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Deep Tech is Making Magic Happen All Around Us: Pallavi Rao, Uber

Pallavi Rao, staff software engineer at Uber says that Deep Tech is responsible for everything right from high-speed internet to voice command

Deep tech is no longer in the stages of Proof-of-Concept and is changing our lives every day. Pallavi Rao, Staff Software Engineer, Uber, talks about how Deep Tech has made inroads into our daily lives, challenges faced in its implementation as well as how Uber is using those technologies to ensure customer satisfaction and safety.

DQ: Deep tech is a set of relatively new technologies. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted this technological shift in India?

Pallavi Rao: COVID-19 has changed the way people work, live, socialize and entertain themselves. As people try to reduce human contact, they will start relying more on technology services. In India, especially in the cities, we have seen a huge uptick in online shopping, online medical consultation, digital payments and online multiplayer gaming. With more services being made available online, there is also a need to keep these transactions secure, and to detect and prevent fraud. Service providers are relying on automation to scale their business. Such automation is powered by deep tech such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Blockchain powers secure transactions, and supply chain logistics and robotics play a key role in manufacturing.

Even after we tide over COVID, some of these services will continue to be mainstays as consumers realize the convenience that comes with technology.

DQ: What are some of the trends we see as far as deep tech is concerned?

Pallavi Rao: Computer vision along with deep learning methods and 3D imaging, that have applications in object recognition, face recognition, object tracking, human pose estimation, etc. are seeing more adoption in:

  • “Virtual” trial rooms for online shopping
  • Medical computer-assisted diagnosis (CAD) systems for online medical consultation
  • Detecting if safety and hygiene protocols are being followed by service providers such as drivers, delivery partners, food suppliers, etc.

Conversation AI, both speech and text, is another area that is seeing an uptake especially when it comes to customer support (virtual agents) and virtual assistants. Blockchain technology is also seeing increased adoption for the secure sharing of medical data, cross-border payments, supply chain and logistics monitoring, among others.

AI and ML algorithms will continue to play a huge role in the detection and prevention of fraud and abuse. With social media having a pronounced presence in information/news consumption, abuse detection and detection of deep fakes in images and videos are other areas where ML algorithms are being used to analyse text, images and videos automatically.

DQ: Similarly, what are the challenges companies face in implementing Deep Tech solutions?

Pallavi Rao: Deep Tech requires focussed research. Companies need to invest ahead in this research to reap the benefits of these technologies in the future. With an eye on this future, companies need to constantly course-correct and invest/divest in technologies to adapt to changing business needs.

The second challenge is finding the right set of talent to build such technology. Some companies choose to use the services of other deep tech companies if they don’t want to build their own technology. In this case too, they need to partner with companies that have demonstrated these capabilities and complement their own technical capabilities well.

DQ: Kindly shed some light on the kind of Deep Tech that is being used in Uber

Pallavi Rao: Uber has always invested in long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to people across the world. Some key technologies we’re working on are:

  • Mapping – Using a combination of data, images and videos to create maps. Deep learning algorithms parse through the created maps and compare it with real-time data to auto-detect and correct errors. These maps are then used for navigation, ETA calculation, search etc.
  • Computer vision for safety – Uber takes its customers’ safety very seriously. To ensure safety we employ image analysis algorithms on selfies to ensure the driver who is driving is the one registered with us. With COVID, we quickly enhanced these algorithms to detect if drivers are wearing masks.
  • Conv AI in communications – Chatbots that help resolve our customer issues, voice automation when someone reaches out to Uber via phone.

DQ: What according to you is the road ahead for Deep Tech?

Pallavi Rao: As innovations in software continue, we can expect some innovations in the hardware space such as AI chipsets, sensor-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) devices and virtual reality. Robotics will see its continued application in manufacturing. Deep tech will have a deeper impact on scientific and medical research in the coming days.

Clarke’s third law states – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We are seeing that magic happening all around us today, from the ubiquitous high-speed internet to the ability to order anything to your doorstep with a voice command. And, deep tech is what is making that magic happen, and it will continue to turn new tricks.

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