Tech, services can be built in India to solve global issues: Sundar Pichai
For Google and its parent company Alphabet, India is a country where technologies and services can be built to solve problems globally, chief executive Sundar Pichai said, citing products such as Google Pay which t originated in the country but has now become the foundation for the company’s payments business globally.
Pichai was in conversation with HT’s R Sukumar. The conversation was recorded in November and aired on the fourth day of the hybrid Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Friday. Pichai spoke of how he saw the evolution of technology, the shaping of regulations and the future of one of the world’s most important tech companies.
In the context of India, he said the country’s industry shows potential and his company was keen to help the start-up ecosystem. “For years, whenever I would meet entrepreneurs, I could see the potential of the start-up ecosystem and what’s possible in India. It’s heartening to see the number of start-ups proving themselves on a global stage and the unicorns that are getting created,” he said.
He listed two ways in which Google plans to contribute to the Indian tech industry: by offering to fund and by opening up some of its technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). “ A lot of our services would allow people to export outside of India as well,” he added.
The company’s cloud services and the Android mobile operating system, which many Indian companies use to deploy their services and products, will also help Google play an enabling role in India, Pichai said.
He cited the example of the mobile payments interface UPI to illustrate how the experiences of developing and operating in India has helped Google.
“What happened in India with UPI is we understood India was going to be ahead of everyone else in digital payments. We invested in Google Pay and the foundation of that app and experience is what is making its way to our other markets around the world.”
“I view, India as a place where we will be able to build things and take them globally… I’m excited about building for India first, and also building in India to solve problems globally as well,” he added.
Google has also collaborated with Reliance Jio to create the Jio Phone with a made-for-India operating system. Describing the collaboration as an exciting part of the Digital India vision, Pichai said it was meant to produce a high-quality smartphone at an affordable price point.
“We are trying to design a high-quality smartphone, at affordable price points, but in a way that’s localised for the needs of Indian market… We are investing in Android, investing in AI to do translation better, bring Google voice so that people can actually interact with the device in many languages in an easier way. And we’re designing it with Reliance, which deeply understands the market,” he said.
“I think it’s an exciting part of the Digital India vision, and will end up being an accelerant for it over time. But it’s the first step in that process. I couldn’t be more excited, we have a phone out, and we’ll continue iterating and building,” he said.
On a question regarding how Google sees regulations, such as the controversial Information Technology Rules, Pichai said countries need to take a holistic view that takes into account industries and the importance of the open internet for their growth.
“We want to approach it with the view of making sure the work we are doing is helpful to the people in the context of a country in which we operate. In India, there are companies and unicorns emerging over time, and I expect many of them to be able to scale up and tap into markets and grow on the internet. And that’s what some of the benefits of the open internet provides. And so I think it is important to think about it holistically and that’s part of how a country has to think about its regulations,” he said.
Tech regulation has also involved questions about the centralisation of excessive powers, which has triggered calls for companies such as Facebook and Google to be broken up in the United States. Pichai spoke on the issue, saying he would not classify his company as a conglomerate since tech companies “have to earn their success every year”.
“In fact, at any given time, you go back and look 20 years ago, and see the successful companies, it takes a lot for a company to stay at that level, over a period of time,” he said, adding that as a company Google focusses on “digging deep and making sure we are building things which are helpful to people true to our mission.”