Need national consensus on AI: Open letter by Zoho's Vembu, iSPIRT's Sharma, NITI Aayog's former VC

The letter recognised opportunities AI provides, adding that if deployed optimally and strategically, it can yield equitable and sustainable growth.

Need national consensus on AI: Open letter by Zoho's Vembu, iSPIRT's Sharma, NITI Aayog's former VC

Monday April 03, 2023,

3 min Read

In an open letter, three industry veterans have raised concerns about the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) on industries and people, and called on stakeholders to arrive at a consensus on "how best to utilise this powerful technology for achieving our national goals".

"The downstream effects of adopting technologies such as AI without essential due diligence and appropriate safeguards can cause unprecedented disruption of the existing social order," said Rajiv Kumar, Chairman of not-for-profit public policy think tank Pahle India Foundation and former Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog in an open letter. He was joined by Sharad Sharma, Co-founder of iSPIRT Foundation—a think tank of the Indian software product ecosystem; and Sridhar Vembu, Co-founder and CEO of Zoho Corporation and Chairman of Swadeshi Shodh Sansthan, a non-profit organisation.

At a media event organised at Tenkasi, a small town in Tamil Nadu, Vembu brought up the emergence and evolution of AI.

“Nobody can tell you what the magnitude of the effect of AI will be. The kind of examples that are coming out now are very, very revolutionary,” said Vembu, addressing the media. 

“The broader implications of this technology… Will it be dangerous? Will it be used to do a lot of evil? I'm not yet completely sold on that idea. The economic disruption, posing danger to people, is our concern. I have to say I don’t know the dangers (that AI would bring in) yet. That’s where I am right now,” he added.

Recently, the Future of Life Institute sent an open letter urging all AI labs to immediately pause—for at least six months—all training of AI systems that would be more powerful than GPT-4, OpenAI's most advanced system.

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"This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium," read the letter signed by over 3,000 people including Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter), Steve Wozniak (Co-founder of Apple), and Yuval Noah Harari (historian and best-selling author).

About a week ago, Goldman Sachs economists predicted that as many as 300 million jobs could be computerised or automated by the latest wave of AI that has given birth to platforms such as ChatGPT. 

The open letter by Kumar, Sharma and Vembu recognised the opportunities that AI provides if applied to different fields and said that if deployed optimally and strategically, it “can yield more equitable and more sustainable growth”. They added that the technology can help increase labour productivity, build a knowledge economy and enhance India’s demographic dividend.

On the flip side, the letter said the growth of AI could also be the “harbinger of chaotic—and potentially catastrophic—consequences for humanity”. 

Quoting examples of how nations came together to agree on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and put restrictions on cloning, the letter said similar attempts should be made to “engage, negotiate and agree upon the rules of the game for the future development of AI that serves the goals of the global community and does not cross ethical thresholds”.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta