Ashwini Asokan, CEO of Mad Street Den, talks about AI in India and women in tech

7th Oct 2016
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Ashwini Asokan, CEO of Mad Street Den, was part of a panel discussion on ‘The #1 surprising thing that can kill your startup, and how to conquer it’ at the seventh edition of YourStory TechSparks. I had a brief chat with her after the session, where we spoke about topics that are similar and yet diverse like ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) in India’ and ‘Women in Tech’. Ashwini is a reverse expatriate who left Silicon Valley to start an AI company in India. As a woman in technology who doesn’t code, she certainly does not fit any stereotype. A trained classical dancer, her thesis at Carnegie Mellon was on movement grammars, exploring how cultural forms of dance can help design movement into robots and other digital agents.

Ashwini

 

On the AI scene in India

“AI in India is still in very early days. I think the technology is not lacking here, and there are a lot of AI tools available in India, which can be used to build things. The problem is that people are not willing to go deep and gain an in-depth knowledge of the technology. Before jumping and saying I am an expert, I wish people take time to explore this science. This is the reason that despite the talent, when compared to Germany, France or even China for that matter, we have not been able to scale up in the field. People are looking for quick fixes and it’s not a field where you can do that, because jugaad in AI is a horrible thing and the quality cannot be compromised. The general mentality of chalta hai needs to go.”

On women in tech

“Women in tech is not a bad word. There are a lot of us that stay up day in and day out and ensure that our voices are heard. However, I think that we have a long way to go before we are equally represented. And every little event, every little panel, every meet up matters in getting us noticed. I think once the representation improves, we will just be seen as ‘people in tech’ and not ‘women in tech’. I also hope that companies show the initiative to create a supportive system for women to stay and not drop out just because the system is stacked against them.”

Ashwini had previously spoken to YourStory about how startups can improve their employee gender ratio by making the work space women-friendly. She stated:

Startup spaces too are predominantly male. For example, startups pick up foosball tables, console games and shiny cafes to nursing rooms and child care centres.”

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