're using AI to enable detection of TB, cancer, and macular degeneration in several places in India," he said. Emphasising the importance of using AI for social good, he added, "The Government of Maharashtra and NITI Aayog will help startups who are able to create social impact with their solutions, and this event is a step forward in the right direction," he said.
Rahul Sharma, Managing Director, Public Sector - Amazon Internet Services , in his keynote address spoke about how Amazon's public sector team's mission is to positively impact Indian citizens' lives through skilling, healthcare, livelihood and inclusion. He said that India has critical problems to solve, including doubling farmers’ incomes, ensuring every family has access to affordable healthcare, training one person in every family in technology, etc. "These are not simple problems, they require intervention. But the good thing about 2019 is that people who create an impact can talk to each other and collaborate to make a change," said Rahul. For India to stand out globally, AI needs to be made accessible to the bottom of the pyramid, he said, adding, "We want to impact 450 million skilled and unskilled people in India through scaled AWS engagement." He said they would focus on three areas- open data, models and technology platforms to make this successful.
Beena Ammanath, Global VP for AI and Innovation – HP Enterprises took to the stage to speak about what AI can do today. "AI can tell a farmer what, when, and where to plant using predictive analytics, create new jobs that we couldn't have imagined 15 years ago, make ports and customs more efficient, and so on.” She added that what is really driving AI across the world is the concept of an ecosystem. “Unlike other technologies like cloud, mobile or Internet, there's no one company leading AI. AI is domain context-specific, so you're going to see platforms instead of a leader,” said Beena. She went on to say how reskilling is needed on a massive scale with help from trusted ecosystem partners, and how the Government of Maharashtra is enabling this by bringing in the right entities. She advised startups not to be restricted to small problems, but to be audacious and put themselves out there. "Start local but really think about the big global market," she added.
A keynote address was delivered by Anna Roy, Senior Advisor – NITI Aayog. She said that Digital India was taking shape in various domains and the digital story of India is coming forward to solve various challenges that the country has confronted over the decades, like access barriers, lack of professionals and so on. New technologies like AI and IoT are broad and cross-sectoral, which can benefit both India and other countries.
Anna spoke about how NITI Aayog provided the roadmap, identified problems and strategies much before the industry saw it coming. "Collaboration is the cornerstone, and Maharashtra is the natural partner of NITI Aayog,” she said. “For this challenge, we identified sectors where services are public in nature, as private initiatives may not bring in the necessary results," she added.
She mentioned how the base of government policy today is inclusion and that's why they've called it 'AI for all'. The government needs to identify areas where technology can be leveraged to promote inclusiveness, be it in finance, agriculture or education sector. "We won't win if we don't work together, it's a public-private partnership to solve for India and for the rest of the world," she concluded.
On the occasion, the Aaple Sarkar Chatbot was launched by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The chatbot portal offers more than 400 citizen services online with guaranteed delivery timelines. In the coming weeks, this chatbot will learn to understand and reply in local languages.
The Hon. Chief Minister gave a special address where he said that in India, when a new technology arrives, the country is divided into different teams with a few supporting it and a few being sceptical about how it would contribute to India’s agriculture industry. “Today that scepticism is being answered by AI that has the power to bring sustainability into agriculture," said the CM. He went on to say that technology is unstoppable, and the best thing to do is to embrace it and use it for social good. "NITI Aayog has been charting a huge pathway for the dissemination of technology. For the first time, we are very proactive, and industry and governments are responding to that," he said.
He said the Aaple Sarkar Chatbot is a pathbreaking initiative for government portals, which will increase accessibility once it is launched in regional languages. "People won't have to go to government offices. We provide 400 services through the app that increase efficiency, accountability and transparency," he said.
Along with initiatives that leverage drones, AI and IoT, the Maharashtra government, in collaboration with Wadhwani AI, has started the first AI institute in Mumbai University, to work on projects that will change the lives of people at the bottom of the pyramid. Another initiative is the launch of Maha AgriTech in six districts to digitally track farming cycles and give real-time inputs to farmers about the weather, pests, flowering stage, soil health and so on. "If we aspire to improve our economy by 2025, the only way is to bring sustainability in agriculture. With the adoption of new technologies, we can do this in the next three years and provide real-time information to every single farmer," he said.
