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India teases AI plan to 'catalyse the next generation of the internet'

Minister wants to release 'one of the largest datasets in the world'

India's ebullient tech minister, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has teased the release of guardrails for AI, plus publication of "one of the largest publicly assembled datasets in the world" as part of a forthcoming IndiaAI program that will explain how the nation puts artificial intelligence to work.

"The program will be one of the largest publicly assembled and available datasets in the world. Working with the fintech ecosystem, it will certainly catapult and catalyse the next generation of fintech and other parts of the internet."

Chandrasekhar didn't detail the dataset and why it will change the nature of the internet. But India certainly has a lot of financial data to work from. The government-run Unified Payments Interface (UPI) handles billions of transactions each month, and links to numerous other payment schemes and financial institutions. The nation has also signaled a desire to lead global debate on AI ethics, so maybe the dataset can contribute to that goal.

Speaking at a conference called the FinTech Conclave, Chandrasekhar said his government will write rules of AI into the forthcoming Digital India Bill – a proposed law pitched as a landmark set of regulations that will replace the current IT Act, which is 22 years old and as the minister points out does not once mention the internet. The forthcoming bill is thought to be very broad, covering issues ranging from telecoms regulation to online behavior.

At the Conclave, Chandrasekhar said the bill will include "guardrails" for AI, "in the context of user harm, in the context of open markets and competition, and in the context of accountability."

He framed those guardrails in the context of India's approach to tech regulation.

"Openness is clearly our policy objective," he said, adding that dominant tech platforms don't worry the government in which he serves – but that the government is aware of the potential for harms to flow from their dominance.

"We want free and fair choice," he said. "The phenomenon of big tech, the phenomenon of dominant platforms on the internet, is a reality. We have to make sure that dominance does not come in the way of the consumer choice, or prevent non-distorted access to services."

"If we see it [dominance] is getting in the way of consumers having free choice we would step in."

"Nobody should be of the view that a certain market share means they can play fast and loose in a sector, least of all digital payments," he said.

Consultation on the Digital India Bill commences tomorrow. The draft law is eagerly anticipated, as India currently lacks data protection legislation after canning a bill that could not be passed despite years of negotiation.

The Digital India Bill is thought to include some elements that touch on data privacy, plus regulation of over-the-top apps and voice services that may mean streaming video companies are regulated in the same way as broadcasters. Regulations governing social media are also expected, as are laws to cover hateful online speech. ®

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