The international significance of India's Digital Public Infrastructure

An image of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India, illustrating how India's DPI is transforming the country

India's DPI is transforming the country and creating a ripple effect elsewhere Image: Photo by Sean Robertson on Unsplash

Amitabh Kant
Satwik Mishra
Vice President (Content), Centre for Trustworthy Technology
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  • India's Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is making international waves.
  • India's DPI has transformed the Indian economy, bolstered productivity and supported equitable growth.
  • India’s DPI has been endorsed by multiple countries and international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and most recently the G20, as they look to replicate its success.

India's expertise in using technology to boost socio-economic development is now recognized worldwide. The country has built a Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) that includes a digital identification layer called Aadhar; a payments system running as a Unified Payment Interface; and, a data exchange layer in its Account Aggregator, amongst other services. These functions have been curated as foundational layers to build, iterate and innovate upon.

The combination of these interventions has transformed the Indian economy, bolstered productivity and supported equitable growth. Now, India’s DPI has been endorsed by multiple countries and international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and most recently the G20.

The core of India’s DPI's embedded design functions is based on robustness, reliability, safety and security. It adheres to principles of accountability, collaboration, open standards, transparency and interoperability to prevent vendor lock-in for consumers. Various industry players have embraced and innovated upon this infrastructure to enable online, paperless, cashless and privacy-respecting digital access to a variety of services for Indian citizens.

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India's DPI provides a host of benefits

India's DPI has diversified consumer choice, incentivized entrepreneurship, advanced competition, prevented dependency on service providers, improved quality of life for individuals and enhanced opportunities for businesses to fairly operate in the economy. These mirror outcomes that are being pursued while conceptualizing regulatory models for AI across multiple countries.

There is a global consensus that AI holds the potential to trigger deep-seated transformations in society. Using responsible design, development and deployment, AI can help guarantee clean air and water, promote public health, enhance equity in education, contribute to inclusive governance and unlock new frontiers of innovation to become a driving force for inclusive growth. Drawing from the design and implementation principles of India’s DPI ecosystem, a thriving, reliable and trustworthy AI ecosystem can be curated.

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Going global

To achieve this, first, we must prioritize developing a globally-staged platform for collaboration amongst all stakeholders. We must build focused, outcome-oriented and tangible partnerships between the private sector and governments to collectively work together in a forward-thinking manner.

There's been significant recognition of the pressing need to establish a reliable AI ecosystem. This urgency was evident in the recent G7 summit and through G20 discussions over the last year and they will undoubtedly persist under India's leadership of the Global Partnership on AI. It is crucial to understand, however, that there is little merit in building silos of safe AI market economies in today's interconnected world. We must take a global approach. We need governments, civil society, academia and, crucially, industry at the forefront of this dialogue to keep AI safe.

Creating global standards for AI

Secondly, this global collaboration must channel its efforts to develop an agile standardization framework that iterates as the technology does, while ensuing certification and validation regimes for any new AI models. These standards must focus on reliability, safety, security, transparency, innovation and, as importantly, accountability of these systems. We have the evolution of first-generation technology (1G) to 5G and now 6G standardization upon which to draw inspiration. Responsible and future-facing standards agreed upon across the globe will ensure a flourishing trustworthy AI ecosystem. There are various best practices being developed and already in use that can embed standards, such as risk assessments and security audits at the design and development stages of AI models, as well as the deployment stage.

Thirdly, we must incentivize and require openness and transparency from the industry. We need a shared understanding of the immense opportunity and risks that this transformative technology presents. We can draw inspiration from the globally agreed-upon frameworks established in the biotechnology sector. The global biotechnology sector has consistently made breakthroughs in research, but concomitantly actioned and calibrated prudence in the introduction of products to the public. We need similar protocols for AI, emphasizing thorough vetting and gradual deployment to avoid unanticipated adverse impacts. In this era of pole-vault advancements, robust checks and balances are not just preferable — they are vital for the long-term health and sustainability of our societies.

Finally, governments must start investing in envisaging new policy levers to intervene in their domestic economies. The speed with which we have seen AI develop, often with emergent capabilities that astonish the developers themselves, means that policymakers must simultaneously become agile, iterative, responsible and responsive to aid in the continuous oversight of developments in AI. There are laudable initiatives underway in Europe with the AI Act and in the USA with its voluntary safeguards, and across other regions. With the nature of this technology, however, policymakers must remain engaged and agile to intervene with responsible and responsive policy measures based on industry developments.

The lessons learned from the success of India's DPI ecosystem could form the bedrock of a globally thriving AI ecosystem where accountability, cooperation, agile standards, transparency and progressive public policy meet. The future of AI is ours to shape responsibly, iteratively and inclusively, ensuring a balanced trajectory that propels public interest and innovation. Let's harness AI’s potential to be a transformative force for global societal advancement, cognizant of the risks and the immense opportunities that lie ahead.

Amitabh Kant is the G20 Sherpa for India. Satwik Mishra is Vice President (Content), Centre for Trustworthy Technology, a World Economic Forum Fourth Industrial Revolution Centre. Views expressed are personal.

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