He also spoke about opportunities to use AI for urbanisation. "In Mumbai, we are focusing on 360-degree transportation through metros, monorails, buses, sea transport. We're trying to integrate and bring them onto a single platform with a single ticket using AI," said the Chief Minister. On AI in healthcare, he said that access to doctors in rural areas is a challenge despite the offer of better pay. "If they don't want to go to these areas, use AI to connect the rural areas to the doctors."
He proudly mentioned how Maharashtra has 27 percent of all registered startups in India. The government has already issued work orders to 50 startups during the Maharashtra Startup Week Challenge held in February. "Our intention to host this AI Innovation challenge is to create new ideas that can change lives. Through this challenge, the industry and government will partner with startups to help take their idea to the public," he said.
The event also saw a panel discussion on how startups and organisations can leverage their AI-based solutions for greater social good. Participants included Arnab Kumar, Founding Manager, Frontier Technologies – NITI Aayog, Harish Mehta, Co-founder – NASSCOM, P. Anandan, CEO - Wadhwani AI, Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, Associate Professor – CSE IIT Bombay, and was moderated by Kaustabh Dhavse, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Chief Minister.
P. Anandan said that there are certain goals that need to be set for AI. "India's approach needs to be AI for all because any problem that exists in the world, exists in India. Go down into specific domains and understand the fundamental problems that can be solved by AI, and scale it to a system," he said. Unlike the commercial sector, the market is not uniform for the social sector. "Since the market is diverse in India, to scale, you need to work closely with the government," he added. The second thing was the importance of building a strong AI talent pool in India. "The future is AI, train as many people in AI." And finally, he said that AI can be used to break the diverse language and dialect barrier in India.
Harish Mehta spoke of the potential that India has. “Today, our industry has 4 million software engineers with various technical skills, we help 1,000 companies transform youngsters. Why can't we use not only AI, but transformational capabilities to solve the biggest problems in India?" Taking the example of lack of doctors in healthcare, he said that with AI doctors can service 8-10 times more patients and healthcare services can be expanded to rural areas.
Arnab Kumar added that there is no imperative data to show that technology has taken away jobs. "If you see key challenges in our country, and the way people use technology, most of our work will not be in automation, but in the field of augmentation," he said. India has 2,000 trained technologies, and if you use AI for cancer detection, it doesn't take away jobs. The key intervention of AI is to augment and build the capability to access affordability and availability of cancer diagnosis across the country. "The next several years will lead to the upskilling college students and reskilling existing adopters in AI capabilities.
On the role of academia and research for AI, Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan said, "I see students graduate and get into corporate AI jobs, but their heart is not in the right place because they can't use AI for social good," he said. He added that instead of creating AI and taking it to the masses, it's important to empower people to build AI for themselves. Institutes can create tailored online courses for the Indian ecosystem. If you don't have disruptors at your level, partner and facilitate with other local colleges. "If enough of us get together, we can do high-quality work which can inspire others," he added.
P. Anandan spoke about how to create a sustainable ecosystem. "If you're serious about working with AI, go down into the field and understand how to solve the problem. You should have co-creators, engage other players like non-profits, healthcare centres, agriculturalists, etc.”
The forty startups that pitched to an eminent panel of experts from government, industry and academia had AI-based solutions ranging from healthcare, agriculture/ food processing, education, smart mobility and transport, smart cities and infrastructure, water management and conservation, and accessibility for differently abled. Here are the winners across various categories:
AI Innovation Challenge 2019 was made successful by the continuous efforts of the Chief Minister’s War Room for Infrastructure and Technology. The team led by Kaustubh Dhavse comprised of Janak Shah and Pallavi Sankhe – Advisors to the Chief Minister’s Office along with Shiv Seth, Raviraj Pawar and Shreyas Ugemuge – CM Fellows.
They worked behind the scenes for 6 months to come up with this unique initiative and engaged with government officials, industries, startups and academicians to craft a perfect platform. They are now closely working with the winners to complete their POCs and create impact. Following a successful first edition, the Government of Maharashtra continues to identify and support more startups that are using AI to solve social problems.