U.S.-India Artificial Intelligence Cooperation
February 11, 2021
The Biden administration plans to prioritize federal funding for U.S. research and development on artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies. If products created from these technologies are to enter the global marketplace, administration officials will need to work with like-minded countries to create new AI standards and principles consistent with democratic values and fair markets. India is well-placed to be an essential part of these efforts, as the world’s largest democracy, a key advocate for the developing world, and the home of a significant informational technology (IT) sector already well-meshed with the United States. A successful partnership will, however, require the resolution of existing bilateral disagreements affecting digital trade and investment.
The United States and India are logical partners in charting the future growth of AI, which promises economic growth and social benefits to both countries in key sectors such as healthcare, education, energy, financial technology, retail, and mobility. While India is not yet a major AI player, it has a talented IT workforce and strategic plans to develop its AI capacity. Many of the largest U.S. investors in India are leaders in the development and application of AI and related technologies. This includes IT-focused firms such as Microsoft and Google; e-tailers Amazon and Walmart; and aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed. Google and Facebook have together invested more than $10 billion in Reliance Jio, which aims to develop platforms in AI-forward sectors such as education and healthcare. U.S. companies such as IBM and Intel have partnered with the Indian government to educate Indian students in the skills needed to work in AI and related fields. On a government-to-government basis, the United States and India have cooperated on India’s “smart city” planning and deepened their defense relationship significantly over the past years, both sectors which will rely on AI and machine learning.
The United States and India share an interest in working with like-minded partners to manage the geostrategic implications of these new technologies, including the rise of China as an international AI player. The Chinese government’s development and use of facial recognition and other social enforcement mechanisms inconsistent with democratic standards has helped make the country an AI technology leader. China also has a track record of aggressively pressuring countries, international organizations, and companies to accept its 5G technology and internet standards. It is more than likely to take the same approach regarding AI. The presumed development of Chinese weapon systems using AI technology also poses a strategic threat to the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.
A successful U.S.-India partnership will need to overcome significant challenges. In the race to be an AI leader, countries will compete to control the best technology, talent, and data. Yet paradoxically, the development of AI and indeed all information technologies benefits from the flow of both information and expertise. Clearing out some existing bilateral points of difference may help the United States and India strike the right balance. The Biden administration will likely seek resolution of issues surrounding India’s rules covering data privacy and storage as well as regulations and policies that disadvantage e-tailers such as Amazon and Walmart. India for its part will wish to ensure that the new administration’s immigration reforms ease restrictions on Indian beneficiaries of H-1B visas, who have helped make the bilateral IT relationship as close as it is today.
In addition to creating the jobs of the future, AI will also create significant job loss, even in sectors requiring advanced education and skills. Dialogue between our governments will be essential to avoid the imposition of new trade and investment barriers in response to economic and social disruptions created by the deployment of AI technologies. The conversation must include meaningful engagement with and between companies and other stakeholders in both countries. As both creators and users of AI, companies need to play a large role in ensuring AI technology does not exacerbate social divides or instability and assist skilling efforts in the new labor market. Organizations and initiatives that seek ways to balance profit, innovation, and societal needs—such as the Business Roundtable and the Balanced Scorecard Institute in the United States—may help this be a productive process.
How AI will disrupt will often be different in India and the United States. In many cases, we may not agree fully on the nature of the risk or the solutions. Finding ways to bridge our bilateral divide will assist the search for global consensus, particularly as India aims to position itself as a provider of AI technological benefits to the developing world. The bilateral U.S.-India dialogue can serve as a foundation for discussions in multilateral fora such as the G20, which issued its own AI declaration in 2019 and which India will chair in 2022.
The current pandemic has shone a light on AI’s potential benefits across a range of sectors.
A U.S.-India partnership will enable faster development of this critical technology while mitigating its downsides.