Artificial intelligence could be critical to India's economic advancement, says PwC

28 May 2018 5 min. read
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As robotics and automation seep deeper into every aspect of daily life in India and across the world, global professional services firm PwC argues that the phenomenon will drive India’s economic growth over the next few years. Among other revelations, the firm finds that more than 80% of customer service interactions will be conducted by artificial intelligence by as soon as 2020.

The rapid advancement of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) has received a fairly mixed response from the business environment across the world. Aspects of the technology that enhance existing operations by performing previously impossible functions have been welcomed with open arms, given their potential to boost output. This complementary scenario has come to be known as Industry 4.0. 

On the other hand, the ability of robotic technology to perform an increasing number of functions that have previously been carried out by human beings has bred fear and uncertainty amongst the working population across the world. There is broad consensus amongst analysts that AI will replace a large portion of the existing share of jobs.

The consulting industry – particularly the Big Four professional services firms – have been active in their efforts to determine what the economy will look like under this new paradigm. According to EY, while a number of jobs will become obsolete with the advent of AI, a number of new hybrid jobs will emerge requiring collaborative work between humans and robots.

Now, fellow Big Four firm PwC has chimed in with its analysis of the AI scenario, with an overview of its effect on various dimensions of the economy, and a specific emphasis on the sector where it is likely to have the greatest impact, i.e. customer service. The report has been developed in association with ASSOCHAM, and is titled ‘Advance artificial intelligence for growth.’

Concerns around AI-run customer service

According the report, the advancement of AI in India is set to gain substantial momentum over the next few years, primarily due to increasing government involvement in the sector, both in terms of research & development as well as creating favourable economic conditions for the same.

As a result, automation will seep into nearly every sector of the economy. The manufacturing sector, for instance, is looking to significantly ramp up its production volumes under the ‘Make in India’ campaign, and will benefit from the machine learning techniques, wherein automated technology identifies recurring inefficiencies and automatically improves them over time. 

Similar demand for AI can be seen in India’s healthcare sector, given the substantial gap between the number of healthcare professionals and the number of people in need of care. Optimised diagnostic techniques can substantially reduce the load on practitioners and allow them to expand the number of patients that they tend to.

The pressure exerted by sheer size of the population can similarly be eased in the education sector, while the expanding financial services and consumer retail sectors – born out of an increasingly prosperous economy – also stand to gain from the operational optimisation offered by AI. 

Concerns and challenges

Customer service is one area that cuts across all industries, and one that is likely to be most significantly impacted by AI advancement. As per the report, robots are likely to take over 85% of customer service interactions over the next two years, which might do wonders for efficiency, but also creates a new set of problems.

Barriers to AI integration in India

66% of the respondents to PwC’s survey, for instance, stated that robotic customer services would lead to the loss of the all important human touch in a business. Others are yet to build their trust in robotics – evident from the fact that 27% of the respondents state that AI would not be accurate in solving problems.

Another major concern is that AI would be too invasive in its approach, resulting in a loss of privacy. The difficulty in operating AI technologies, their susceptibility to malfunctioning, and the consequent waste of time are some of the other causes for hesitation amongst respondents. 

Outside of the customer services domain, respondents to the survey identified other key challenges that might slow the benefits derived from AI. 20% of the respondents, for instance, believe that the costs of AI are still to high for Indian businesses, while 14% believe that Indian firms still lack the technical ability to integrate the technology.

An interesting challenge – highlighted by 12% of the respondents – is that data gathered by robotic technology will tend to be quantitative in nature, lacking the ability to account for quality. Other concerns that are commonly cited revolve around the lack of trust in AI due to the fact that there are still ‘too many unknowns.’