India can emerge as a dark horse in the world of AI
Thanks to all the machine learning departments by various MNCs in India, we are seeing lot of good and well trained data coming out from these setups who are either taking a plunge to solve real problems or joining other startups.
By Manish Singhal and Umakant Soni
AI is changing the world. In our lifetimes, we have seen a cloud revolution come in, then came in the mobiles. Now is the time for AI revolution. Similar sentiment was expressed by Sundar Pichai recently, when he said "I think we will evolve in computing from a mobile-first to an AI-first world”
The key question is where is this change happening? When it comes to tech revolutions, we have been conditioned to assume that all is happening in the west. Well, this time it is not so. Recently, Zinnov presented a study which says that India is at the forefront of this change – In fact, we in India have the third largest cluster of AI startups in the world – just behind US and UK. Yes, ahead of Israel and China! India could very well be the dark horse in the world of AI.
What is driving this change? We believe that there three major factors which are coming together in resonance to make this happen:
Availability and Affordability of Data
Availability of Data Science Talent
Willingness from Indian Businesses to buy from Indian Startups
For AI to make a realistic difference in any field, availability of high quality data is the key. No matter how good your algorithms are, unless you have high quality and lots of data going through your AI system, your system is likely to produce sub-optimal insights. In India, we have access to lot of data with the recent digitization of various work flows and explosion in the usage of smartphones. Further, it is easier to buy data as well…for example, buying a blood sample in the US costs 5x that of what it does in India.
Thanks to all the machine learning departments by various MNCs in India, we are seeing lot of good and well trained data coming out from these setups who are either taking a plunge to solve real problems or joining other startups. Further, some of the universities in India, for example IIIT Bangalore also have dedicated departments on Machine Learning to enable students specialize early on.
Last but not the least, we are seeing a huge change in how traditional Indian businesses view Indian startups especially in the last couple of years. Businesses in India are willing to try and work with the solutions from startups in India. This is super positive for the Indian eco-system.
We believe that all the three factors are going to get stronger and wider for the Indian eco-system and therefore we will continue to produce good startups in the AI space.
What are the AI / ML startups working on?
India is unique in its own ways. The problems are unique and hence the solutions needs to be unique as well. We are seeing quite a lot of activity in sectors like Health Care, Logistics, FinTech, Enterprise and Retail among others.
Let us take a closer look at a couple of them and see what is happening:
We do believe that this is one area where AI can significantly change the current landscape. There are applications right from superior diagnostic capabilities using computer vision to personalized medication to even growing artificial cells for drug testing and discoveries. In the near term, we will see quite a few attacking the diagnostics space and also sending one personalized suggestions on how to manage your health better. Eventually Robots performing surgeries and usage of artificial tissue will have a deep impact on how health care is done. Again availability of data is key…. luckily we have enough and more coming from social media, mobile phone usage and personalized sensors to give access to valuable personal data (called Dark Data) which can be used to customize insights and automated monitoring. Further, the wave of innovation in diagnostics is happening via patient data (anonymously) becoming accessible via labs who are looking for new disruptive solutions for their customers.
This is another area where India holds a great potential. India is leap frogging in this area – we have gone from zero to 100m mobile wallets in a short span of 12 months, more than 200 million bank accounts have opened in the same time, more than a billion have come on to the Aadhar platform. We have 200m+ smartphone users, growing at a massive rate. With the recent demonetization drive, the digital money will further get a massive push. With so many people on the digital platforms interacting with money, massive amount of financial behaviour data is getting created which will lead to disruptive way of building credit models and other useful insights to be leveraged by startups in the AI space. We are seeing some good work happening in credit model-led B2B and B2C lending, semi-automated risk assessment models and data driven insurance models.
We are also seeing similar data led disruptive work happening in other sectors like logistics, retail, energy management etc. India is in a unique position to leverage the changes happening around us to leapfrog and build AI based solutions to address unique problems in India and global market. Turn your attention away at your risk!
About the authors:
Manish Singhal and Umakant Soni are founding partners at pi Ventures, India's only AI focussed venture fund.
Manish has been an entrepreneur and angel investor before launching pi Ventures. He founded LetsVenture and played integral roles in Sling Media and Ittiam before this. He is known for his hands-on product centric approach to investing.
Umakant has been an entrepreneur in AI. He build a chat-bot several years back. He spend his formative years in Wipro launching several intra-company ventures.