The former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, Nandan Nilekani in his acceptance speech of the Nikkei Prize 2017 on June 4 praised the Aadhar ID system by saying that it has been designed like a platform of innovation.

“The Aadhaar ID system has been designed like a platform of innovation, like the internet or GPS. Early signs are emerging of various innovative uses of the platform… This has been enabled by creating a set of layers above the JAM infrastructure, which allows presence-less and paperless applications,” he said.

Nilekani said that having worked in Infosys for almost 28 years, he had talked about the benefit of getting every Indian a unique ID and he was finally given a chance to implement that by then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009 by letting him lead this project. He added that there were two purposes of Aadhaar: inclusion and efficiency. Nilekani said that he believed having such a platform would have helped people who had migrated.

However, given the size and diversity of India, Nilekani said the project faced several challenges like establishing the uniqueness and to establish the scale of speed. “The project faced several challenges. The first was how we establish uniqueness… This had to be done without most people having a “root” document like a birth certificate. It was decided that the only way to do so was by biometric deduplication. This meant taking a person’s biometric (in this case, the fingerprints of both hands and the iris prints of both eyes) and comparing them to the entire set to ensure a person was not in the database twice,” he said.

“The second challenge was scale at speed. To cover a billion people, the system had to do more than one million enrollments a day. Moreover, it required at peak time more than 30,000 enrollment stations… Scale in the technology was achieved by using an internet class open source software-based architecture,” he added. Nilekani added that advanced mobile-to-mobile payment platform called UPI (Unified Payment Interface) will further boost India towards a cashless economy.

Talking about the challenges faces by developed countries, Nilekani said they can be solved in a sustainable way, by using technology wisely. He revealed his plans to start a societal platform with his wife Rohini for the same. “My wife Rohini and I are funding one such societal platform as a philanthropic initiative called EkStep to make learning opportunities widely available. Being selected for this very prestigious Nikkei Prize has reinvigorated our efforts to solve social challenges leveraging technology,” he concluded.

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