Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Rise of “Thinking Machines”: Boon or Bane

Our government needs to play a very important role in fostering AI research among Indian scientific community says Dr. Rizwan Ahmed, President of Technology at Q M Computech Pvt. Ltd. With an exclusive interaction with The Policy Times

Artificial Intelligence (AI) - Rise of “Thinking Machines” Boon or Bane
Artificial Intelligence (AI) - Rise of “Thinking Machines” Boon or Bane

Dr. Rizwan Ahmed is President of Technology at Q M Computech Pvt. Ltd., Nagpur (India Development Center: delaPlex Software, USA- Dr. Rizwan has a doctoral degree along with a Post-graduate degree in CSE from Nagpur University. He is one of the first recipients of Ph.D. in the field of Mobile Forensics in India.  He has over 16 years of professional experience in IT industry and Academia in various roles as innovative, hands-on technology executive with a proven track record. Rizwan has been part of delaPlex’s founding team which is driving force in growing the company from its inception in 2008. Prior to delaPlex, Rizwan was part of multiple IT companies in India and abroad in various technology roles. Dr. Rizwan also works as “Independent Consultant and Mobile Forensic Investigator” for various Private, Government and Law Enforcement Agencies in India and abroad. Dr. Rizwan has published over 50 technical research papers in International/National Journals, Conferences in the field of Mobile Forensics, Digital Forensics, Network Security, e-Learning and M-Learning, Genetic Algorithms and Genetic Programming, and Software Engineering & Project Management. His research work is listed in “Top 3%” of worldwide researchers in Academia ( from past few years. He is a recipient of multiple Best Research Paper Awards. He is regularly invited as Speaker at many National and International Conferences, Events and Panel Discussions in India and abroad. Dr. Rizwan’s work, achievements, and interviews have been featured and quoted in a multitude of newspapers, television, radio and online media in many languages. His work has been featured in NDTV, Live India, All India Radio, Times of India, The Hindu, The Hitavada, Lokmat, Lokmat Times, Lokmat Samachar, Nagpur Today, Reacho etc.

In his exclusive interaction with The Policy Times, Dr. Rizwan Ahmed elaborates the application of Artificial Intelligence in the current perspective and its’ importance in India.

Q.1: What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

Ans: In simplest terms, Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer program or a machine to think, learn and act like humans. It is also a field of study which tries to make computers “smart”. AI is a sub-field of Computer Science. The main goal of AI is to enable the development of computer systems that are able to do things normally done by humans. AI involves the study of different methods for making computers behave intelligently like humans.

Everything that our civilization offers today is a product of our intelligence. Similarly, with help from AI, we can expand that intelligence along various dimensions, in much the same way that cranes allow us to carry hundreds of tons, aeroplanes allow us to move at hundreds of miles per hour, and telescopes allow us to see things trillions of miles away. AI systems can, if suitably designed, support the much greater realization of human values. AI includes tasks such as learning, reasoning, planning, perception, language understanding, and robotics. AI entails many different fields like computer science, mathematics, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy.

Machine Learning is the branch of AI that explores ways to get computer systems, bots, and robots to improve their performance based on experience. AI and Machine Learning during past decade have given us self-driving cars, practical speech recognition, effective web search, a vastly improved understanding of the human genome and many other important technological breakthroughs. Machine learning is so pervasive today that you probably use it dozens of times every day without knowing it. Many researchers also think that Machine Learning is the best way to make progress towards human-level AI. AI-powered Computer Systems and Robots are being deployed in different domains like Defense, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Healthcare, FinTech, Supply Chain, Restaurants, Cyber Security etc. and they are getting better day by day. Robots even had their own skiing competition during ongoing Winter Olympics of 2018. For the first time Sophia, a humanoid robot was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia last year.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds immense potential for the business community. AI’s advancement, alongside other critical technological innovations in the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, is transforming how we work and live. AI’s real potential from a business perspective lies in its ability to unlock insights from data to influence smarter decision making. Considering AI’s potential is so significant that Forrester predicts that investment in AI will increase by 300% this year alone.

Q.2: What is the history of Artificial Intelligence?

