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Global software giant Microsoft is pushing for the adoption of emerging technologies in India as the country is heading for massive digitisation. The company believes that the ownership of data should always be with the user or the organisation that owns it. Anant Maheshwari, president at Microsoft India, talks to Bibhu Ranjan Mishra how privacy and security are embedded in the company’s products. Edited excerpts:
You have a big focus on pushing for artificial intelligence (AI) in India. How much of it is being embraced on the ground?
We have been working with agencies in the health, agriculture and education sectors to create AI models and make them more relevant. We are working with schools to predict the dropout rates. We are supporting diagnosis in the health sector to understand what kind of treatment should happen in a cataract surgery based on the Al and the machine learning model. In the eye care segment, we have partnerships with institutes called MINE (Microsoft Intelligent Network for Eyecare). We have a tie-up in cardiology with Apollo Hospitals. In agriculture, we are working with ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics) to help farmers sow seeds at the right time to get 30 per cent more productivity. Microsoft is using the capabilities used in India to serve the global platform. We are not thinking of commercial models. If we are able to solve a problem, the commercial model will follow.
For India, we are talking about grassroots innovation while Digital India is taking shape. What are Microsoft’s plans about this?
Overall, it is collaboration for innovation. We have had the accelerator in Bengaluru for a while. We have our technology centres across India. There is a cyber-security engagement centre in Delhi and a Microsoft Garage in Hyderabad. All these aim to solve and create innovation at various levels.
Of late, “digital” seems to be the buzzword among companies as well as the government? How big is this opportunity for you?
If you look at the broader digital transformation landscape in India, it could be a $100-billion opportunity. The areas where we focus on are engaging customers better, empowering employees, optimising operations, and creating efficiency and new products. These, in turn, drive more top line growth. Each of these has seen an impact in many Indian companies. For instance, State Bank of India is a fantastic example of how to empower employees.
There are concerns that the adoption of technologies, such as AI and robotic process automation, will result in massive job losses. How do you approach it?
It could just be the opposite because if you look at India, there are certain skillsets and we are asked continuously to do more and achieve different levels of capabilities. AI compliments and enhances capability. The government sees that clearly. A large chunk of the population may not have had a formal education or skillset. Hence, AI can assist them.
However, the way you use it is critical. In the beginning, some people may use it for efficiency, but that is likely to be outweighed by what you can do to improve the capability of employees.
There is a great focus on data privacy. What is your stance on this issue?
Data ownership is with the user. It is the individual or the organisation that owns the data. We are transparent on what kind of rights are required if the data has to be used in another application. Microsoft is very particular about trust, privacy and security. We were the first ones to open data centres in India and host the data from within India.
As we go forward, security needs to be built in all the capabilities that we use. We have the infrastructure to do that. We already have a cyber-security engagement centre in India. We want to bring the cyber security capability to India and work closely with the government and enterprises to raise awareness and help everyone protect his or her data and assets.
What do you have to say about Indian data protection laws?
It is an evolving world. Thirty years ago, laws on environmental protection were not clear. However, they are getting better. The first data security law, being written in a strong format, is the general data protection regulation (GDPR). It is becoming live on May 25. The Indian government is working on it and the “white paper” has been issued.
We support the law that the Indian government is thinking of. I am glad that it is thinking in consonance with the GDPR because the more it is coordinated worldwide, the better it is for all of us. We are working with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to make sure we provide data security locally.