Google's Sundar Pichai is confident that several large global software firms will emerge from India over the next 5-10 years, driven by world-class entrepreneurs. The chief executive of the world's second-most valuable company by market cap said this in a student interaction at his alma mater, IIT-Kharagpur, on Thursday.
"I am absolutely confident of it. In a 5-10-year time frame, we will see big global software companies coming out of India...we're growing well as a country and we need to stay on it," he said. Pichai earned his degree from this institute in metallurgical engineering about and was visiting it after 23 years.
"When I talk to startup founders in India, I find them world-class, in terms of how they do things, the entrepreneurial side, how they build products," he said.
Google and digitisation
Pichai said Google's role in digitisation in India is core to their mission statement and the company is making progress through its offerings in various languages. At the same time, Google has been working on the WiFi project with the Indian government wherein it has installed WiFi at 100 railway stations, including Kharagpur. Pichai added that boosting connectivity remains a focus area for the company, which is reflected in its programmes such as the one that trains rural women on how to use the Internet.
Pichai's interaction at his alma mater comes a day after Google India launched a training programme to enable small businesses to come online. Christened DigitalUnlocked, it will offer offline training workshops to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). Over the next three years, 5,000 workshops will be held across 40 Indian cities.
Pichai believes that in India one can actually do very effective public-private partnerships (PPPs). The model doesn't always exist in all the countries Google has worked with, he said. The firm is also supporting the Digital India Programme and has had several successful partnerships. "We are always looking to partner...if you look at Aadhar, UPI, we're working on digitising payments, we tend to form these PPPs here and they work very well," he added.
When asked if India will catch up with China on the digital front, Pichai said the goals need to be different. "I am absolutely convinced that India will be a global player in the digital economy and it'll be competitive with any country in the world," he said.
Bets on machine learning, AI
When asked about the next big thing in research and development at Google, he said the company was placing its big bet on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
"Advances in machine learning will make a big difference in many fields. We recently published a paper on using machine learning to help diagnose a disease that causes blindness; but if you can detect it earlier, it can be cured. Using machine learning we can detect it pretty accurately. This is an early example of the kind of changes that will happen when you apply machine learning to all kinds of fields," he said.
Separately, in an interview with The Economic Times on Thursday, Pichai described demonetisation as a bold and courageous move, something, he feels, that could propel the country to the digital forefront. He, however, didn't seem very appreciative of Indian startups that are seeking protectionist policies against foreign rivals.
Google recently launched Primer, a free mobile app designed to teach marketing skills in an interactive way to SMEs. It is available for download on Google Play and the App Store, and would soon be available in Tamil, Telugu and Marathi, apart from Hindi and English.
Last year, Google had launched Google My Business, a programme aimed at helping SMBs get an online presence on Google Search and Google Maps without having to invest in a website or domain. The programme has over 8 million Indian SMBs as users.