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Excessive focus on governance a hindrance to AI progress: panel

Excessive focus on the governance of artificial intelligence (AI) by most major companies is hindering the experimentation necessary for progress in the field, a panel of experts at the Nasscom Technology and Leadership Forum in Mumbai, including Incedo CEO Nitin Seth and Fractal Analytics co-founder Srikanth Velamakanni said.

Seth, who is also the former chief operating officer of e-commerce giant Flipkart emphasised the tendency of large companies to overemphasise on AI governance and suggested it is essential to move beyond abstract discussions, urging a more specific understanding of concerns.

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“When we are thinking about AI governance, most large companies are perhaps over-indexing on it to an extent, I would say that is throttling experimentation. At least I believe that we need to move beyond the abstract level. At an abstract level, they seem very grey, and fearful…There are a lot of variations across industries, but generally from experimentation to production, there is still a lot of concern around security type of issues. And at least I would say that the concerns are a little overstated, and I think we need to get down to more specifics,” Seth said.
His remarks come at a time when the capabilities of AI are rapidly advancing, prompting increased attention to safety and ethical use of these technologies.

In 2023, during the Global Partnership for Artificial Intelligence summit in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the significance of establishing a worldwide framework for the ethical application of AI, which includes implementing a protocol for the testing and deployment of high-risk and cutting-edge AI tools.

“When I look at my banking clients, or clients in wealth management, I feel that they are paranoid about data security and a lot forget implementation in production systems. Even experimentation is held back because of data security concerns,” he added.

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Concurring with his opinion, Velamakanni shared an experience from a roundtable discussion in London, where he observed a lack of emphasis on responsible AI framework within organisations.“I was running a roundtable a few months back, where we had some of the largest companies in the world in London, and I asked everyone how important responsible AI inside the organization is, and frankly, there were not a lot of vigorous yeses,” he said.

Velamakanni highlighted the difference between compliance and responsible AI orientation, noting that the former tends to block progress, while the latter facilitates it.

“My point on principles versus rules is that in a fast-moving world, principles are far more easy to work with than rules, because rules become obsolete very quickly while principles are more timeless,” he added.

Further, Seth suggested viewing AI as an “unbelievable opportunity” rather than succumbing to a discourse fueled by a “dystopian” perspective. He criticised the fear-driven narrative and abstract concepts surrounding AI, asserting that a more positive and specific approach is needed.

However, despite the vast potential of AI, Seth acknowledged the need for governance to prevent it from becoming an uncontrolled force and the topic of governance still remains important.

Discussing India’s potential in the AI landscape, Velamakanni encouraged the country to foster AI startups, invest in and incentivise them, and focus on solving government problems. He highlighted the importance of developing data infrastructure, promoting open data, and enhancing technological and computational capabilities in the country.

Rowan Curran, senior analyst at UK-based market research company Forrester, expressed optimism about India’s potential to be a world leader in AI, but cautioned that it requires sustained effort and focus to avoid losing ground in emerging markets.

“I really don’t think that the emerging markets around AI are India’s to win. I think that they’re India’s to lose, honestly. Like, I think that you all (India) have very good underlying technology, people, and energy around this and there’s so much potential that really, it’s just if the eye is taken off the ball, then it gets lost. But you are in a prime position to be a world leader on this,” he said.

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