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THE IMAGINARY FRIEND

The world has been toying with artificial intelligence for a while now, and India is not far behind

Picture yourself having the perfect day indoors, cosying up with a steaming cup of coffee and a great book. You’re just about ready to curl up and get comfortable, when from the next room, you hear a giggle. Are you sure you locked the door?

Earlier this year, the internet broke out with people complaining about Amazon’s Alexa, a virtual assistant enabled to perform multiple tasks. It works much like a remote control when synced with other devices. It can perform voice interactions, setting alarms, playing music, performing internet searches, etc. However, users complained that Alexa often broke out in a creepy laughter, startling the user, without being given any command. This was obviously something Amazon had to deal with posthaste.

The world has been toying with artificial intelligence for a while now, and India is not far behind. Soon after the likes of Siri made it big in the market, we came up with our own versions of imaginary friends in electronic devices. AISHA (Artificial Intelligence Speech Handset Assistant) developed by Micromax happened in 2012. It was their own version of Siri, enabled to perform tasks like giving Google commands, making calls, etcetera, through voice recognition. These were followed by more artificial intelligence interfaces that helped us with our banking and online shopping and even travelling.

On July 27, Invest India (National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency of India) and the UAE Minister for Artificial Intelligence signed an MoU for India — UAE Artificial Intelligence Bridge in New Delhi. The press statement released by the government of India states that this alliance is expected to make USD 20 billion in economic benefits within the next 10 years. It has also been predicted that by 2035, artificial intelligence can potentially add $957 billion to the Indian economy, giving it a significant boost.

This alliance is also being joined by Startup India, a platform for startup enterprises initiated by Narendra Modi. Manoj Madhusudanan, CEO and co-founder of Ziligence — a platform that allows one to connect and interact with fast growing and well-funded companies using AI, considers this a step in the right direction. “By combining the tremendous financial and commercial resources that countries such as the UAE can bring to the table, along with the vast talent pool and academic infrastructure in India, this could help create a strong AI ecosystem with a positive impact on sectors ranging from agriculture to defence,” he says.

AI has wormed its way into all of our online activities. Our understanding of artificial intelligence has expanded beyond post-modern films like Her, and shows like Black Mirror. The ease of life that AI offers in the films we watch, as well as the horrors they predict with the very same taking over our lives, is soon closing in. Lately, almost all online platforms are enlisting chatbots in their web portals. A chatbot is essentially a program that conducts conversations through text or auditory methods.
Chatbots are now being used heavily for mainstream marketing purposes, wherein these artificial intelligence bots can provide help and/or solutions for customers on the spot, making the requirement for telephone customer services more or less redundant. 85% service providers predict that within the next five years, all customer interactions will be handled by chatbots and not humans.

Facebook alone uses over 100,000 chatbots on Messenger. According to reports, most chatbots are predictable, and can be easily programmed. Here is where API comes in. Application Programming Interface is a software intermediary that allows two applications to communicate with one another. When multiple applications can communicate with one another and share their data, their pool of information on potential users gets substantially larger. This allows these applications to cater to personalised queries and communicate more effectively with their customers.

Chatbot technology is basically dependent on natural language processors (NLP). Chatbots can progress with the progress of NLP alone. Regular chatbots process the text sent by the customer or user, and respond with the help of algorithms that help to identify what the user wants, and then subsequently narrows down the possible responses. Chatbots have certainly come a long way since then, what with Siri becoming increasingly sarcastic by the day, and Alexa attempting to take over the domestic space as well.

Chatbots are being used for medical purposes as well. A companion chatbot was developed by a Russian company for dementia patients. The bot zeroes in on the deviations in the patient’s conversations I order to spot problems with recollection. And since the chatbot is cloud-based, the repository of information is accessible by doctors and family members as well.

Another was created to keep insomniacs company in the night. A chatbot that makes hearty conversation with the insomniac when they are unable to sleep. And of course, the fictional universe was not far behind, a chatbot was introduced which gave Marvel fans the opportunity to chat with the Star Lord or even Spiderman. However, experts do advise caution in navigating chatbots, especially when inputting personal information. For those that are not internet-savvy, fraudulent chatbots are a serious threat, and a higher level of awareness and understanding is necessary.

Madhusudanan brings up the pros of AI, as well as the cons with regard to its limitations. He believes that in a matter of a few years India can definitely make a significant place for itself as a dominant global force in AI. He disregards the possibility of AI ever catching up to the human brain, and is more concerned about how a device enabled with artificial intelligence would behave when faced with a scenario that it is not equipped to deal with. He takes the example of a self-driving car – how would it react if it comes across an unusual object on the street? A human brain would apply logic and judgement in a case like this, a piece of technology is not equipped with either.

According to Madhusudanan, we as consumers have only seen a glimpse of what artificial intelligence can accomplish in our day to day lives, and it’s impacts on human productivity can be astronomical. He believes that some of the areas that can be further explored with AI are healthcare and transportation. When it’s all said and done, though, the expert holds that besides some regulatory control, AI still has a long way to go, “and it is far too early for us to be scared of the potential dangers of intelligent machines.”

Artificial Intelligence itself, and chatbots, have come a long way, and India happens to be one of the front runners in the game. With almost all of our personal information online, we help to create a massive cesspool of all of our information and data.

This data then gets applied in creating new avenues for artificial intelligence to take the baton forward. It is constantly advised that an internet user be very careful about the authenticity of the chatbots they communicate with, in order to keep their information from falling into the wrong hands. This is one technological development that poses all kinds of questions, but is especially hard to avoid. AI has taken over the Internet space, and with it our lives. How much information is too much information? Where do we draw the line with this kind of progress? Is there a line?
We will have to let the internet decide.