Mukesh Ambani says countries will compete over data capital in the future

JioMart Reliance data capital
Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, gestures as he answers a question during a media interaction in New Delhi, India, June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

India’s richest businessman Mukesh Ambani has reiterated the need for a “sound regulation” to protect data and said that countries of the future would compete over data capital.

His comments come at a time when India has begun the process of bringing in its own data law as cabinet had last December approved a draft of the Personal Data Protection Bill.

“We are confident the government will introduce a sound new data regulation framework to ensure data privacy,” said Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, the parent of India’s largest telco, Jio. He was speaking at a virtual artificial intelligence (AI) summit organised by the Indian government. 

The Personal Data Protection Bill has proposed putting restrictions on the use of personal data without explicit consent of Indians. Additionally, it proposes a penalty of up to Rs 15 crore (US$2.05 million) and a jail term for company executives violating data privacy rules.

The government will soon table the Bill in the Budget session of the country’s Parliament. 

Ambani said that India’s economy and society would together generate data at an explosive and exponential rate. “In the past, nations have competed on physical capital, financial capital, human capital and intellectual capital. But, in the coming decades… nations will increasingly compete on digital capital.”

“Data is the raw material for Artificial Intelligence, and Intelligent data is Digital Capital. It is a vital national resource,” Ambani added.

Speaking at the same event, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also stressed on responsible use of AI and protecting the world against weaponisation of AI by non-state actors. 

“It remains our collective responsibility to ensure trust in how AI is used. Algorithm transparency is key to establishing this trust. Equally important is accountability,” Modi said.

Ambani said that India has the unique advantage to harness its enormous “Digital Capital” for AI-driven development, which is bottom-up and inclusive.

He added that the time is ripe for India to become a world leader in Artificial Intelligence. 

“…AI and other associated technologies of the fourth Industrial Revolution will vastly expand our capacity to solve the most complex and pressing problems before India and the world,” he said.

“When 1.3 billion Indians are digitally empowered, they will unleash a proliferation of new digital enterprises that will create faster economic growth, greater prosperity, high-quality employment opportunities, and better standards of living … across all sections of our society,” Ambani added.

Ambani said India was also creating capacity for affordable manufacture of all necessary digital devices, sensors and equipment in our own country, supported by various schemes introduced by the government. 

“…India has also become a leading nation in computing power with its battery of world-class data centres,” he said.

Ambani, who is now the world’s sixth richest man, said that India would maintain its leadership position even in the 5G landscape, having gone from 155th  position in the world to number one in mobile data consumption. 

He also lauded the Indian government’s plan to connect cities, towns and all 600,000 villages through the pan-India optical fibre network. “This will put India among the top nations in fixed broadband as well.”

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