OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Says India's AI Startup Potential "Totally Hopeless"

Responding candidly to a question in the Indian capital New Delhi, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said: "The way this works is we're going to tell you, it's totally hopeless to compete with us on training foundation models you shouldn't try, and it's your job to like try anyway. And I believe both of those things. I think it is pretty hopeless." This occurred at an event organized by The Economic Times where Altman answered a question by Rajan Anandan, a former Vice President of Google in India and South East Asia and current venture capitalist.  

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in India

Altman in Delhi: 

Sam Altman, the young CEO of OpenAI, the company that recently launched its revolutionary Generative AI app ChatGPT, was in India as part of a six-nation tour to discuss AI regulation.  ChatGPT has been trained on massive amounts of data and text from the internet, textbooks, newspapers, magazines and academic journals. It can write computer code and carry on sophisticated conversations on a lot of different subjects. Altman is also visiting China. He was invited to speak at an event sponsored by Indian publication Economic Times.  Here's the full exchange between Anandan and Altman about the potential for an Indian AI startup:

Anandan: "Sam, we have got a very vibrant ecosystem in India but specifically focussing on AI, are there spaces where you see a startup from India building foundational (AI) models; how should we think about that. Where is it that a team from India, with three super-smart engineers having not 100, but USD 10 million each could actually build something truly substantial?"

Altman: "The way this works is, we're going to tell you. It's totally hopeless to compete with us on training foundation models. You shouldn't try, and it's your job to like trying anyway. And I believe both of those things. I think it is pretty hopeless."

Challenge Accepted:

Judging by social media responses, most Indians reacted angrily to Altman's negative remarks. They accused him of "arrogance". Others saw his statement as a challenge and responded by accepting the challenge. 

Tech Mahindra CEO CP Gurnani said he accepts the challenge.  “OpenAI founder Sam Altman said it's pretty hopeless for Indian companies to try and compete with them. Dear Sam Altman, from one CEO to another...CHALLENGE ACCEPTED,” tweeted Gurnani.

India's Tech Industry:

Americans like Sam Altman know that India's tech industry is made up mainly of companies that are essentially body shops. These companies like Infosys, TCS and others supply Indian H1B workers to perform routine tasks in IT operations departments of western companies. These companies' revenue, labeled India's "IT exports", comes from the substantial cuts they keep from the wages of millions of Indian H1B workers. These workers replace higher-paid American employees.  Rapid developments in AI technology are now threatening such jobs

In 2016, India filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) when the US raised visa fees to $4000 for each H1B worker visa. Indian government argued that it is discriminatory to the country under its trade agreement with the US.

Indian startups are not based on any original ideas born in India. They are essentially copies of similar e-commerce or logistics or payments startups in the western world. 

Altman in China:

Altman is also visiting China this week. “China has some of the best AI talent in the world and fundamentally, given the difficulties in solving alignment for advanced AI systems, this requires the best minds from around the world,” Altman told participants at the event hosted by the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence.

Western Media:
Indians were justifiably very proud of their great scientific achievement when the India Space Agency ISRO successfully launched the nation's Mars Mission back in 2013. The New York Times, America's leading newspaper, mocked India with a cartoon depicting the country as a dhoti-wearing farmer with his cow knocking on the door of the Elite Space Club. 
New York Times Cartoon
Der Spiegel's Cartoon Comparing India and China

In an article titled "Paper Elephant", the Economist magazine talked about how India has ramped up its military spending and emerged as the world's largest arms importer. "Its military doctrine envisages fighting simultaneous land wars against Pakistan and China while retaining dominance in the Indian Ocean", the article said. It summed up the situation as follows: "India spends a fortune on defense and gets poor value for money".
After the India-Pakistan aerial combat over Kashmir, New York Times published a story from its South Asia correspondent headlined: "After India Loses Dogfight to Pakistan, Questions Arise About Its Military".  Here are some excerpts of the report:

"Its (India's) loss of a plane last week to a country (Pakistan) whose military is about half the size and receives a quarter (a sixth according to SIPRI) of the funding is telling. ...India’s armed forces are in alarming shape....It was an inauspicious moment for a military the United States is banking on to help keep an expanding China in check".

