Indian start-up community has opportunity to scale up across country: Sundar Pichai, Google

Indian start-up community has opportunity to scale up across country, according to Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google

Pradeep Chakraborty
New Update
Pichai Vaishnav

Imagine an AI system that can help predict things like skin cancer! How can ML models better predict natural disasters? Technology can help people at scale. This is just the tip of the iceberg. AI can provide new ways of approaching problems and meaningfully improve people's lives. We are just getting started.


Google for India Live was held today in New Delhi, India. Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Railways, Communications, and Electronics & IT, Government of India, and Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, were the two dignitaries.

Scaling up necessary

Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Railways, Communications, and Electronics & IT, Government of India, and Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, were involved in a discussion with Ms. Shradha Sharma, CEO and founder, Your Story.

Recollecting a memorable experience from the days at IIT, Ashwini Vaishnaw said there was a very good computer lab at IIT Kanpur. But, the time allotted was very limited! He used to buy time from others and solve problems. Sundar Pichai, Google, said access to computers at that time was very difficult. For him, there are fond memories of friends, and his wife, who Pichai met there.


Ashwini Vaishnav.

The last few years, the vision of Digital India has taken centerstage. What are the focus areas for the government? Vaishnav said there are quite a few challenges. The Cowin platform used all horizontal stacks of India's platform. We were able to deliver 2.2 billion vaccine doses across the country. For that scale, given all the challenges we had, giving away the instant certificate was a massive work. It was all possible because of the technology stack. The UPI payment system has also been phenomenally successful.

About 55% of India's GDP transactions are happening over the UPI app. We will keep on building similar digital platforms for healthcare, logistics, and many other sectors.

Second, we will also be taking the startup ecosystem to tier-2 and tier-3 cities. We see so much talent coming from smaller cities and towns. We are trying to channelize that. Third, India has been ranked No. 1 talent concentration geography for AI. We would like to channelize that via comprehensive regulatory ecosystem.


Expanding startup ecosystem

India currently has a very fast expanding stack of the startup ecosystem. Sundar Pichai, Google, said that the sophistication of the India startup ecosystem has been measurably improving each time he comes to India. The India Digitization Fund is increasingly focused on startups. These companies are getting noticeable scale. We have announced $300 million fund with focus on startups, especially those led by women, and startups focused on bridging the gender divide.


Sundar Pichai.

The Indian start-up community has the opportunity to scale up across the country, added Sundar Pichai. The opportunity that India has is immense. In the USA, the startups are successful because when they finally build something, they already have access to 300 million+ market. It is easy to build something that scales across the entire country. This has not always been true in other places, such as Europe. There, you have to scale across 26 markets. It can be tough for a startup to get that scale.


That is exactly the opportunity India has! It has to look at how do you scale up across the country. There are ways by which the various policies can help. There is no better time to do a startup than the current moment. Even companies like Google were created during a downturn. India also needs more women entrepreneurs in future.

Next, what are some of the areas that you are keen to nurture through the government, using AI? Vaishnaw said AI is going to play a major role in India's tech story, going forward. There are multiple areas where AI can make a difference. Agriculture is one such field. We also have diversity of languages. We need to bridge the gap there. We also have to make credit accessible to people at the bottom of the pyramid. These will be dependent on AI. We already had success in the payments system, the identification system, adoption of technologies across all geographies.

We also have the Data Protection Bill, Telecom India Bill, and Digital India Bill that are in place. They can create a robust framework. We can use some data sets that are now available. We can harness power of technology to provide better solutions and services. We are keen to ensure that the marginalized sections of the society get the benefits of technology.


AI has been a profound technology Google has been working on. Which area excites Google? Sundar Pichai said people come to Google to find information. We get excited about how we can use AI in the service of that mission. One of our missions is to make Google universally accessible and useful. We are increasingly using AI to scale up the number of languages on offer. We recently added nine new Indian languages.

Now, we are working on one part of the AI model that can provide information across thousands of languages. We are making sure that all of that is available to more people. We are striving to bring the multi-modal view. You can ask the question to Google and get the rich answer back. That is also the role AI will end up playing.

