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Microsoft CEO Nadella says India ready to build Mass-scale Applications


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the kind of IT infrastructure India has built and the artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that are now available enable the country to build “India-scale” applications that can dramatically improve the quality and reach of education, healthcare, credit and more.

In a 45-minute discussion with Nandan Nilekani, one of the architects of the country’s IT infrastructure, Nadella said such power and capability was not available earlier.

He pointed out that Microsoft had analysed the call centre data of all citizen services in Punjab to identify major public problems. He cited Microsoft’s work with the Andhra Pradesh government that used machine learning to identify the reasons for students dropping off from high school. Such public-private partnerships, he said, can significantly empower the billion-plus people in India.

The IT infrastructure referred to include Aadhaar, the united payment interface (UPI) that has enabled apps like Bhim that allow bank transfers in a jiffy, the eKYC (electronic know your customer) that has enabled those like Reliance Jio to enroll customers in 2-3 minutes, and eSign that allows any document to be signed electronically using Aadhaar.

Nilekani, who was chairman of UIDAI (which built Aadhaar) and who has been involved in building some of the other parts of the infrastructure – collectively called `India stack’ – said unless people see technology materially improving their living standards, there could be a backlash against it from society, “like we see in the US now” (a reference to Donald Trump’s victory).

“Everybody’s data can be used – with their consent – for improving their living standards and it can have a profound impact,” Nilekani said, and reassured Nadella that everything had been built with the highest standards of security.

Nadella said he was also overwhelmed by the entrepreneurial spirit in India, and said Indian startups working in the AI space were changing lives and solving everyday problems.

Nilekani said that to provide education and healthcare to millions of people by increasing the number of teachers and doctors would take a long time. On the other hand, through technology, people in remote places can quickly be provided the same quality of education and healthcare usually available in big cities, he said. Nilekani now also runs an NGO called EkStep that is looking to help 200 million students in rural areas to get the same standard of education that is available in cities using AI.
Nadella said it might still not be possible to “write like Rabindranath Tagore” using AI, but noted that advances in AI, combined with the power of the cloud, today enables the building of extremely powerful apps.


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