AI & Its Social Impact: India needs a wakeup call on Artificial Intelligence

Rajiv Malhotra | Updated on: Tuesday, April 27, 2021, 11:52 AM IST


Recently, the government of India announced guidelines for social media companies to follow; essentially, they need to appoint employees based in India as ombudsmen to whom complaints, issues will be addressed by the public. This is a good move, because foreign based social media companies have so far behaved in an irresponsible manner.

However, this does not solve the real, deeper problem which is the enormous power vested in the hands of these companies who use the data being collected from the public. This data, called big data in the jargon of artificial intelligence profiles each user including their financial status, relationships, ideologies, emotional states, ideological/faith allegiances, friends and network, their vulnerabilities, their triggers, right down to what they will click while browsing.

This kind of profiling has been examined in great depth in Chapter 4 of my book Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Power. It has been the focus of important discussions and debates in the US and Europe, but unfortunately not in India. This is called emotional, psychological hacking, which strikes at the psychological agency of a person.

I refer to it as the ‘dumbing down’ of the public – while machines are becoming smarter, people are getting dumber and more dependent because they rely on these social media systems for basic self-esteem and communication, including mail, search engines and so on.

The naïve assumption the public makes is that these free services are being given out of the generosity of the big tech companies and hence we ought to be grateful towards them. I refer to this attitude as worshipping Google devata, Twitter devata, Facebook devata, etc. But the reality is that in exchange for these free services, the companies are gathering big data, which is invaluable in training their algorithms that drive artificial intelligence. The purpose of these algorithms is to influence and motivate the behaviour of consumers on behalf of advertisers, and this is how companies make money.

The reason these companies are the richest in the world is because they have captured much of the advertising revenue that used to previously go to newspapers and television but is now diverted to social media. The entire social media economy is based on being able to cleverly send targeted advertising messages to different consumers and shape their behaviour accordingly.

This behaviour modification is not only for commercial advantage of brands, but also for ideologies - one can use these to convince people to vote for a certain candidate, to convert from one religion to another, and so on. Riots can be created, and in fact, have been created not only in India but in Hong Kong, the Middle East and various other places using social media that is propelled by algorithms which are controlled by AI systems.

At the heart of this entire enterprise lies artificial intelligence, which controls algorithms and makes them more intelligent using data; these algorithms control social media’s behaviour towards people including whom to ban, whose voice to amplify, whom to shadow ban, what kind of fake news to initiate and encourage, and so on. Therefore, the future of riots and insurrections and civil wars is an AI battleground.

(Rajiv Malhotra is author of many best-sellers. His latest book “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Power” is summarized at He may be contacted at

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Published on: Tuesday, April 27, 2021, 11:52 AM IST