‘Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested ….’ When Francis Bacon tried to make this distinction, he advised that few books are to be read with diligence and attention for they are invaluable. But he could not have foreseen that there can be one more factor for classification – scary!

Rajiv Malhotra’s Artificial Intelligence & Future of Power is one such book that shakes and scares you. No, he has not written about aliens or ghosts but what the future may actually hold for all of us in this world itself. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can sting. The term AI remains a little-understood phenomenon and most of us take it to be the way it’s depicted in science fictions. Apart from discussing the elementary understanding that the masses have about artificial intelligence, there are several other dimensions of AI which Malhotra touches upon in his book. He writes with proofs and evidence patterns, he quotes AI leaders and big data company owners and then identifies five battlegrounds in his book.

The unleashing of technology through AI will render people jobless simply because they will be deficient in the skill sets needed to work on AI. As well as with AI. Also, contrary to the popular belief, AI will not create more jobs – rather, it will replace less skilled humans as personnel working on AI need to have a certain specific set of skills. At almost every level of ‘work’, AI will replace a certain amount of human workforce to increase production efficiency.

This will widen the already existing socio-economic gap and given the population of India, increased AI usage will lead to serious law & order situation, says the author. Malhotra goes on to the extent of predicting that the world may someday discuss de-populating the earth by eliminating the masses – a ghastly foresight.

Now contemplate a situation where you want to write on social media about the issue of social justice or gender equality and how these notions significantly differ in India from what is applicable in west, but you get a notice that your post contains ‘objectionable material’ so it can’t be published. This might sound familiar but ever wondered how and why it happens? Malhotra has answered it in his book. Social media is driven by algorithms and these algorithms are managed by AI, which in turn is managed by people who have their own biases as they have been born, brought up, trained and made to cherish the western universal notions of everything.

This can largely subvert democracy because democracies have fault-lines. Even a popularly elected mass leader is bound to have critics. But what if AI-driven algorithms started to flag the popular leader’s social media posts as a handful of critics find it to be objectionable? It has already happened in the USA with Trump. AI can, thus, undermine an individual, even a very powerful one.

Big tech companies sit on a mountain of data. Machine learning systems have some implicit and explicit values, norms and ideals that train the algorithms. Analysing an individual’s clicks on social media regarding his likes and dislikes, a pattern can be recognized and predicted and the individual can be easily manipulated accordingly. AI here acts as a force multiplier that strengths whatever values and policies are embedded within it. Specific narratives can be controlled and manipulated by AI. This can result in digital colonisation.

In his earlier books, Rajiv Malhotra has pointed to the western bias and the population parameters through which the west weighs the rest of the world, including India. The disdain western intellectuals and our very own brown intellectuals have for bhartiyata is an offshoot of viewing everything through the western lens. This is what makes yog gross and yoga cool! Western universalism (an assumption built into western thought that are projected as being universally applicable, even though, in reality they are specific to the history and worldviews of the west) has no room for accommodation and in worldview, all the modern self-proclaimed progressive values emanate from the west.

In his latest work, Malhotra lays out how urgently India needs to develop an Indian grand narrative that will serve as the base for its own AI platforms. India currently relies on obsolete European socialist and liberal theories and that is why the social science models taught here are western frameworks that are used to interpret Indian society. Masses in India are not even remotely concerned by AI. I they have heard of it, they vaguely identify with a robot, the sci-fi kind. Malhotra points out that in India, the public concerns over AI-related issues are at the level where concerns for global warming were a quarter of a century ago.

Worst of all, the State seems to be indifferent to this obvious threat. Malhotra mentions that other than the Indian military and the few baby steps taken by the Government thinktank NITI Aayog, no one seems interested. Social Science academics are embarrassed to even discuss AI as they lack even a basic understanding of AI and the general population is ignorant. That’s why Rajiv Malhotra’s book opens with a quote from Ramayana, ‘it is extremely easy to find people who speak pleasantly. But it is rare to find people who speak and hear true words even when they’re not pleasing to the ears’. Hope this book wakes India from its slumber.

-Kanishk Shekhar