AI and Ethics for the Indian Context

Exploring legal/semantic differences between Western and Indian notions of fairness

PI(s): Sudarsan Padmanabhan and Balaraman Ravindran


An ethical framework in the field of AI should not be a mere appendage to its technological aspects. Rather, ethical understanding should be treated as an important aspect of the reasoning and rationalization of the impact of AI on the society. Ethical violations in AI processes, especially in areas such as health, education, financial markets, economy, housing and transportation could result in massive disruptions in the lives of a large number of people on a scale, hitherto, unimagined. In the Indian context, AI is steadily entering various sectors and will soon be ubiquitous. Questions regarding the nature and scope of the impact of AI on the lives of ordinary citizens of India abound. While ethical concerns of AI is an active area of research in Europe, US and elsewhere, given the unique nature of society in India, we would need to initiate research ourselves. Some of the questions that we will address in this project are:

  1. In a country as diverse as India with mind-boggling variations in language, culture, food, customs and manners, region, society and religion, can AI successfully negotiate the labyrinth without being unfair to any one group or an individual? While there have been attempts to make AI algorithms fair with respect to a small number of protected attributes, what mechanisms can we adopt to ensure more complex constraints are met. Typically we cannot expect the data to implicitly capture these notions of fairness and would need to operate with an exogenous knowledge source.

  2. The concept of social justice has been India’s singular socio-economic initiative aimed towards the disadvantaged people of the society. Considerations of social justice have even been introduced in the Constitution of India to create a level playing field for those who have suffered social discrimination for millennia. Can AI based systems incorporate principles of social justice in their rationalizations for example in admission and selection process? What would it take to build a system that can explain decisions on the basis of principles of social justice?

  3. How much appreciation is there among the end users and general public about the wide-ranging impact of AI? Do they realize how the adoption of AI in certain crucial sectors can fundamentally change how things operate now? To this end, we will do a case study in the health sector. The objective of the case study is to evaluate the exposure of doctors, nurses and other health professionals to the concept of AI in medical industry. The sample will be collected from one General Government Hospital, one specialized facility in cardio, neuro, or cancer research and a reputed private hospital in Chennai and will cover doctors, healthcare workers, patients/caregivers and administrators.