Coverage by Bhat Dittakavi of Variance.AI on “Future of AI” by Ronnie Screwvala moderated by Srikanth of Fractal Analytics at NASSCOM AI Summit @Hyderabad on 23rd June 2017.
Srikanth: You created a media unicorn UTV years ago. Was it predictable or lucky?
Ronnie: 20 years ago we were looking at building a news stream without talent. Lots of question marks on how we get talent. Predictability boils down to size of the market and passion. We are sub-servant to the ad industry otherwise media would be 5X by now.
Srikanth: Your book “Dream with eyes open” said “In business like in life failure gives stronger motivation for success”. Any comment? 
Ronnie: We consider failure as absolutely fine in the valley, not here in India. We need to change that outlook.
Srikanth: You were an entrepreneur from age 10. Life lessons?
Ronnie: Enthusiasm is high but ambition is lacking to an extent in India. Difference is the clarity of thought. Enthusiasm means being all over the place. Be there to communicate it. Like failure, exit is not a positive word in India.
Srikanth: Staying the course is important also folding when things are not going and cutting the loss is important too.
Ronnie: Segregate the passion with emotion then you will be lot more objective. Starting element is hope in the beginning.
Srikanth: Passion – Emotion + Direction + Hope = Success! Right?
Srikanth: Employment growth and productivity growth are key elements for economy of a country. Employment growth may not be there in India but we need AI for productivity growth. What is Upgrad proposition in this context?
Ronnie: Timing seems right for us but we only anticipated careers for tomorrow. Young people are in job for socio-economic reason but they have to be focused on tomorrow.
Srikanth: Indian IT industry may be redundant now with the talent. Complacency or not upskilling themselves is a problem. Is Upgrad looking at them as key target audience?
Ronnie: Yes as core. Job loss leads to job relocation or job re-training. Learning hasn’t stopped after 20. We provide online courses on Big Data with IIIT, Bangalore and one with BITS, Hyderabad.
Srikanth: My daughter is 5 and what do you tell her when she turns 20?
Ronnie: Her learning is not going to stop at 20. That calendar people had in life is over. This mental frame leads to recalibration of individuals of the next three generations. Our online challenge is how to make online non-anonymous?
Srikanth: You have invested in Upgrad and Niki.AI. Did you discover them? Prospective AI?
Ronnie: There is a divided view in the world even among thought leaders of the world on AI. Let us not worry about it. We looked at Niki and their passionate founders. The key functions for Niki now has to be to cut time or cost for its clients and also how to cut the complexity. We look at effectively using (cut) cost, time and complexity with them. It is a discovery process.
Srikanth: We are now in AI spring and now to AI Summer. Some say this will face another winter soon.
Ronnie: There are no astrologers on AI now. 1966-2017 is a 60 year span. Past winters happened partly by herd mentality. This time the ability of the entire ecosystem around AI is strong that it wont make AI freeze. Human is still the boss. Winter happens when funding dries up. This time around, with the money in internet and mobile wave, AI will piggy back on.
Srikanth: Is science a boon or a bane? Is AI improving lives? Is it a irrelevant question?
Ronnie: It depends on geography. Philosophically, it will be in certain segments. There will be gap and some will rise with AI and some wont.
Srikanth: Future of world with AI?
Ronnie: I like to see the cup as half full point of view as entrepreneur. Kind of break through will be substantially beneficial over the one that wouldn’t be. People are obsessed about mortality. We spent fair amount of time on aging. If there is a bot constantly giving your cells a new lease of cells and imagine the free time brain got to do better things. Human brain recalibrates a lot.
Srikanth: There is this guy who gets bored with immortality and starts abusing every one in sequential order. Mortality is an interesting parts of being alive right?
Ronnie: We have to recalibrate our brain if I came into this world with a life expectancy of 500 years, then life, perspective and ambitions will change.
Srikanth: Uncontrolled AI could be extremely dangerous. If you tell AGI that go and reduce global warming? If it realizes humans are culprit and it may
Ronnie: Unknown leads to fear and it is legitimate. Our imagination is led by fictional stories. If we don’t have choice, it would be presumptive to think we will have one. We think nuclear power is the power of the world and AI can be worse. For me all fear is legitimate till proven otherwise.
Srikanth: Future of love?
Ronnie: Why future? It is happening now. Aren’t we in love with AI?
Srikanth: You have produced Swades and I loved watching it. You book is nationalistic. My fear is we are not moving as fast as AI. China is making huge investment. What will you tell PM Modi?
Ronnie: First step is evangelizing and vision stating. Then it requires the buy-in. India got so many priorities and AI is in the queue. Creating large models are the key and we can’t be the front-runners for long time.
Vikas: You are on Upgrad. How ambitious do we need to be for reskilling?
Ronnie: We should acknowledge the gap first. We want to serve to common denominator and focus the top 10% (10-20 million).
Vikas: Easier to reskill?
Ronnie: I am a firm believer that new mindsets are better than changing the mindsets. Recalibration is hard.
Q) Where do you invest at the intersection of media and AI?
Ronnie: AI with creativity in every sense! At the core you are creating something out of nothing and that as base AI has no precedence as it has no history to use as base for prediction. This gets interesting. Today everyone feels things are on gut, even gut is made out of experience. AI for channelize the past for prediction to sharpen your gut! Creating something as a startup needs lot more data points and AI will emerge with it.
Srikanth: Is AI generated music original?
Ronnie: I call it re-version. For new audience it sounds original. But, existing ones, not a breakthrough.


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