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'There will be jobs even after AI,' says Professor Sadagopan, IIIT-B

Vishal Krishna
15th Nov 2017
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are going to compliment jobs in India, the only question is how will industry and academia partner for that era of tectonic change.

Professor S. Sadagopan needs no introduction. A respected academician in the country, he has taught at an IIT and an IIM. Sadagopan also consults extensively for some of the largest private and public-sector corporations in India in computing, communications, software, automotive, oil and power industries, as well as the social sector.

A member of the board of directors of several private and public-sector corporations, Sadagopan is also a member of the board of studies of several universities. He is currently the director at IIIT-B, where his research is focused on entrepreneurship and technology.

Contrary to what many believe, the academician says Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not a threat to India and adds there will be an ecosystem where jobs will become relevant because engineers will be trained in Machine Learning and AI. He firmly believes academia and the industry need to work together.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Professor S Sadagopan, Director of IIIT-B

YS: The internet has ushered in enormous changes, how are Indian family businesses preparing themselves?

SS: Today, the internet has built services where people don’t really have to own assets. Businesses like Uber, Ola, Oyo Rooms, Flipkart and Amazon have shown that you can build a great business without really owning any asset.

Technology is at the forefront of every industry today and Indians businesses, be it family or corporate, are learning from these global changes. If you look at PayTM, it is a tech company that is competing with banks. Oyo Rooms is competing with some of the larger hotel chains. This is the pace of innovation in today’s world, and the internet has singlehandedly democratised a lot of services.

YS: What about the talk around AI, as a subject of technology and of a debate where experts are saying there will be a lot of chaos going forward?

SS: AI will indeed replace a certain type of jobs. Technology will always replace repetitive jobs. I believe all our country’s SMBs (small and medium businesses) that were starved of talent will see a large influx of people wanting to work for them.

AI will, in fact, compliment jobs, and make systems and processes efficient. You will still have engineers that have to build AI. These technologies, I believe, will democratise the world. People will have access to better healthcare, better governance and better services; AI will customise it for people.

YS: Could you tell me of instances where a business evolves in India for India?

SS: An immediate opportunity that I see is the fact that in cardiac surgery, the heart surgeon need not be present in 95 percent of the cases. They are really needed only 5 percent of the time. Data shows there are several doctors who can manage with guidance of a cardiac surgeon in most cases.

Perhaps the best model is Arvind Eye Care Hospitals, which showed people could walk straight in to the operation theatre without having to go through processes like a normal hospital, where you have to take tests before being admitted.

Similarly, the banking system will be disrupted in India thanks to the fintech revolution. Here, Machine Learning shows these startups can underwrite loans better than banks because they use social and credit history to figure out delinquency of a person or company.

Let me tell you there is an old Indian saying that knowledge alone will keep the nation powerful, and not physical wealth. The good thing is that a lot of current policy makers understand this and you can see the decisions being taken by the current government to put India as the knowledge destination.

YS: What was your message at MeltingPot2020 Innovation Summit?

SS: Academia and industry have to collaborate and work with startups. The two spheres must be aligned with people who are innovating outside of this ecosystem. Innovation cannot happen in isolation. The future is about interfaces. Facebook is a combination of sociology and computing. WhatsApp is a “social” ERP. For the first time in the world AI doctors and engineers are collaborating to create services. I am going to talk about how in the eighties Indians went abroad and worked for corporations and taught in Universities, over the last two decades Indians exported IT Services and today we are building services for the country through the internet. I firmly believe businesses will solve Indian problems. A startup called Travel Khanna provides food for travelling Indians and it is such a big opportunity today, as 33 million Indians travel on trains every day. I believe Indians are going to solve problems which will be used by the world.

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