India’s Drive for Sovereign AI: Compute Mission Could Secure Outlay Exceeding Rs 10,000 Crore

The Indian government’s ambitious Artificial Intelligence (AI) Mission is poised to seek Cabinet approval with an anticipated outlay exceeding Rs 10,000 crore, announced Union Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, during a press briefing.

The mission, unveiled by Prime Minister last month, aims to cultivate ‘sovereign AI,’ bolster computational capabilities domestically, and extend compute-as-a-service to the nation’s startups. Chandrasekhar stated, “We will take the proposal for the AI Mission to the Cabinet soon. We are still working out some contours, but the overall outlay for the initiative could be more than Rs 10,000 crore.”

The government envisions building a compute capacity ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 GPUs (graphic processing units) under a public-private partnership (PPP) model. An additional 1,000-2,000 GPUs are earmarked through the PSU Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). Microsoft’s 2020 blog noted a supercomputer developed for OpenAI with 10,000 GPUs, providing context to the government’s ambitious plans.

To incentivize private companies to establish computing centers, the government is exploring various models, including a capital expenditure subsidy, operational expense incentives, and a “usage” fee. This move is pivotal for smaller businesses seeking to navigate the challenges of procuring computing capacity, a crucial component in AI system development.

The government’s strategy includes establishing a digital public infrastructure (DPI) from the GPU assembly. This DPI will allow startups to leverage computational capacity at a reduced cost, eliminating the need for substantial investments in GPUs. The DPI is poised to become a vital resource for startups operating in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and education.

In addition to enhancing computing capacities, the government is actively working on creating datasets. The Information Technology (IT) Ministry released a draft of the National Data Governance Framework Policy in May 2022, proposing the establishment of an India Datasets platform. This platform will house non-personal and anonymized datasets from central government entities, making them accessible to Indian startups and researchers.

Reports also suggest that the government is contemplating directives to major tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon to share anonymized personal data with the India Datasets platform. This move aligns with the government’s commitment to providing valuable data resources for domestic innovation.

The impending AI Mission, with its substantial financial commitment and comprehensive approach, positions India to harness the potential of AI as a driving force for economic growth and innovation in various sectors.

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