IIT Ropar

Artificial intelligence will make healthcare jobs more effective: Sarit Kumar Das, Director, IIT Ropar

Artificial intelligence undeniably will play a substantial role in all major sectors in India over the days to come. While the usage of AI becomes more prominent across industries, there are several concerns being raised about artificial intelligence replacing human jobs. In an exclusive interview with DataQuest, Sarit Kumar Das, Director and Professor, Indian Institute of Technology Ropar (IIT Ropar), Punjab talks about the way forward for AI in India, why it is important to reskill in AI, and addresses concerns of artificial intelligence taking over human jobs.

DQ: What is the impact that COVID-19 pandemic has had on the artificial intelligence sector?

Prof Sarit Kumar Das: COVID 19 crisis has taken the global economy by a storm. It is undeniably one of the biggest challenges posed to the modern digital world. It is also seen as the first recession, since 1870, triggered primarily by a pandemic. Health care systems across the globe suffered an incredible disruption which created greater demand for innovative solutions. I strongly believe that every cloud has a silver lining. The unfathomable COVID 19 crisis has also brought in several new opportunities to the Artificial Intelligence (AI) sector.

Several governments, research institutions and private companies across the globe are leveraging AI in an attempt to find optimal ways of tackling the crisis. AI is definitely playing a pivotal role at the time of pandemic by detecting, diagnosing, treating and predicting COVID 19 infections.  Its applications are also being widely used in accelerating research on drug discovery, slowing the virus spread through contact tracing, aiding recovery and improving detection of early warning signals, etc. Not just in healthcare, AI offers a wide array of applications in almost all the major industries from retail to e-commerce, manufacturing to marketing.

DQ: Will artificial intelligence take over human jobs?

Prof Sarit Kumar Das: I strongly believe the impact of AI and automation will be profound and deep-seated which will change the way we live. However, there have been raising concerns that the growing strength of AI systems will spell an end for human jobs. At this point, I would like to give an anecdote of 1980s, when the advent of personal computers created ‘computerphobia’ with people fearing that computers will replace human jobs. As computers created a demand for technology-based jobs, there was definitely a shift in the nature of jobs. However, it should be noted that there was no dearth of jobs created in that field. Despite all the qualms and uncertainties, every technological shift has culminated in generating more jobs than were destroyed.

When certain tasks are automated to make them more efficient, faster and cheaper, there might be a shift in the nature of jobs compared to the past. Nonetheless, resources are surely required to handle other high-end functions, which haven’t been automated and require human intelligence.

Although AI has played a significant role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, there are several apprehensions about its ability to operate without human involvement. In fact, I feel it has ended up making healthcare jobs more effective. With the explosion of telehealth due to social distancing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, AI has reduced administration burden by automating the process, organising loads of information, presenting important information, creating automatic clinical notes, etc. This eased unnecessary administrative burden and increased the ability of caregivers to offer services to an increased number of patients.

DQ: What is the way forward for India in terms of the AI sector?

Prof Sarit Kumar Das: India has already entered into an era of digital technologies and making swift technological advances. Latest statistics revealed that that AI will double the rate of innovation and employee efficiency in the country. As AI proved to be instrumental in furthering organisation’s competitiveness, many businesses are embarking on their AI journeys.

Businesses like Swiggy, Zomato and other businesses have invested heavily in AI to leverage the power of technology and boost their business growth. According to a recent Accenture study, AI can add US$957 billion (15% of current gross value added) to India’s economy by 2035.  India can effectively boost its AI capabilities through largescale transformational interventional, primarily through government-led initiatives with able support from the private sector.

However, for India to be at the AI leader’s position globally, the need of the hour is to identify challenges that are unique to the country. The focus should be on utilising our existing strengths in mathematical and analytical skills and programming. There is also a critical need for the Indian industry to joint hands by forging research-centric alliances with academic institutes like IIT Ropar. This practice is quite common in the western world and Indian industries cannot afford to ignore or delay this.

DQ: How important is it to reskill in terms of artificial intelligence? Is hiring related to AI on the rise in India?

Prof Sarit Kumar Das: AI is a powerful advanced technology with huge potential to be unravelled in many unchartered waters as well. Surprisingly, an AI technology has unveiled the beginnings of the COVID 19 outbreak in December 2019 even before the world was aware of the threat. Canada-based BlueDot has leveraged AI and other related advanced technologies to report the spread of the virus even before the World Health Organization and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This signifies the untapped potential of such advanced technologies.

As AI is currently gaining stream in the backdrop of COVID 19 pandemic and given that its role in healthcare and other sectors is only set to grow, it’s no surprise that the demand for such professionals also picks up in parallel.

Nevertheless, World Economic Forum (WEF) report titled ‘The Future of Jobs 2018’, quoted that while the Fourth Industrial Revolution will make 75 million jobs obsolete by the year 2022, it will also create 133 million new jobs — a net gain of 58 million. With a growing digital skills gap, there is a growing need for reskilling imperative than ever before.  In an attempt to stay relevant, competitive and future-proof their businesses, companies should gear up to boost their AI capabilities through employee reskilling programs. Spurred by the growing demand of AI, several tech majors as well as start-ups are also on a massive hiring binge. Aspirants looking to enter into this potential domain can look at good upskilling options for brighter career prospects.

DQ: Is there anything else you would like to add regarding AI and its trends in India?

Prof Sarit Kumar Das: As AI is revolutionising the workplaces of almost all the major industries, students looking to leverage on the emerging technology trend can upskill themselves to gain relevant, industry-specific AI capabilities. According to Gartner, AI would open up approximately 2.3 million job opportunities.

Keeping in trend with the rising demand for AI professionals in the near future, IIT Ropar has collaborated with TimesTSW to launch a 6 months cutting-edge programme– Post Graduate Certificate Programme in Artificial Intelligence & Deep Learning – offering Alumni status. The program will be coordinated under the aegis of the Indo-Taiwan Joint Research Centre on AI and ML at IIT Ropar. Those aspiring to build a career can join the programme to make a head-start in an exciting and challenging AI field.

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