Ans: AI or “Thinking Machines” has been of interest to scientists since the early 20th century, when the first generation of computers was designed. Professor John McCarthy, teaching Mathematics at the Dartmouth College in 1955 coined the term Artificial Intelligence. Imitating nature is one of the strategies used by man for solving problems. Nothing can beat the human brain when it comes to problem-solving.  The human brain is very complex with more than 10 billion basic computing units called neurons and more than 60 trillion connections between them.  In order for us to understand the working of our brain, we need to first understand the working of its basic computing element neuron and how the neurons interact with each other. Even today, we do not have much of a clue about how the brain works or why it does not work in many of us.  So, early versions of AI involved design of a mathematical model called as “Neural Networks” for the basic computing elements that are present in our brain. Some of the recent major AI breakthroughs include:

  • In 1997, IBM’s DeepBlue defeats Grand Master Garry Kasparov in Chess.
  • In 2011, IBM’s Watson defeats two greatest Jeopardy champions, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.
  • In 2016, Google’s AlphaGo beats Grand Master Lee Se-dol at Go during DeepMind challenge.

Investment and interest in AI boomed in the first decades of the 21st century when machine learning was successfully applied to many problems in academia and industry due to the presence of powerful computer hardware.

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Q.3: How Artificial Intelligence can affect our daily lives?

Ans: Artificial Intelligence and robots are already transforming how we work and live. According to Dr. Andrew Ng (Adjunct Professor, Stanford University; formerly head of Baidu AI Group/Google Brain), “Artificial Intelligence is the new electricity and it will be the main force behind development like how electricity played a major role in world development during the early 20th century”. AI is poised to have a similar impact. Information technology, web search and advertising etc. are already being powered by AI.

Today, AI is heavily used for automation across several industries. Automation can be defined as the technology by which a process or procedure is performed without or minimal human assistance. Some examples of Automation or automatic control are the use of various control systems for operating equipment such as machinery, processes in factories, boilers, and heat treating ovens, switching on telephone networks, steering, and stabilization of ships, aircraft and other applications and vehicles with minimal or reduced human intervention, with some processes have been completely automated. Robots are already taking over low-level jobs that do not require human intelligence. The benefit of automation includes labor savings, savings in electricity costs, savings in material costs, and improvements in quality, accuracy, and precision.   In the manufacturing sector, robots are being used to replace tasks such as welding, mining activities, movement of parts within a factory that were previously carried out by humans.

The financial industry is seeing a heavy surge in the use of AI and machine learning for investment advisory, fraud detection, and loan approval etc. AI is also being used heavily in the healthcare sector and it is helping Doctors to decide on the best treatment and predict future complications that a patient may encounter.  Tasks such as differentiating a cancerous cell from a non-cancerous cell can be easily achieved through AI-based tools. When you ask your mobile phone assistants like Google Assistant or Apple Siri for directions, peruse Amazon’s product recommendations or get a fraud alert from your bank, these interactions are led by computer systems using large amounts of data to predict your needs using AI.

IDC predicts that by 2020 AI will help drive worldwide revenues to over $47 billion, up from $8 billion in 2016. According to Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google, “Artificial Intelligence is going to have a bigger impact on the world than some of the most ubiquitous innovations in history”.

Q.4: What are Bots? What do Bots do?

Ans: A bot is computer software that is designed to automate the kinds of tasks that humans would usually do on their own, like adding an appointment to your calendar, making a dinner reservation, or fetching and displaying information. The more increasingly common form of bots being used today are chatbots which can be used to simulate human conversation. Chatbots often live inside messaging apps — or are at least designed to look that way — and it should feel like you’re chatting back and forth as you would with a human.

Some of these bots are used to handle a variety of customer service requests, which would normally require a phone call to a human agent. Based on your current situation with bots, they will be able to understand your situation and collaborate across the web to serve you with the best possible combination of answers. As an example, a “Recipe bot” could serve you with a selection of recipes based on your previous likes and preferences. Afterward, your “Health bot” could instantly analyze the options and suggest the best recipe for you today based on your health data which is being collected using your fitness tracker, DNA-test, and so forth. A “Travel bot” could track your flight ticket, suggest hotels in the area based on your previous choices, book it, and make sure there’s a cab ready for you when you arrive at the airport.

Dr. Rizwan Ahmed, President of Technology at Q M Computech Pvt. Ltd., Nagpur (India Development Center: delaPlex Software, USA

Q.5: How Artificial Intelligence can benefit India?

Ans: AI can benefit India a lot specifically by focusing on sectors such as manufacturing, infrastructure, healthcare, agriculture, etc.  The use of AI in defense can be another major focus area. We can use AI for easily solving many issues such as tax evasion, money laundering etc. Our government needs to play a very important role in fostering AI research among Indian scientific community. Considering requirements of AI, many existing resource skills will become irrelevant in the future and we may need to reskill our current workforce accordingly. India has great opportunity to excel in AI domain like we did in the case of Information Technology. China is investing $2.1 billion in creating an AI research park. Indian Government is taking also appropriate steps for AI development India under momentum of ‘Digital India’, during his 2018 budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “Technologies such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and others are the technologies of the future and NITI Aayog will establish a national programme to conduct research and development in these areas.”

