In 2018, the Indian billionaire brothers Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani began to think about how they could harness AI to help solve global development challenges, especially in countries where people were living on less than $5 a day. To find out, Romesh and Sunil—who are founder and chairman of SAIGroup and founder of the WISH foundation respectively—decided to team up, funneling $30 million to the creation of a nonprofit institute, Wadhwani AI. ($60 million has been committed to date.)
Today the Mumbai-based institute is one of the few that exclusively devotes its AI development to pioneering an ecosystem of scalable AI solutions in sectors like health care, education, and agriculture for underserved communities by partnering with governments in the Global South. The effort includes a new $5 million program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We thought that in the U.S., China, and Europe, AI is being leveraged to help people who are already well-off,” says Sunil Wadhwani, “but maybe we can make India the global leader in applying AI for social good.”
Six years in, some of these solutions are starting to emerge. In April, the institute announced a range of AI programs to predict high-risk and mortality among tuberculosis patients in over 100 public-health facilities in the northern state of Haryana. (India has more than a quarter of the estimated TB cases worldwide, with an estimated 504,000 people dying from it in 2021.) One program uses AI to interpret blood-test results to determine drug resistance to tuberculosis, while another detects abnormalities in ultrasounds to predict a patient’s likelihood of testing positive for the disease. A third solution tries to offer decisionmaking support for caregivers by using datasets to predict if a patient is likely to complete treatment—based on indicators like age, gender, location, and the time between diagnosis and treatment initiation—against the corresponding outcomes for nearly half a million tuberculosis patients across the country.
The institute has also partnered with the Indian government to launch a clinical-decision-support system that helps physicians and frontline workers diagnose faster based on datasets. “In just 90 days, that system is now being used for over 4 million consultations a month,” Sunil says.
The Wadhwani brothers say India, with a diverse population of 1.4 billion, perfectly suits the Institute’s mission of altruistic research. “Other countries simply don’t have the combination of capabilities or opportunities that India has,” says Romesh Wadhwani.
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