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25 Feb, 2024 07:47

Google chatbot’s Modi remark sparks controversy

India has accused the tech giant of violating the law after its AI tool responded to a question about the prime minister  
Google chatbot’s Modi remark sparks controversy

New Delhi has accused Google’s Gemini AI tool of violating India’s IT laws and criminal code after it appeared to link Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to ‘fascism,’ in an answer to a question. 

Indian users took to X (formerly Twitter) to draw the government’s attention to Gemini’s response to whether Modi is a “fascist.” The tool replied that the prime minister’s policies have been “characterized as fascist” by experts due to the BJP’s “Hindu nationalist ideology, crackdown on dissent, and its use of violence on religious minorities.” 

In contrast, the tool adopted a milder tone when asked the same questions about former US President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. 

Reacting to the X post, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India’s minister of state for electronic and information technology, claimed that Gemini violated the Information Technology Act and several provisions of the criminal code.

“We’ve worked quickly to address this issue,” Google said in a statement amid the backlash, adding that Gemini is “built as a creativity and productivity tool” and may not “always be reliable.” In response, Chandrasekhar made it clear that invoking the ‘unreliability’ of AI models does not exempt tech platforms from the law. He also warned that India’s digital citizens are “not to be experimented on with unreliable platforms and algorithms.”

India, despite embracing AI for its ability to assist in rapid advancements in healthcare, agriculture, and education, has also been proactive in creating policies to control the impact of the emerging technology. In December, New Delhi issued an advisory mandating that digital and social media platforms communicate content prohibited under IT rules “clearly and precisely” to users. This came after several incidents involving deepfakes triggered an outcry across the country.

The Indian government warned that platforms could lose ‘safe harbor immunity’ and be liable to criminal and judicial proceedings if they fail to implement the prescribed measures.

Speaking at a public forum in December, Chandrasekhar stated, “For the first time, we are transitioning from the abstract concept of self-regulation and diffuse responsibility for safety and trust to legally holding platforms accountable for these principles.” He added that neither the European model nor the American model works for India. “We are striving to demonstrate that there is a hybrid approach, balancing the US model of letting the market regulate with the European model of prioritizing citizens’ rights,” he said.

Google’s Gemini AI program, previously known as ‘Bard’, earlier came under fire in a social media campaign primarily led by US billionaire Elon Musk. Ever since its launch earlier this month, users have accused it of racism, as its image generation tool reportedly fails to show images of white people – apparently due to programming to promote diversity. Amid the backlash, Google announced that the Gemini program will not be allowed to generate images of people, pending a patch.

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