Der Spiegel Cartoon:

In April this year, German publication Der Spiegel published a cartoon as India surpassed China as the world's most populous nation. The cartoon poked fun at India's lack of progress relative to its northern neighbor. It shows jubilant Indians on an old and overcrowded train – many on the roof – as it overtakes a sleek Chinese bullet train.

German Cartoon Comparing China and India. Source: Der Spiegel

Spanish Newspaper Cartoon:'

In May 2022, Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia published a story titled "La hora de la economia India" along with a cartoon showing an Indian snake charmer. Indian media reacted angrily to what they saw as a racist stereotype. 

Spanish Cartoon on Indian Economy. Source: La Vanguardia

US Disrespects India: 

Notwithstanding the geopolitically-motivated public rhetoric of US presidents and other western leaders, the fact is that they do  not respect India. "One hard truth that Indians have to contend with is that America has also had difficulty treating India with respect", writes former Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani in his latest book "Has China Won?". "If America wants to develop a close long-term relationship with India over the long run, it needs to confront the deep roots of its relative lack of respect for India", adds Ambassador Mahbubani. It's not just Mahbubani who suspects the United States leadership does not respect India. Others, including former President Bill Clinton, ex US President Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CNN GPS host Fareed Zakaria have expressed similar sentiments. 

Source: @BeltandRoadDesk

Trump and Clinton:
There is some evidence to support Ambassador Mahbubani's assertion about America's lack of respect for India. For example,  ex US President Bill Clinton said in 1990s that India has a Rodney Dangerfield problem: It can’t get no respect, according to his deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott. In a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010, Hillary Clinton referred to India as "a self-appointed frontrunner for a permanent UN security council seat."
More recently, US President Donald Trump mocked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about Indian contribution to Afghanistan.  Trump said he got along very well with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but the Indian leader was "constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan". "That's like five hours of what we spend... And we are supposed to say, 'oh, thank you for the library'. I don't know who is using it in Afghanistan," Trump said.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 13, 2023 at 3:19pm

India’s diaspora is bigger and more influential than any in history
Adobe, Britain and Chanel are all run by people with Indian roots

Many of India’s best and brightest seem to prepare themselves to migrate. Consider the findings of a paper soon to be published in the Journal of Development Economics by Prithwiraj Choudhury of Harvard Business School, Ina Ganguli of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Patrick Gaule of the University of Bristol. It considered students that took the highly competitive entrance exams for the Indian Institutes of Technology, the country’s elite engineering schools, in 2010. Eight years later, the researchers found that 36% of the 1,000 top performers had migrated abroad, rising to 62% among the 100 best. Most went to America.

Another study looked at the top 20% of researchers in artificial intelligence (defined as those who had papers accepted for a competitive conference in 2019). It found that 8% did their undergraduate degree in India. But the share of top researchers that now work in India is so small that the researchers did not even record it.

In America almost 80% of the Indian-born population over school age have at least an undergraduate degree, according to number-crunching by Jeanne Batalova at the mpi. Just 50% of the Chinese-born population and 30% of the total population can say the same. It is a similar story in Australia, where almost two-thirds of the Indian-born population over school age, half the Chinese-born and just one-third of the total population has a bachelor’s or higher degree. Other rich countries do not collect comparable data.

Softly, softly
Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor who coined the phrase “soft power“, notes that it is not automatically created by the mere presence of a diaspora. “But if you have people in the diaspora who are successful and create a positive image of the country from which they came, that helps their native country.” And, as he notes “India has a lot of very poor people but they are not the people coming to the United States.”