India stack leads the world today. What role do you see the private sector playing for emerging economies? Vaishnaw added there is interest in the India stack throughout the world. Role of private sector is very important here. Any startup can join and create their own solutions. Eg., payment. The private sector can start using the platform to build new solutions. We can work with regulatory systems of other countries, and develop a trusted solution.


We were very happy earlier about importing from the world. Now, we are happy about exporting to the world. Pichai, Google, said the depth and breadth of Indians and talent is immense. We see that playing out in Google. He has used UPI example in other countries. We also built Google Pay on the UPI stack. We are now bringing that to the other countries.

We also developed AI for flood forecasting for India, and later, Bangladesh. There is an alert sent out to 23 million people every year. Now, we are bringing that to many other countries. This trend will grow over time. With the scale of the market here, we can also find solutions. You can also leapfrog and get to the next solution faster. It can be a big incentive for Google to do that here, and then take it to other countries.

We also need robust regulations and frameworks. What are some areas important to the government? Vaishnaw said humanity has always created institutions. Each quantum jump brings new challenges. We have to find a balanced way of absorbing technology. We have to create a structure that can match. We have three bills. First, telecom bill for the carrier. Second, data protection bill for citizens privacy rights. Third, Digital India bill that can look at everything. These are the three main horizontals. There will be multiple, sector-focused areas. We should be able to complete the exercise in the coming 14-16 months.


Sundar Pichai, Google, said we need to look at how tech is working. We are touching the lives of people around the world. Tech needs responsible regulation. Countries also need to look at how to best safeguard their citizens. India has a leadership role to play here. Besides creating safeguards for people, you also need to create innovative frameworks so that companies can also innovate further on top of that. India will go on to become an export economy, and will do well to adopt an open and connected Internet. We are on track.

Tech sector is growing phenomenally in India! Vaishnaw noted that we need to think on global scale and population scale. Pichai added that we need to think big! Tech is much bigger than coding, developing etc. We also need to look after policies, ethics, etc. That can create opportunities for many more people.

Focus on AI

Earlier, Manish Gupta, Director, Research, Google, said when he started out 30 years ago, AI was nowhere in the picture. We started Google Research to create meaningful impact for a billion Indians. We have taken strides today, along with partners, where AI can help better lives every day.

Google is working in three key areas: languages, agriculture, and healthcare. Technology should be developed so that it is helpful for everyone. Over the years, we have made advances. GBoard allows you to type in over 60 languages. Even Maithili and Sanskrit are supported by Google Translate. Recently, Google announced an ambitious research project -- to build a model that will support the top 1,000 languages of the world. A chapter of this work is being done in India, for India. Speech in India changes every few km. We are all likely to have a different version of a simple sentence, based on where we came from. An example of how to reach Pragati Maidan was given in multiple languages.


Prof. Govindan Rangarajan.

Project Vaani

In collaboration with Indian Institute of Science (IIS), Google has launched Project Vaani that aims to collect speech data from people across 773 districts of India. Prof. Govindan Rangarajan, Director, IIS, Bengaluru, said Vaani is a unique initiative. The support from Google is crucial for making the project pan-India. Google is strategic execution partner in this project.

We have already gathered data from nearly 69 of the 773 districts, covering states such as Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, etc. So far, we have collected nearly 150 hours of data covering over 14 languages. It also includes some endangered Indian languages such as Handuri, Haibi, etc. We have already started open sourcing this data via our website.

Gupta next talked about agriculture. We can unlock tremendous opportunities. We are developing a holistic overview of India's agricultural landscape. Ms. Amandeep Kaur, Pre-doctoral Researcher, Google Research, said we developed this model near Bangalore. The landscape starts to change. Our model also identifies natural and man-made water bodies. The system can also understand tree canopy for complete understanding of a region. The model will also be able to detect and predict specific models for each field. Eventually, this can also be expanded to identify crops in each farm.


Ms. Rama Devi KR.

Ms. Rama Devi KR, Director of Emerging Technologies, Telangana State, said that with the advent of Industry 4.0, we have been focusing on areas such as AI and cloud. One area where we can extract potential is agriculture. There are about 6 million farmers in Telangana, and about 100 million all over the country. We are planning to set up a data exchange platform, which will initially focus on agriculture. The work done by Google team is a critical part of this platform. The potential is undoubtedly exciting. Gupta also announced a $1 million grant from Google to Wadhwani AI to support their deployment of AI to improve agricultural outcomes.

