Microsoft on Wednesday announced plans to train millions of people in India with skills in artificial intelligence, as countries and companies ramp up investment to future-proof workers and capitalize on the opportunities provided by a technology experts warn will kill off jobs and deepen inequality.
The company said the training, which will be delivered in conjunction with governments, nonprofit and corporate organizations and communities, will help the future workforce “harness AI’s potential.”
The initiative will focus on training people in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities—emerging urban areas with smaller populations than major settlements like Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad—as well as rural areas, Microsoft said.
This includes partnering with national and state governments to give basic and advanced AI training to 500,000 students and job seekers, “in-depth AI technical skills training” for 100,000 young women and raising awareness of responsible AI use and AI-enabled careers for 400,000 students in schools in remote and tribal regions.
Nadella, a native of India who took the helm at Microsoft a decade ago, said the country is “uniquely positioned to make the promise of AI a reality,” adding that Microsoft is committed to helping “close the nation’s AI skills gap and create new opportunity.”
“AI is really in the air now,” Nadella reportedly said when delivering his keynote address to industry leaders in Mumbai. It is “going to have an impact on GDP,” he said, urging countries to invest heavily in the transformative technology. He likened the potential social and economic dividends from investing in AI today to how the UK transformed its prospects by pumping 10% of GDP into railways during the industrial revolution. “The rest is history,” he said.
Companies and countries alike are battling to stay relevant in an era of increasingly capable AI. While recent technological advances in generative AI—which can create content like music, writing or even discover new drugs—promise huge economic and social benefits ranging from boosting worker productivity, freeing up time and better healthcare, experts also warn it is likely worsen inequality and kill off jobs if not governed wisely, with benefits accruing to a select few people and companies. Some of the tech world’s biggest figures, including Tesla cofounder Elon Musk, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak and OpenAI’s Sam Altman, warn AI also poses a risk to very the survival of humanity and could be deployed in a number of malicious ways. Many warn of a potential race to the bottom as companies try to develop AI products quickly and stake a claim in what is shaping up to become one of the most lucrative industries in history. Though companies and researchers have worked on AI for decades, the stellar success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT fired the proverbial starting gun on this race. Microsoft, which has invested billions in OpenAI, is positioning itself as a frontrunner and has begun to integrate AI through its product line.
Microsoft became the second company to ever top a $3 trillion valuation last month. It joins Apple, which passed the milestone last summer. The landmark coincides with the company’s broad rally on a wave of interest in AI, though the company is something of a rarity among big firms in managing to translate that interest into financial success.
Nadella’s announcement builds on Microsoft’s pledge to train 100,000 developers in AI tools and technologies in India last month. It is part of a scheme, called ADVANTA(I)GE INDIA, that Microsoft says will help “create AI fluency” among India’s workforce, government officials and develop AI capacity in nonprofit organizations.
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