Article by Ajoy Bose
Ajoy Bose is a veteran print journalist, television commentator and author who has written several books on politics, social movements and culture. His latest book Across the Universe: The Beatles in India inspired his debut as director of the award winning documentary The Beatles and India. He has also been involved over the past two decades in political advocacy and messaging on public health helping bring together various stakeholders to devise a common strategy.
Amandeep Singh Gill, the new technology envoy of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has outstanding credentials for the job.
“As an engineer, I understand digital technologies. As a science diplomat, I understand the policy choices and tradeoffs around them. I have successfully navigated political undercurrents around technologies in bilateral and multilateral negotiations. In my recent work, I have developed a solid understanding of how to leverage digital transformations responsibly and inclusively for progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). My previous experience in human rights and humanitarian affairs as well as in peace and security implies that I can relate to technology’s impact across all the three pillars of the UN”, is the remarkable Indian diplomat’s own resume.
Indeed at a time when both the challenges and opportunities posed by digital technology have become increasingly relevant across the world Ambassador Gill appears to be the ideal candidate to deal with its interaction with the UN’s three pillars – Human Rights, Peace and Security and Development.
Till recently he was the Project Director and CEO of the International Digital Health & Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Collaborative (I-DAIR), a new pioneering international platform to promote inclusive, impactful and responsible AI research and development of digital technologies for health. Ambassador Gill was also Executive Director and co-Lead of the Secretariat of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation until August 2019 helping prepare its final report. He previously served as India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
Amandeep Singh Gill joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1992 and had important postings at Indian Missions in Tehran, Colombo, and Geneva. From 2013-2016, he served as Head of the Disarmament and International Security Affairs Division in the Ministry of External Affairs. In 2017, he helped set up the National Task Force on AI for India’s Economic Transformation. Ambassador Gill chaired the Group of Governmental Experts of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapon systems from 2017-2018. He has served on the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters and on the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Values, Ethics, and Innovation and was a member of the GFC on Global Public Goods.
Ambassador Gill has a B Tech in electronics and electrical communications from Punjab University, Chandigarh, an Advanced Diploma in French History and Language from Geneva University and a doctorate from King’s College London on Nuclear Learning in Multilateral Forums.
His special skills and expertise are admired by other Indian diplomats who take pride in his rise as a global thought leader in digital technology. “Amandeep is an unusual diplomat. He has a passion for technology and has done great work over the years on how it can be used for positive transformation of the world while limiting its misuse” declared a colleague who had worked with him on disarmament.
While Ambassador Gill’s engagement with digital technology has been wide and longstanding it is the key role he played as the Project Director and Chief Executive Officer of the I-DAIR to promote Artificial Intelligence and a wide variety of digital technologies to bolster public healthcare that is of particular interest to Health Issues India.
In an interview to the Lancet and Financial Times, the I-DAIR chief described the Digital Cooperation Panel report as “both timely and pertinent” pointing out that the Covid pandemic had underlined the need to leverage digital technology to transform our health systems so that they are better prepared for future pandemics and that they deliver better quality for less money and become more impactful and inclusive in the coverage of health care.
The two main takeaways from the report for I-DAIR he said were “one we would like to be even more collaborative and trans-disciplinary in our work across the globe engaging in particular with young innovators, young researchers from the global South; two we would like to double down moving towards data for health as a public good both nationally and globally so that data is not parked in silos, data is not monopolised by any actor and is available for the greater good, well being and good health of our society”.
Ambassador Gill pointed out that while there were a number of experiences from around the world on how digital technologies particularly its latest manifestation Artificial Intelligence is reshaping finance and financial institutions there has not been much thinking on how this could impact health systems and the well being of future generations.
Elaborating on the use of Artificial Intelligence in transforming public health he said that “it is currently seen as a tool to transform diagnostics, to transform treatment, transform the management of hospital systems and transform how drugs are being discovered, how they are tested so it is a very very broad impact that people are engaged on. What’s most exciting is the opportunity to rethink on the how of health service delivery, the how of empowering patients and physicians to take up responsibility for well being and for the human power aspect of treatment because there is a tendency that we may slide to a situation where we may lose human agency with the use of these technologies, to hand over responsibility to AI systems. And at the same time there is the opportunity that it frees you up for more human centered treatment and approaches to health”.
For India where digital technologies are expected to play a key role in its future strategy to cope with the challenge of drastically improving the quality of healthcare in such a vast and diverse country handicapped by a huge financial resource crunch the new tech envoy of the UN Secretary General will be an important ally. The government would do well to be guided by his experience and expertise on matters relating to digital technology as well as his innovative and flexible approach to ensure the primacy of human involvement in healthcare and most of all his determination to regulate digital tools in a manner that lessens rather than increase the existing inequities in public health across India and elsewhere in the world.