Next, he spoke about healthcare. AI solutions can help to reach over 1 lakh mothers during their pregnancy journeys. Medical prescriptions are always hard to read. We are identifying where medicines are written with the help of medical suppliers. We have developed an AI capability to search for medicines in a prescription. The initial results are heartening, but much more work needs to be done.

Healthcare next!

Bikram Bedi, MD, Google Cloud, India, said we are accelerating every organization's ability to digitally transform its business to solve real-world, complex business challenges. At Google Cloud, we work across industries and verticals, such as retail, payment, gaming, and security. Technology adoption has been happening.

Dr. Sangita Reddy, Joint MD, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd, said said the private healthcare sector serves over 60% of India. We have launched Apollo 24/7 that enables it to be within reach of every customer on their mobile home. Even at home, you can have 24/7 access to healthcare via the mobile phone. It will enable a better ecosystem of care. We are partnering with Google Cloud, and understanding conversational medicine.

There are over 23 lakh TB patients in India today. We are working with Google on an AI piece, where an x-ray can be analysed. There are doctors who can encapsulate their knowledge into an AI model. We are excited to be working with Google on such projects.


Bikram Bedi.

Gupta said AI can have a transformative impact. In 2018, Google also released an operational paper highlighting seven principles for AI at Google. These are: be socially beneficial, avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias, be built and tested for safety, be accountable to people, incorporate privacy design principles, uphold high standards of scientific excellence, and be made available for uses that accord with these principles. Google announced a grant of $1 million to IIT Madras for India's first responsible AI center.

Bedi added that along with Apollo, Google is building a clinical intelligence engine. AI and ML can help support rate and common disease diagnosis. We can analyse and manage data for better service on Apollo 24/7. We are building patient-doctor trust through data-driven clinical expertise. Google Cloud has been very passionate about democratizing technology. We are also super-excited to be part of India's digital journey.

Context is key!

Ms. Sapna Chadha, VP, Marketing, India & South East Asia, Google, said Google is focusing on avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias. One prominent bias has always been around gender. There have been data gaps, especially in history. In India, women lag men for Internet usage by 30%.


Ms. Sapna Chadha.

Google has the mission to organize the world's information, and make it universally accessible and useful. We have responsibility for the technologies to be equitable and useful. We are working on ensuring the gender gap in India is being reduced, especially in rural India. Over 30 million rural women from over 300K villages in India made their first foray into the world of digital. Eight years ago, there were only 1 out of 10 women Internet users in rural India. Today, that number is 4 in 10 rural women.

Access is just the beginning, and we didn't just stop there. We are constantly looking at areas where women's participation has been lagging behind. We announced the Google Start-up Cohort Accelerator. We have the India Digitization Fund. We support women tech-makers to consider careers in technology. DigiPivot specifically supports women who are returning to work. has already given $6 million in grant for Indian women. We have consistently looked at challenging the biases in the society. We have worked hard to give women a better, future life. Every society and culture have its own sets of biases. The key is context!

Ms. Chadha also announced Project Bindi, or Bias Interventions for Natural language processing and Data in the Indian context. Project Bindi will allow us to build societal context, examine technological gaps, and local values and norms. As a woman, we look forward to a more equal tomorrow.


Ms. Elizabeth Reid.

Information and knowledge

Ms. Elizabeth Reid, VP, Google Search, said there has been 2X increase in the number of people using the Internet in India in the last five years. India has been on the center stage. Information and knowledge are key for digital transformation. We have the mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

We have been consistently investing in accessing information. India has also led the way in adopting several innovations. India is at the forefront of visual and voice search adoption globally. With advances in AI, we believe the best of Google is yet to come.

Information needs of people are growing. We are making the search more natural and intuitive. We are accomplishing this by three ways: making people search for the information visually, search in your language, and search with your voice. India also has the highest number of Lens users every month globally. We now see a new era of search, where you can combine sound, picture, video, etc. We are launching the Google multi-search in many Indian languages in 2023.