Indeed Indian migrants are relatively wealthy even in the countries they have moved to. They are the highest-earning migrant group in America, with a median household income of almost $150,000 per year. That is double the national average and well ahead of Chinese migrants, with a median household income of over $95,000. In Australia the median household income among Indian migrants is close to $85,000 per year, compared with an average of roughly $60,000 across all households and $56,500 among the Chinese-born.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 13, 2023 at 3:45pm

In terms of number of AI (Artificial Intelligence) research publications from 2016-2020, China tops with 76,300 papers followed by US second with 44,400, India ranks 3rd with 27,000. Pakistan ranks 28th with 2,600 papers.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 14, 2023 at 4:57pm

Generative A.I. Can Add $4.4 Trillion in Value to Global Economy, Study Says

The report from McKinsey comes as a debate rages over the potential economic effects of A.I.-powered chatbots on labor and the economy.

“Generative artificial intelligence” is set to add up to $4.4 trillion of value to the global economy annually, according to a report from McKinsey Global Institute, in what is one of the rosier predictions about the economic effects of the rapidly evolving technology.

Generative A.I., which includes chatbots such as ChatGPT that can generate text in response to prompts, can potentially boost productivity by saving 60 to 70 percent of workers’ time through automation of their work, according to the 68-page report, which was published early Wednesday. Half of all work will be automated between 2030 and 2060, the report said.

McKinsey had previously predicted that A.I. would automate half of all work between 2035 and 2075, but the power of generative A.I. tools — which exploded onto the tech scene late last year — accelerated the company’s forecast.

“Generative A.I. has the potential to change the anatomy of work, augmenting the capabilities of individual workers by automating some of their individual activities,” the report said.

McKinsey’s report is one of the few so far to quantify the long-term impact of generative A.I. on the economy. The report arrives as Silicon Valley has been gripped by a fervor over generative A.I. tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, with tech companies and venture capitalists investing billions of dollars in the technology.

The tools — some of which can also generate images and video, and carry on a conversation — have started a debate over how they will affect jobs and the world economy. Some experts have predicted that the A.I. will displace people from their work, while others have said the tools can augment individual productivity.

Last week, Goldman Sachs released a report warning that A.I. could lead to worker disruption and that some companies would benefit more from the technology than others. In April, a Stanford researcher and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study showing that generative A.I. could boost the productivity of inexperienced call center operators by 35 percent.

Any conclusions about the technology’s effects may be premature. David Autor, a professor of economics at M.I.T. cautioned that generative A.I. was “not going to be as miraculous as people claim.”

“We are really, really in the early stage,” he added.

For the most part, economic studies of generative A.I. do not take into account other risks from the technology, such as whether it might spread misinformation and eventually escape the realm of human control.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 14, 2023 at 6:52pm

Best universities for Artificial Intelligence in Pakistan

National University- FAST. ...
National University of Science and Technology. ...
Quaid-e-Azam University. ...
Lahore University of Management Sciences. ...
Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences. ...
University of Karachi. ...
Air University.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 15, 2023 at 7:44am

Lahore’s Tech Renaissance: From Astrolabes To AI
Amir Husain

Amir Husain is the Founder & CEO of the global AI company, SparkCognition, and the CEO of SkyGrid.

Zaib and I just concluded a fascinating visit to Lahore, Pakistan. We were joined on this trip by Prof. Bruce Porter, former Chairman of UT Austin Computer Science and Chief Science Officer of SparkCognition, along with colleagues from SparkCognition, SkyGrid, and Navigate.

Lahore is an ancient and vibrant city, once one of the largest manufacturing centers of mechanical computers, called Astrolabes. Built by Muhammad Muqim and his family in the 16th century, these computers came hundreds of years before the Jacquard Loom or Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. The city is now busily reinventing itself as a modern hub for entrepreneurship and academia. Our journey unveiled numerous innovative startups, cutting-edge research projects, and the thriving connections between the city’s entrepreneurial and educational ecosystems.

Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

Our first public event was at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), a prestigious institution renowned for its research and entrepreneurial spirit. Prof. Porter and I had the opportunity to deliver talks on entrepreneurship and artificial intelligence (AI) to an enthusiastic audience of students and faculty members.

