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Davos 2023: IBM can help in replicating India Stack model for emerging economies

The model of India Stack, the moniker for a set of open APIs and digital public goods developed in India, can be replicated in other emerging economies by IBM, said Arvind Krishna, the chief executive officer of the global tech giant, at the sidelines of World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on January 18.

Krishna told Moneycontrol that IBM has been “investing heavily in India”, and employs “tens of thousands” of people in the country.

“We see no reason to decrease that going forward. It is one of the countries where we have a lot of people…We’re very pleased with some of the government policies and legislation that have been there. And my hope is those will keep going on in terms of flexibility around labour law, flexibility around economic zones, as well as government encouraging companies to base operations within India.”

Replicating the India Stack
On being asked about India’s vision to allow its technology stack to be used by other developing countries, Krishna said this would be a “work in progress”.

“You can create a model but a model can only go so far,” he said, adding that multilateral bodies like the United Nations or the G20 may play the role of promoting its use. “But that’s not a role which companies play.”

“If you actually want to replicate their model, then that is a role which companies like ours can play,” the IBM CEO noted.

Krishna added that the company can help in replicating the India Stack model as it has helped government-linked bodies in other countries with their “banking systems, payment systems, social security, retirement, benefits and real-time payments etc”.

“There are lot aspects where there is work to be done,” he pointed out.

Krishna, however, noted that there are other factors as well, such as international norms, licensing constraints and whether the government is open to “others also making profit along the way”. “Why would anyone put their capital on the risk without seeing profit?” he quipped.

“Those are questions that are to be answered. I’m not sounding negative, but I’m actually hopeful that these would be worked out,” Krishna said.

“For Indian colleagues, I’ll say that I’m hopeful we are nearing the end of license raj. We don’t need the permission from hundreds of bureaucrats,” he further added.

The IBM head also pointed out that in cases of government-led investments in research and development projects, the policymakers should take into account the chances of failure.

“The policymakers should accept that when you do advanced R&D there will be a 10 percent chance of success. 90 percent will fail. The 10 percent that wins has 100x impact.”

The IBM chief said India has made remarkable progress in terms of accelerating the digital delivery of goods, referring to Aadhaar, UPI, PAN Cards, bank accounts, mobile banking, how securities are evolving, etc. “You look at mobile banking, we play a role. We want to play as big a role as possible. It’s a competitive market. We’re really pleased with the work we’ve done for the State Bank of India on YONO,” Krishna says.

The leverage of open source by the government is something IBM strongly believes in, he said, even if it may not always commercially benefit from them. “I’ve also heard that India will not just consume source, but maybe also begin to provide open source, and we are looking forward to that. We think that that’s a great opportunity for the nation.”

‘Not interest in chatbots, but underlying technology’
At a time when Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda said that something like ChatGPT is not perfect, it is dangerous and is going to disrupt things, Krishna said IBM is not interested in doing chatbots or dipping its toes in consumer technology, but has been using the underlying technology for the last two years.

“Rather than ChatGPT, I’m going to the underlying technology and I will tell you that absolutely, that’s going to become the prevalent and the leading form for many things around natural language processing,” he said.

He cautioned, however, that if something like it were to be used in the news industry, it will be harder for AI to look at the nuance, the colour, represent both points of view, etc.

“Work that is repetitive in nature, work that can be automated, I believe AI systems will start to do. That is not a danger…I think these advanced AI systems will more likely replace white collar clerical workers, than the physical world where people tend to go. It’s not going to replace farmers and truck drivers in the near term. Those are much further out, if at all,” he further said. Moneycontrol

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