google cloud chief thomas kurian: ETtech Interview | Google learning to build for the world by building in India: Cloud chief Thomas Kurian
The company, the world’s fourth biggest by market value, is also close to setting up two centers of excellence around artificial intelligence and cyber security with the government, Google’s global chief of cloud, Thomas Kurian, told ET in an interview.
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As a part of the exercise, Google will collaborate with the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert-In) to provide 100,000 scholarships for cybersecurity learners, Kurian said, besides training 1 million people on AI in India.
“We see India in three different ways. First, we see it as a real market for talent. Second, we have customers in virtually every domain. We also see India as a place where we are learning by building products for India, but also taking them globally,” Kurian said.
Google Cloud has made an aggressive push into the country over the past few years, especially under Kerala-born Kurien, who is going to complete five years as chief of Google Cloud that competes with Microsoft and Amazon Web Services for business.
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In India, the company has clients such as the HDFC Group, Federal Bank, Flipkart, Reliance Retail, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, and Apollo Hospital besides start-ups such as Glance.“By working with some of our large customers, we also understand customer requirements here differently than in other markets,” Kurian said. “In the use of voice, for example, there are lots of nuances in the way in which people speak to customer service. There are new things you see here in the Indian market that you don’t see elsewhere.”
The company is also expanding its partnership with the government-backed Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) not just as a technology provider but as a solution provider.
It is also working with the ministry of electronics and information technology to explore a partnership with the national language translation mission’s Bhashini, where it wants to use generative AI to further augment the capacities of this program.
“We are going to be looking at local languages and see how we can train our AI models in these languages so that they can be used for applications for various government departments. We are looking at training 1 million people around AI and related concepts,” Bikram Singh Bedi, managing director of Google Cloud India said.
Bedi was also present at ET’s meeting with Kurian.
On being asked if the company is planning to compete with the likes of Microsoft that seems to have a lead in the generative AI space due to its partnership with Sam Altman-backed OpenAI, Kurien said that this is Google’s 20th year of working on AI.
“We’ve got world-class infrastructure… 50% of every company that’s ever been funded for AI, runs on our cloud, 70% of every startup that’s worth more than a billion dollars, are also customers of ours. We have also integrated AI into consumer products and are seeing very strong growth in Bard. You have seen the public numbers on our search versus Bing and we are very confident we have lost nothing to Bing. We have taken AI to every part of our cloud portfolio,” he said.
Google, however, does not subscribe to the idea that companies opting to utilise the services of private large language models is a setback for companies like it, Kurien said.
“I think it’s too early to say that people are primarily using private models. Many people are taking our model and then fine-tuning it for their needs. It runs in a private environment. But that is not the same as saying it was a private model built from the ground up because building a model is both expensive and requires a lot of skills to get it right.”
Generative AI & costs
Although building LLMs may be an expensive exercise, which in turn means only a handful of companies in the world working on it, using services based on generative AI is and will be available to all companies at very “cost-effective prices”, said Kurien.
Training large language and AI models for India is a challenging task as such models have to meet a lot of local market requirements, he said. For example, an image recognition model has to be trained to recognise the different ways in which the same Indian clothing is used in different parts of the country, Kurian said.
Working with large project partners such as the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) has helped Google India understand the specific requirements of the Indian markets, he said.
Google’s engineering teams have also designed engineering solutions that helped with the accelerated onboarding of buyers, sellers and technology service providers and their usage of the ONDC network. It then designed an ONDC accelerator which was open sourced so that other companies could use the product to help their clients, Kurian said.
The company now plans hackathons to work on problems being encountered in ONDC. The first of such hackathons will be organised on September 6, he said, adding that Google will work to ensure that solutions developed by students, developers and companies are turned into actual products and services.
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