Oct 05, 2018

Outliers 74: Balaraman Ravindran on what AI really means for India

Professor Balaraman Ravindran and Pankaj Mishra sit down to try and make sense of the over-hyped and often “skin deep" AI ecosystem in India.

BYPankaj Mishra

I first learned about IIT Madras professor Balaraman Ravindran when my colleague wrote this profile story titled “Wizard of AI: Meet India’s foremost reinforcement learning expert.”
Since then, I’ve met him a few times. It’s fascinating how conversations with AI researchers go beyond technologies and tools shaping AI. It quickly becomes philosophical and even ideological while discussing the ills of machine learning systems making decisions impacting humans and society.
And this is where professor Balaraman starts making sense in the over-hyped and often “skin deep AI” ecosystem in India. AI is the new buzzword for policymakers, startups, VCs and individual job seekers.
So what questions to ask while trying to make sense of AI in our lives and work? Here are some pointers from my recent chat with him.
“The right answer to any question is, it depends. What you’re learning throughout your life is what it depends on,” he says. I know it’s a very philosophical answer. But knowledge is evolving.”
“India is the destination where most of the repetitive jobs are outsourced. And AI is mostly applied wherever there’s repetition.”
“It’s not like we aren’t going to need programmers. But we might need more app developers, those writing codes for the cloud and so on. “
There are problems to be solved within AI too.
“By and large, the biggest problem in AI is performance tuning. Many of my students are calling it “the performance tuning hell.”
Listen in to this podcast to make sense of AI in India.

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Pankaj Mishra is a writer of FactorDaily.