Startups must invoke AI, blockchain to help reform healthcare, agriculture: IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

During YourStory’s Digital India Townhall, Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad urged entrepreneurs to leverage AI to make healthcare affordable to all, and build platforms for farmers.

Startups must invoke AI, blockchain to help reform healthcare, agriculture: IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

Wednesday July 01, 2020,

4 min Read

“Unless the platform you make connects with the people, you will not succeed. Make platforms that resonate with the common man,” Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad said at YourStory’s Digital India Townhall — a virtual event hosted by YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma — to commemorate five years of the ‘Digital India’ initiative.

During the town hall, the Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Communications, and Law and Justice, urged entrepreneurs to invoke artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies to help reform sectors like healthcare and agriculture. 

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Digital Indian Townhall

Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in conversation with Indian entrepreneurs.

"The government is thinking of a health-stack or a healthcare platform, just like how we have the UPI. I am very happy that healthcare startups are working in the field of AI," the minister told a host of panellists, which included entrepreneurs like Geetha Manjunath (Founder, Niramai), Vijay Shekar Sharma (Founder and CEO, Paytm), Naveen Tewari (Founder, Inmobi), and Surjeet Kumar (Co-founder, Udaan). 

The coronavirus pandemic provided a chance to the Indian startup ecosystem to pivot and innovate. During such bleak times, several startups utilised digital platforms to provide services, which otherwise were not explored. While a few of them are helping farmers sell their produce in the market during the lockdown, some Indian startups are providing telemedicine services. 

Telemedicine portals became a go-to place for individuals to get treatment in the times of COVID-19. These platforms, which were earlier touted as controversial in India due to a lack of clear guidelines, found support from the government, the minister added. 

Speaking about the use of AI in healthcare, Geetha Manjunath, Founder, Niramai, said, artificial intelligence (AI) can really save lives in rural India in two ways. She explained, “Firstly, in villages where doctors cannot go, AI robots can act as triage solutions to determine which patients should be brought to hospitals for further diagnosis. Secondly, the move will make healthcare affordable in India.”

According to her, many startups are working on solutions that automatically generate detailed quantitative reports with clinical parameters, and estimates the likelihood of cancer or disease. These scores can help doctors make quick and accurate decisions. 

Geetha further urged the minister to make primary healthcare centres (PHCs) AI-enabled, to dispense affordable and quality healthcare in the rural pockets of the country. 

Lauding Niramai’s efforts in the healthcare sector, the IT Minister added, “The author of 'AI Superpowers' Kai-Fu Lee was suffering from third-stage cancer, according to his doctor. However, Lee used AI to disapprove the doctor and told him that it was first-stage cancer. That’s the power of AI in healthcare.”

He said, "We have to tap the vast resources of AI. AI should not be elitist. Can we have a platform where everything is available for farmers, where they can have all the information that they need for better results in rural parts in India?" 

While urging Indian entrepreneurs to use blockchain in agriculture and healthcare sectors, Prasad presented the example of Pune-based startup Agri10x. The startup sold Indian fruit Royal litchi from Bihar to a buyer in London via Common Service Centres digital buy-sell platform Kisan e-mart.

"Thanks to the Digital India initiative, farmers from Bihar have received a good price upon selling litchies," Ravi Shankar Prasad added. 

“How can we further invoke platforms like blockchain for reforms? Indian digital economy must become $1 trillion. A new economy powered by AI, blockchain, and cybersecurity is key,” the minister said. 

According to a report published by NITI Aayog, titled, ‘National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence,’ the think-tank called India's AI strategy as #AIForAll — focussed on leveraging AI for inclusive growth in line with the Government of India's policy of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.’ 

The white paper mentions that the focus of India's AI will be on sectors like agriculture, health, and education.


Edited by Tenzin Pema