Prof. Porter's talk focused on the three generations of AI, tracing its development from search algorithms to expert systems and the Generative AI explosion. The lecture provided insights into AI's potential to transform industries and our daily lives.

After the talks, we connected with professors and students, learning about their innovative startups and groundbreaking research projects. It was inspiring to see the passion and drive on display at LUMS.

IoT, EVs, and Quantum, Oh My!

We encountered three standout teams pushing the boundaries of technology and innovation. The first was the quantum computing group at LUMS which has developed and indigenously built an experimental quantum information processor. I was told by Dean Anwar of the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering (SBASSE) that this device has two entangled physical qubits based on single photons from a heralded source. This effort lands LUMS on a short list of global quantum computing research organizations. Applications of quantum computing may eventually revolutionize materials science and much more. It was quite impressive to see a cutting-edge effort like this underway at the school.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 15, 2023 at 7:45am

Lahore’s Tech Renaissance: From Astrolabes To AI
Amir Husain

Another intriguing venture spun off from LUMS is a startup that develops affordable three-wheel electric vehicles (EVs). As the world increasingly turns to sustainable transport solutions, this company aims to cater to the growing demand for cost-effective EVs in Pakistan and beyond.

The third group is running an agri-tech research initiative that combines AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) to control large-scale agricultural processes autonomously. The project seeks to optimize variables such as fertilizer, water, and pesticide, and monitor plant health, thereby increasing productivity in the farming sector.

Technologies such as these can lift the local economy, increase global collaboration, and scale exports.

Aitchison College

Our next stop was my old alma mater, Aitchison College, a prestigious K-12 school founded in 1885. Boasting one of the world's most beautiful campuses on a sprawling 200 acres of land, the school has evolved from an elite institution to offering full-ride scholarships for applicants from diverse backgrounds.

Michael Thomson, the Principal of Aitchison College, and his lovely wife, Elizabeth, gave us a tour of the school's museum, the impressive chemistry labs, and the nearly complete Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Biotech building. This new facility will be a massive asset for Aitchison and the student community, bringing research and entrepreneurship to the high school level.

One of the most inspiring stories we heard was that of a young graduate from the tribal belt along the Afghan border in North Waziristan. Upon meeting this impressive young gentleman, we learned that after receiving a full scholarship at Aitchison, he is now heading to Dartmouth for higher studies – a transformative opportunity for him, his family, and his village.

Entrepreneurs in Lahore

During our trip, we interacted with numerous entrepreneurs who have contributed significantly to Lahore's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Among them was the legendary Syed Babar Ali, founder of LUMS and Chairman of Packages Ltd. Babar Ali is one of the most admired Pakistanis globally. In his long list of laurels is his dedication to environmental conservation and a term as the President of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), which he took over from Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1996. His contributions to industry and education are immeasurable. At the young age of 97, he continues to work from his office daily, maintaining a hectic and full schedule. His unwavering dedication and passion are truly inspiring.

We also met Aezaz Hussain, the founder of Systems Ltd., Pakistan's oldest software company. Mr. Hussain has led his company with great poise for over forty years. He has now expanded his enterprise globally through a network of affiliated companies. The Systems Ltd. network encompasses businesses in the UAE, Australia, Saudi Arabia, India, Europe, and the US. With around 10,000 employees, Systems is experiencing rapid growth and solidifying Pakistan's position in the global software industry.

Nabeel Ahmed, the founder of Core9, a new AI services company focused on industrial applications and a SparkCognition partner, took us on a tour of the Sundar Industrial Estate. Here, we learned about the nearly 650 manufacturing companies based in the park, spanning industries such as pharma, textiles, TVs, and chemicals. Meeting one of the newest SparkCognition clients, a multinational chemical manufacturer also located within the Sundar Industrial Estate, was exciting and inspiring.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 15, 2023 at 7:46am

Lahore’s Tech Renaissance: From Astrolabes To AI
Amir Husain

The Lahore-based team at FiveRivers Technologies has been a tremendous partner for SparkCognition. But FiveRivers also impressed us by showcasing a suite of their domestically built software products gaining traction in international markets. Their SmartWindows application is one such example. The application enhances productivity for power users by supercharging window and state management on PCs. It’s quickly gaining users worldwide.