Puneesh Kumar, GM, Google Search, India, said being an army man's son allowed him to interact with people of different languages and backgrounds. There is increasing multi-lingual and mixed language usage across the country. We are also seeing this in people's search experiences. Majority of Google users in India consume more than one language. We are now making search results bi-lingual to people who need it. Now, we proactively serve results in local languages, besides English. Bi-lingual search results page is also launching in Hindi. We are expanding to Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, and Bengali in the coming year.

We are serving dynamic India needs, including voice search. There is 2X percentage of Indians using voice search queries vs. the global average. We are also doing the same for mixed language voice searches. We have now developed an end-to-end speech recognition model. We can now show results in the language that you prefer.

Ms. Liz Reid, Google, added that many people take it for granted that if they speak, they will be also understood. We have a huge opportunity for speech technology. We have now created Project Relate. It has three built-in features: listen, repeat, and assistant. The many ways Indians have accepted technology has inspired us to do more.

YouTube ecosystem

Ishan John Chatterjee, Director, YouTube, India, said it is a place where technology meets creativity to make every dream come true. Today, technology, and video in particular, has democratized information. It has opened doors to anyone who wants to make a living. We are helping Indians to learn, earn, and build sustainable businesses. YouTube's ecosystem supported 7.5 lakh full-time equivalent jobs in 2021, and contributed Rs. 10,000 crores to India's GDP. It all boils down to the incredible creator community on YouTube.

We recognize that Web comes with responsibility. Today, Indians are also seeking out videos for health queries. We are partnering with healthcare providers to give you information that is trustworthy. We are helping them achieve more cost-effectively and easily. We now have Aloud, on YouTube, that allows dubbing any video in any language. Aloud transcribes, translates and dubs the video. All you have to do is to review the video. We are also making it easy for viewer to consume content in their language. This was followed by a demonstration. Quality information can be provided to more people.

Ms. Roshni Mukherjee, CEO, LearnoHub, said she always dreamt of being a teacher.

She has been trying to make learning more fun for over 10 years now. We have had feedback that people need more structured classes on YouTube. Now, YouTube will be offering Courses, a structured learning experience for all learners. Courses also offers new monetization opportunities.


Royal Hansen.

Safer with Google!

Royal Hansen, VP, Privacy, Safety & Security, Google, remarked that every day, you are safer with Google. Everyone, who is dependent on Google's services, is protected from bad actors. We are building future-forward technologies into our system, especially in the field of AI.

The Internet has been the centerstage of India's fast-growing and economic digital trajectory. With Covid-19, over 700 million people started using the Internet in India. Reliance on online services also created a wide threat landscape. We have got used to digital conveniences. With growing Internet and digital reach, threats have grown to be more complex. AI can help respond to threats efficiently, effectively, and at scale. We are also learning from them, and making digital systems stronger. There were examples of AI security at work.

We are also collaborating with Public Health Foundation of India for YouTube, especially on the complex topic of medical misinformation. We have recently acquired Mandiant, which delivers cutting-edge AI-driven cyber security threat intelligence. In 2021, Google pledged $10 billion in global cyber security innovation. A safer Internet requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Google is also investing in user awareness, supporting local community, and prioritizing cyber security skilling.

Sharath Bulusu, Director, Product Management, Google Pay, said that this year, we completed five years in India. We have now added Transactions Search on Google Pay. We need to ensure that users stay alert, while transacting digitally. Ms. Shweta, Engineer, Google Pay, said technology is about making things easier. If there is anything suspicious, the Google engine transmits immediately in your language. We literally nudge users to think twice with haptic feedback. This is desirable friction.


Abhishek Singh.

Ram Papatla, GM and India Engineering Lead, Android, talked about making the Internet safer and helpful for a billion Indians. We have an advanced AI model to identify and organize important files privately and safely. We ensure secure by default, private by design, and give users control.

Abhishek Singh, President, National eGovernance Division, Meity, said that DigiLocker was launched in 2015 by PM Modi. Today, there are 13.7 crore registered users of DigiLocker. The documents are digitally verifiable, and legally on par with the original documents. Google continues to provide helpful tech products and services to millions of Indians. The integration of Google and DigiLocker will also drive ubiquitous access of digital documents in a safe and secure manner. Hopefully, very soon, DigiLocker will also become part of the Android ecosystem. All Android phones will come with DigiLocker in-built in future.

google digilocker digipivot project-bindi