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Digital space can’t be dominated by few large cos

India will not allow domination of digital space by 1-2 big players and boundary conditions of openness and fair choice to users will have to be followed, IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Saturday as he outlined how the country is racing full steam ahead towards its trillion dollar digital economy goal.

Addressing the Economic Times Global Business Summit 2023, the Minister agreed that time has come for clear standards to be defined for new-age technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning), and asserted that innovation cannot be a reason to escape scrutiny and accountability.

The upcoming Digital India Act, which is set to replace the 22 year old IT Act (currently regulating the internet), will address this area, he said.

As many as 80 crore Indians are now online, and by 2025 that number will rise to 120 crore (1.2 billion), making India the largest connected country in the world and the largest presence on the global internet.

India will be among pack of nations, which will shape the future of technology, products, devices and platforms, the Minister said. He added that the country’s digital ambitions are being fueled by a powerful combination of IT/ITES, start ups, semiconductors, new age computing, enabling policies and key legislations.

To a question on whether standards to be defined for AI, the Minister said: “Certainly, I think one of the big things that governments around the world have learnt is to start having clear definitions about these things because I think we will all agree that big tech platforms, escaped regulation for many years by constantly talking about innovation and that innovation should not be regulated,” Chandrasekhar said.

He added: “So we certainly will not want to go down that road again and say as long as people use AI and algorithms, that somehow that is an escape from scrutiny or accountability or regulation”.

In the architecture of the forthcoming Digital India Act, this aspect has been kept in mind.

“You will find that there will be accountability, and certain sense of scrutiny about everything including references to AI…So we believe user harm is at the heart of Digital India Act, and openness, safety and trust are at the heart of the DIA…these are areas we will certainly address,” the Minister assured.

India has assumed the Chair of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, an international initiative to support responsible and human-centric development and use of AI.

“There is not just the use of AI from the point of view of escaping scrutiny and accountability, but there is also an overreach of AI. There is the whole issue of harm and misuse of AI. So those are all the boundaries that we want to build without really coming in the way of innovation, but certainly not allowing innovation to be a reason to escape scrutiny and accountability,” he said.

To a question put in the context of ONDC on whether Government’s intent is to control key businesses in the digital economy, the Minister made it clear that India will not allow domination by a few companies, in any space.

“In no space do we want domination by a few companies, and there are many segments of the digital economy and digital space that are uncomfortable, dominated by 1-2-3 big companies whom we…refer to…as big tech. Our government’s views is very clearly that we don’t want to discourage anybody from being in India, we want all the companies to come to India, but we certainly don’t want the digital economy to be throttled or to be controlled,” he said.

Government’s policy goals are based on openness, which means free, fair and unfettered choice for digital citizens.

“So if it turns out…what is the genesis of ONDC…It turns out that a lot of merchants, a lot of retailers are uncomfortable about the dominance of one or two players that are in the e-commerce space. And so the Government has to intervene and come up with ONDC,” he said.

Similarly, payments were dominated by foreign platforms in the past.

“And you’ve seen during the Russia-Ukraine war how weaponization of those platforms can be easily done by countries who choose to do so. So we certainly think it’s part of our national sovereignty, sovereignty with digital economy that we build in resilience, redundancy, and the ability to run these platforms in India…have access to these platforms and technologies in India,” he said.

The Minister pointed out that the current IT Act, is a dated law by any standards, and will be replaced by a combination of new, updated legislations.

“That (IT Act) will be soon replaced by a combination of the Digital India Act, Digital Personal Data Protection Bill and, if required, a legislation for cybersecurity or amendments of the criminal penal code to reflect the cybersecurity challenges,” he said.

The laws and rules are guided by boundary conditions and principles of openness, safety, trust and accountability as desirable outcomes that Government wants to deliver to digital citizens.

Chandrasekhar spoke of the goal of trillion dollar digital economy by 2026, as outlined by the Prime Minister, and said that Centre has a razor sharp focus on achieving this vision through broad based growth across IT/ITES, startups, internet, semiconductors, and skills program.

“We are focused also on the whole computer side. As automobile siliconise, as mobility is becoming all pervasive and cloudification is driving compute, we will shortly be launching an India Open Compute initiative, where the devices and products for automobiles and the standards for automobile mobility and computes will be another focus for startups,” he said. PTI

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