Later that night, at a wonderful ecosystem dinner organized by Usman Malik of power company, PITCO and Mahmud Hiraj of private equity firm, Baltoro Capital, we met many other members of the innovation ecosystem in Lahore. Usman heads the power plant design arm of PITCO, which traces its origins back to 1938. Mahmud is a founding partner at Baltoro Capital, a leading private equity firm in Pakistan. Mahmud moved back to Lahore after spending 15 years in the finance industry in North America. His fund, Baltoro, is Pakistan-focused and capitalizes on the country’s growing consumer market and rising export competitiveness.

Export is a key area of focus for many Pakistani entrepreneurs, particularly those building high-tech products. One of the guests at the ecosystem dinner was Salem Rehman of EMCO Industries. EMCO is Pakistan's premier manufacturer of high-voltage products for the electric grid. His company has a long history of catering to the domestic and regional markets but has now also started exporting to the United States.

Wrapping up

Our trip to Lahore allowed us to witness firsthand the energy and drive of Lahore’s entrepreneurs. The city is full of innovative startups, research projects, and academies focused on scientific development. This varied and fast-growing ecosystem is a testament to Lahore's immense potential and creativity.

As we continue our work in Austin, build new relationships in Munich, and explore partnerships in Lahore, we hope to contribute to the growth of entrepreneurial communities in all these innovation centers. By fostering connections between these vibrant cities, we can nurture AI and broader S&T collaborations that have the potential to change the world. The unyielding passion of the people we met makes us optimistic about the future of Lahore, of Pakistan, and indeed, of the world.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 15, 2023 at 4:35pm

Lightspeed says India not for the faint-hearted amid Sequoia split

Tiger Global partner Scott Shleifer echoed similar sentiment earlier this year. India is likely to produce the highest equity returns globally in the future, he said, but admitting that the world’s second-largest internet market had delivered below average returns for the investor giant historically and the local startup ecosystem was grappling with governance and unit economics challenges.

“Returns on capital in India have sucked historically. If you look at the market-leading internet companies, whether it is Google, Facebook, Alibaba or Tencent, revenue for them got bigger than cost more than a decade ago. You had a great legacy of the last 17-18 years of materially profitable internet companies. So returns on equity in the internet got really high and the returns for investors have been really high. But that did not happen in India,” he said.


Bejul Somaia, the founding partner of Lightspeed India, staunchly defended the allure of South Asia’s investment landscape, even in the wake of unsettling movements such as Sequoia’s decision to segregate its Indian venture.

“The startup and venture model is predicated on learning and adapting fast, navigating to high upside and understanding that the few companies that really succeed drive economies and humanity forward and create enormous value,” Somaia wrote in an essay, posted on Twitter.

“And those that don’t succeed contribute to a cycle of creative destruction that is essential to the development of an innovation economy. The potential of India remains incredibly compelling: a sizable market, high-quality founders and one-way adoption of technology. The question is not whether there is potential, but how best to navigate this potential.”

Somaia’s remarks come on the heels of an escalating critique from certain industry figures who have been openly skeptical about Sequoia’s decision to cut the India and Southeast Asia arm. The storied venture firm said earlier this month that it intends to separate its Indian and Chinese operations from the U.S. mothership, a move that has instigated heated debate in the industry.

Chamath Palihapitiya, the billionaire founder of Social Capital, said he was puzzled by Sequoia’s decision to split up the India business. “I was surprised why they would allow India to leave,” he said on his podcast All-In last week. “India is a country growing at 6% a year. It literally looks like China in 2008-09. I think you would want to attach them to yourself because it makes the U.S. business look better.”

Palihapitiya said he doesn’t buy the idea — the on-record justification provided by the venture firm — that Sequoia is splitting the business because of portfolio conflict concerns.

