Has the AI and IoT Revolution Hit India?
By Melissa Cyrill
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) dominate Ericsson ConsumerLab’s annual trends report for 2017 – a direct reflection of the explosive proliferation of advanced technological implements for every realm in our lives, from our homes to the workplace to our smartphones to culture and entertainment. Today, consumers, IT companies, scientists, and manufacturing firms – all overlap in their acknowledgement, acceptance, and adoption of automated technologies, applications, and self-thinking machines. Above and beyond, these are seen to enhance the modern lifestyle, reduce operating costs, and accelerate the pace of invention and innovation.
In other words, AI, IoT, virtual reality (VR), and merged reality (MR) have altogether disrupted the two-dimensional interface of internet communications technology (ICT) and its application in our lives.
Not So Futuristic Anymore: Rise of AI and IoT in India
India is not immune to these seismic changes as is evident in the remarkable growth of startups and the sudden reorientation and investments of its leading technological companies. New opportunities in AI and machine learning in real-time and advanced analytics have attracted several Indian entrepreneurs. This is because almost every sector – retail, fashion, education, banking, or manufacturing – has scope to use artificial intelligence to innovate, improve standards of production, or customize services to provide maximum customer satisfaction. AI and relatedly, IoT, have changed the ways of doing business.
India is already the third largest base for tech startups in the world with over 4,100 startup enterprises, which is poised to grow to 11,500 by 2020. Most recently, Microsoft’s startup incubator Microsoft Accelerator and top Indian tech firm Wipro entered into a partnership aiming to provide startups with more go-to-market (GTM) opportunities to innovate and grow their businesses.
The following are some of the leading AI startups in India, catering to niche areas across the services and industry sectors:
AIndra Systems – Incorporated in 2012, it is focused on creating computer vision and machine learning based products. AIndra’s patent-pending Face-Recognition (FR) technology powers its smartphone based product, ‘SmartAttendance Enterprise’, which works even without internet connectivity using the ‘Store-and-Forward’ mechanism. ‘Drishti’, AIndra’s Face-Recognition platform, can authenticate the users of certain services by verifying the individual’s identity against their government issued identification such as the Aadhaar Card, and could therefore be viable for public sector applications such as detecting tax fraud, preventing subsidy leakage, and targeting beneficiaries. In the healthcare sector, AIndra is working to build an affordable cervical cancer screening device.
Brainasoft – This is a recent startup focused on natural language processing, machine learning, and human-computer interface. Their flagship product is Braina Virtual Assistant, which was selected as one of the top 10 best software in 2015 by TechRadar. Braina is currently used by more than 200,000 individuals and businesses in more than 180 countries. Brainasoft is soon expected to launch its next product, Inforobo, which will enable users to create their own AI virtual assistants and chatbot easily. Chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users. Inforobo could be used for a wide range of applications, including customer service, device control and automation, IoT, information retrieval, and website assistance.
Mad Street Den – This Chennai and California-based startup raised over US$ 1.33 million in funding in early 2015 and aims to improve business efficiencies in the retail sector. For instance, it is working on technology that identifies objects, people, and style preferences like color, pattern, and texture to learn customer likes and dislikes and in turn personalize the customer experience.
Niki – The firm is backed by Indian industrialist Ratan Tata and its flagship product is its namesake Niki, which is an AI-powered bot that can complete online purchases through a simple chat interface. The bot also guides the user with personalized recommendations of services that are best suited to the user. It works through an Android app that offers multiple services like mobile recharge, utility bill payments, cab and bus booking, food ordering, and laundry services. It currently has a user base of over 70,000. Niki aims to expand its product as an independent platform that can be used on any interface, whether iOS, messaging, digital wearables etc.
SigTuple – Founded in 2015, this startup uses AI in the field of healthcare diagnostics by working on medical image analysis – pathology, radiology, and ophthalmology – for automatic detection of diseases and abnormalities. Among its products in development is ‘Shonit’, which is in the beta stage now and automates the manual microscopic review of blood when conducting peripheral blood smear analysis.
vPhrase – Winning the ‘Economic Times Power Of Ideas’ contest recently, this startup works with companies to communicate their data insights through narrative based reports using AI. The firm’s patent-pending platform is Phrazor, which analyzes data and derives insights that it subsequently communicates in multiple languages.
India’s AI and IoT startups reflect a fast-evolving technology landscape that is taking advantage of the country’s size and economic scale as well as its reputation and capabilities in the IT sector. Still, it seems worrying that such leading technological innovation is the domain of a few entrepreneurs, though some of them may be getting funded by India’s top tech firms. This points to a delay in the overall Indian IT/ITeS sector’s adoption and familiarity with AI and IoT, which are pivoted to be the future of the tech sector. For example, cloud-computing infrastructure, which possesses the massive amount of computing power required by AI, largely resides in servers beyond India’s borders. Whether it is the Amazon Web Services (AWS) elastic cloud to Google’s machine learning infrastructure – almost all of the online tools that make AI accessible to the Indian entrepreneurial community relies on infrastructure that exists abroad.
Moreover, any investment in R&D in India is presently limited to the private sector, primarily focusing on consumer goods and business processes. In this context, India could learn from the initial advances made in the US, China, and South Korea to evolve policies that encourage AI development across all sectors such as through public and private funding models and other incentives. Finally, India needs to adapt to the shifting nature of jobs so that its workers remain valuable as AI and automation impact industrial labor force requirements. These objectives could be incorporated in the government’s flagship Make in India, Digital India, and Skill India economic programs.
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