Unlike the common belief that AI will snatch jobs from humans, it will actually create new jobs. A Gartner study shows AI will create 2.3 million jobs while eliminating 1.8 million by 2020. All economies across the world, including India, need more AI professionals. Currently, more than 800 companies are working on, or are deploying AI, there are 29,000 AI professionals and there are around 4000 job openings in AI in India. Considering the fact that 70% of Indian companies will leverage AI by 2020, it is likely to create more demand for AI professionals. The AI is expected to change the job landscape in the next few years, so India needs to prepare its workforce with adequate skills. The recent announcement of “National programme on AI” should hopefully help in addressing this demand-supply gap effectively.

The Indian government has partnered with IBM Watson to develop AI models that could create smart cities. India’s Smart City Programme aims to create more than 100 smart cities by 2020 which calls for fast implementation and AI could support it aptly regarding technology. AI should bring further growth for the Indian economy. We need not fear it, rather embrace it in a way that it makes our way of living intelligent, helps us to focus on creativity and innovations, and propels our country towards a technology-driven path. The announcement in Budget 2018 on AI is just a step ahead in that direction.

Q.6: How professionals and students should prepare themselves for future considering implications of AI?

Ans: Most of the Economists across the various political spectrum agree that the single biggest threat to future job growth is neither immigration nor trade and it is the artificial intelligence revolution which is already underway. Studies by Oxford University, McKinsey and Pricewaterhouse Coopers forecast that up to 50% of current jobs could be replaced by smart machines within the next 20 years. Considering this our future generations need to prepare themselves for future job roles considering innovation in AI and work in areas which would either not affected due to AI or will involve humans to make AI successful.

Professionals and students can take online courses in AI and machine learning from Online learning centers such as Coursera, Codeacademy, Big Data University and Microsoft’s edX. Most of these online learning platforms provide users with free tools and massively open online courses (MOOCs) to learn top-demand technical skills. One of the best courses on AI and Machine learning is conducted by Dr. Andrew Ng. Dr. Ng is also the author or co-author of over 100 published papers in AI, machine learning, robotics, and related fields. In India, recently our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi dedicated Wadhwani Institute of Artificial Intelligence to the nation. We will need more such initiatives with the partnership between Government and Private section so as to make AI education options available to aspirants in India.

Lifelong learning must become a central facet so as to stay competitive in AI world. Humans are going to have constant tough competition with machines which are getting better day by day in this era of technological advancements in AI and relevant innovations.

Q.7: What are some of the common misconceptions about AI?


  • AI will take away our jobs:

AI-powered machines will replace humans in some areas of work, but certainly not all of them. AI will gain prominence in roles that involve lots of repetitive work like reporting, schedule management, and data entry. But most of the sectors like consulting, healthcare, and recruitment, for example, will always need a human personal touch. Currently, AI does not absolve businesses of the need which require maintaining customer relationships.

  • AI is necessarily dehumanizing:

In many dystopian scenarios, AI can be misused by some to control others, whether by surveillance, robotic policing, automated “justice”, or an AI-supported command-and-control economy. These can certainly be possible in future, but not vast majority of people would support it. On the other hand, AI offers greater access for humans to human knowledge and individual learning; the elimination of language barriers between peoples; and the elimination of meaningless and repetitive drudgery that reduces people to the status of, well, robots.

  • AI will necessarily increase inequality:

As it happened in case of industrial revolution, it is certainly possible that increased AI-based automation of work will concentrate income and wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. We do, however, have a choice about how AI is used. By facilitating collaboration and connecting producers to customers, for example, it could allow more individuals and small groups to function independently within the economy rather than depending on large corporations for jobs.

Q.8: When AI systems will become more intelligent than humans?

Ans: This is really difficult to predict due to several reasons. Already AI systems and intelligent machines are much better at some tasks than humans, and of course much worse at others. Achieving “General Purpose Intelligence like Humans” would require significant breakthroughs in AI research and those are very hard to predict. Based on progress and outcomes so far, most AI researchers think it might happen in this century. Many notable personalities, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, consider the uncontrolled rise of artificial intelligence as a matter of alarm and concern for humanity’s future.