“Sequoia China is frankly over the last 15-20 years is as good or probably better than Sequoia U.S. Sequoia India, I don’t think, has much to talk about and maybe what Roelof [Botha, Managing Partner at Sequoia Capital] decided was that this team is just not very good, so we might just as well cut it and revisit it later.”

Sequoia India and SEA, the most prolific investor in the region, raised $9.2 billion across 13 funds over the past decade-and-a-half and backed over 400 startups. The firm, now known as Peak XV Partners, has delivered $4.5 billion of realized exits.

Lightspeed India, which also started investing in India over a decade ago, has raised $1.6 billion to date and returned about $1 billion to its limited partners and the value of its current asset holding is $3.4 billion, Somaia said.

“India is not for the faint-hearted. India is tough. But India is worth it,” he wrote.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 15, 2023 at 6:38pm

JP Morgan downgrades Indian IT sector to underweight from neutral

Infosys, TCS, MphasiS on JP Morgan's negative catalyst watch. Here's why
JP Morgan has reiterated its negative stance on Indian information technology (IT) services and downgraded the sector to underweight (neutral earlier post Q4-FY23 numbers), as it believes the overall demand environment for the sector still remains weak.

The research firm expects most companies in the sector to disappoint while announcing their first quarter numbers for the current fiscal (Q1-FY24). Among stocks, it has placed Infosys, TCS, MphasiS its ‘negative catalyst watch’.
“India IT Services offers investors an opportunity for a short IT Services trade for the second time in six months. After meeting 15 industry participants in Bangalore, we came away feeling that the demand environment for IT Services has likely weakened further in June,” wrote Ankur Rudra and Bhavik Mehta of JP Morgan in a recent note.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 15, 2023 at 6:44pm

JP Morgan on Indian IT sector: Shares of most IT services companies were under pressure on Wednesday after foreign brokerage JP Morgan reiterated its negative stance on the entire IT services universe. The brokerage said it expects every IT firm to disappoint the street in Q1 and H2FY24. Further, it has placed Infosys, TCS, and Mphasis on 'Negative Catalyst Watch', as reported by Zee Business.

The brokerage has maintained an 'underweight' rating on Infosys with a target price of Rs 1,150. On TCS, too, JP Morgan is underweight and has set the target price at Rs 2,700. As regards Mphasis, the target price is set at Rs 1,550. That's an 18 per cent decline from the previous close of Rs 1,898. Moreover, it has downgraded Persistent Systems to underweight from neutral and cut the target to Rs 4,100 from Rs 4,200 earlier. The brokerage said it finds the stock expensive given slowing growth in a tough macro environment.

The brokerage mentioned that EPAM recently cut its guidance from +3% growth in CY23 to -2% and the cuts were led by a cut in discretionary digital engineering spending. Persistent Systems has the highest exposure to discretionary spending at 83 per cent as compared to peers' 40-75 per cent. Further, it has maintained an underweight stance on Tech Mahindra, but the target price has been raised to Rs 950 from Rs 900 earlier.

At the time of writing this news, the S&P BSE Information Technology index was trading nearly half a per cent lower at 29,087.66 levels. KPIT Tech was the biggest loser on the index (down nearly 5 per cent). Persistent Systems was next on the list with a 2.62 per cent loss. Cigniti, Ramco Systems, LTI Mindtree, and Mastek were also among the losers. However, the stocks trimmed their losses later. At close, the IT index stood at 29,174.47, down 0.17 per cent.

Nirmal Bang Securities is also cautious about the sector. In its latest report, the brokerage said it continues to remain cautious on the IT sector with an 'underweight' (UW) stance and "will wait for better valuations or evidence that the worst is behind us. Only capitulation by the US consumer would, in our view, signal that we are close to the end of the current cycle of pain."

The brokerage further said, "Management commentary/data points across global IT services players and cloud/SaaS players in the June 2023 quarter-to-date (QTD) as well as from the recent meetings we have had in Bengaluru with a few Tier-1 players suggest that the June 2023 quarter is likely to be weak for Tier-1 players as has been widely expected. The situation for Tier-2 players will be much more company-specific."


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