‘Digital public infrastructure is re-christened as digital public intelligence’: Global Technology Summit

December 4, 2023


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Digital Public Infrastructure, which consists of digital ID, digital payments, and data sharing, is now being “re-christened” as Digital Public Intelligence, where AI plays a key role in “accelerating what DPIs have started.”

Speaking at the Global Technology Summit in India today, Infosys co-founder and India’s Aadhaar digital ID architect Nandan Nilekani said that the country was entering a new phase of DPI with the introduction of AI.

“I think you all probably thought that DPI was digital public infrastructure, but now it’s digital public intelligence, so we have re-christened it today, so welcome to the christening”

Nandan Nilekani, Global Technology Summit, December 2023

In his keynote address entitled, “Digital Public Intelligence: What comes next for DPIs and AI in India?” Nilekani declared that he was “re-christening” the term “digital public infrastructure” as “digital public intelligence.”

“The seamless transition from the DPI world of digital public infrastructure to the new world of digital public intelligence — that’s our thesis”

Nandan Nilekani, global Technology Summit, December 2023

“DPIs have brought us to this point,” said Nilekani, adding, “now AI, with its ability to reduce complexity and make knowledge accessible, and with its ability to generate content [will] actually take us further on.”

As an example of digital public intelligence, Nilekani emphasized the ability of AI to overcome language barriers in India, highlighting the translation of 20,963 judgments and 24 million sentences into regional languages for the country’s supreme court.

Other examples of digital public intelligence already in place in India include:

  • AI assisted language learning in schools (ALL)
  • Conversational payments in regional languages where users transact through voice (Hello UPI)
  • An AI chatbot for farmers (Kisan-eMitra) to address general queries and grievances over a government direct benefit transfer scheme (PM-Kisan) that uses facial recognition and digital ID for authentication

Nilekani said that the idea of AI-powered digital public intelligence was meant to augment people and not to replace them.

His keynote comes one month after the United Nations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched their 50-in-5 campaign to accelerate digital public infrastructure in 50 countries by 2028.

“When intelligence is digitalized, domesticated, and colonized for commercial benefit, it devalues our individual and collective Public Intelligence”

Sherin Mathew, Public Intelligence, 2020

On a more philosophical level, the idea of linking public intelligence with human rights in the face of digital transformation was put forth two years ago by AI strategist, ethicist, and serial entrepreneur Sherin Mathew, who argued that humanity was losing its individual and collective intelligence in the face of new technologies.

In October 2020, Mathew founded Smart Ethics — an ethics management product derived from research on, which describes itself as “an open and democratic ethics management platform to bring the right to intelligence, fairness, sustainability, and accountability with technology.”

“The right to intelligence,” according to the platform, is “the right to protect human intellectual capabilities from being displaced by intelligent innovative systems.

“When replacing human intelligence with a machine, we create social, economic, and political risk and imbalances which will inevitably lead to inequitable global chaos and discrimination.”

“There is a much-needed awareness that will reshape the world for the good of all, not just big technology firms. A secret that we should all be aware of but have failed to see due to the commercial nature of all innovations out there today. A concept we did not realize that existed, that we all have rights to our own intelligence. And that’s Public Intelligence”

Sherin Mathew, “Public Intelligence: Empowering Accountable and Ethical Innovations“, June 2021

According to the Public Intelligence website:

Almost every day we lose our individual and collective intelligence, due to the introduction of rapid innovation and cutting-edge technology, Automation, AI, Robotics and Extended Reality (XR).

This can transform us into being less human and more digital

When intelligence is digitalized, domesticated, and colonized for commercial benefit, it devalues our individual and collective Public Intelligence.

The lack of public awareness about the reality of this is now negatively impacting our human intellectual capabilities and our sense of purpose.”

While Nilekani spoke of digital public intelligence as a means to augment and not replace humans, Mathews warned how it could also be used for “extreme profiling, market monopoly, inequality, and power concentration.”

The Public Intelligence website warns of “hyper-augmentation” where “convenience comes at the price of the loss of our natural intelligence.”

“Intelligent innovations are great, and we have rapidly innovated over the past few decades making complex tasks such as accounting or designing easy by a click of a button or simply going with the suggested recommendations.

“This is known as Hyper-Augmentation and we see this everywhere in websites, apps, and software.

“But all this convenience and seemingly cool new technology comes at the price of the loss of our natural intelligence.

“We are sleepwalking into a new problem where everything can be done by the click of a button, which means tomorrow, even the click could be fully automated.”

“Everybody should have a digital ID; everybody should have a bank account; everybody should have a smartphone”

Nandan Nilekani, IMF ‘Digital Public Infrastructure: Stacking Up the Benefits”, April 2023

Earlier this year, Nilekani spoke at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a panel about digital public infrastructure in which he said:

“If you think, ‘what are the tools of the New World?‘ — Everybody should have a digital ID; everybody should have a bank account; everybody should have a smartphone.

Then, anything can be done. Everything else is built on that.”

After promoting digital public infrastructure for years, Nilekani declared today that the term had been re-christened as Digital Public Intelligence.

However, it is likely that the phrase “digital public infrastructure” will continue to be used as it was a major theme of this year’s G20 ambitions, along with the 50-in-5 DPI campaign launched in November, which will probably keep the term relevant for at least the next five years.


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