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Ensuring that AI deployment respects privacy while enhancing user experience is crucial: Venkatesh Kidambi, Chief Digital Transformation Officer, MTR Foods

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Express Computer recently conducted an exclusive interview with Venkatesh Kidambi, Chief Digital Transformation Officer at MTR Foods. In this insightful conversation, Kidambi delves into the recent digital trends shaping the industry, the strategic incorporation of AI into IT roadmaps, the need for industry-wide regulations on AI, challenges and opportunities in adapting to AI tools, cybersecurity considerations, the traction of GenAI in the industry, and his outlook for the future. With a focus on AI’s transformative potential and the evolving landscape of digital innovation, Kidambi provides valuable insights into the dynamic intersection of technology and industry trends.

Can you share some of the recent important digital trends that you see in the industry, particularly in your industry? 

Recent trends are largely focused on AI and its potential to propel various business objectives forward. The key questions being asked revolve around how we can streamline our organisation and drive business growth through AI adoption. What’s striking is the accelerated pace at which people are embracing technologies like AI and ML.

The scope of applications for these technologies is extensive, and with the emergence of Gen AI, we’re witnessing its integration right from the frontline salespeople in FMCG—the backbone of our industry. Gen AI serves as a transformative tool, empowering individuals at all levels, from frontline workers to top management.

While Gen AI has yet to fully penetrate the top management sphere, the insights and reports it offers are already reshaping decision-making processes. Although it remains somewhat in its infancy for top-level executives, the buzz around Gen AI, fueled in part by platforms like ChatGPT, has everyone’s attention squarely focused on its potential.

What recommendations do you have for companies regarding strategically incorporating AI into their IT roadmap and planning its integration?

AI, in my view, represents the future landscape of competitive advantage. The crux of this advantage lies in the quality and utilisation of AI technology. Presently, prominent figures such as the Pentagon’s AI head assert that China has surged ahead in AI development, surpassing the United States. This trend is likely to persist in the coming years, where the prowess in leveraging AI will delineate market leaders from the rest. Therefore, it’s crucial for companies to infuse AI across all facets of their operations, spanning sales, marketing, finance, HR, and legal domains. The breadth of AI’s implications and applications is vast and evolving rapidly, facilitating swift and informed decision-making while driving cost savings or revenue growth. Consequently, any direct impact on the bottom line merits earnest consideration for AI integration. Rather than contemplating where AI might not fit, companies should proactively seek opportunities for its deployment across diverse areas. In essence, the ubiquity of AI applications underscores its indispensability in modern business strategies.

Do you believe there should be industry-wide regulations for the optimal or restricted use of AI, or specific regulations for companies?

When considering the ethical implications of AI today, it’s crucial to address two primary concerns – the responsible use of individual data and the potential impact on employment. Ensuring that AI deployment respects privacy while enhancing user experience is crucial. By transparently informing users of data usage and offering clear value propositions, obtaining consent becomes a collaborative process rather than an intrusion. However, ethical dilemmas arise when training AI and machine learning models on third-party data, raising questions about ownership and consent.

In countries like India, a significant concern revolves around potential job displacement due to AI implementation. The reality demands workforce upskilling to remain relevant in the evolving landscape. Two prominent trends emerge – the emergence of permissioned AI usage akin to permissioned marketing and regulatory measures dictating data utilisation boundaries. However, stunting AI growth or imposing restrictive caps risks hindering national productivity. Just as opposing mechanisation during the industrial era impeded progress, limiting AI adoption jeopardises competitiveness. Ultimately, investing in upskilling and reskilling initiatives becomes imperative to harness the transformative potential of AI and ML.

What potential challenges do you foresee for individuals adapting to AI tools in daily work routines, and how might the emergence of advanced general AI impact the job market’s competitive landscape over the next five to ten years?

In the upcoming five to ten years, AI tools are poised to integrate into our daily work routines much like Office 365 or other basic productivity tools commonly used in offices. This means that utilising AI to enhance productivity will become standard practice for many individuals in their professional roles. However, there will likely be a segment of the population who may struggle to adapt to this shift and consequently find themselves less relevant in the evolving landscape.

Another significant transformation will occur with the advent of advanced general AI. Currently, much of our discourse revolves around discrete or weak AI, which excels in specific domains but falls short of human-like intelligence. However, as AI progresses towards achieving capabilities beyond human cognition, we’ll witness a paradigm shift. Advanced AI will possess an extensive knowledge base and unparalleled processing power, enabling it to make decisions and exhibit intelligence at levels surpassing human capacity.

With the emergence of AI capable of human-level decision-making, individuals lacking in relevant skills may face increased challenges in the job market. In this context, the primary competition for individuals will not be fellow humans but rather AI systems. This underscores the importance of understanding and adapting to these technological advancements to remain competitive in the future job market.

How do you propose achieving a balance between leveraging AI for cybersecurity benefits such as risk assessment while mitigating the increased potential for threats it may introduce?

So, there is a statement I made sometime back, “AI is like fire.” Fire was transformative for Stone Age humans—it could both burn and cook food. Similarly, in our current era, we’re grappling with a new technology, AI, which has the potential to enable and disable various aspects of our lives.

We’re optimistic about AI’s potential to greatly enhance tasks currently performed by humans. For instance, AI has the capacity to significantly strengthen enterprise security measures, potentially improving them by orders of magnitude. Recently, while reviewing our security compliance, I noticed that the majority of threats originate externally. However, some of the most significant threats arise from internal sources, such as employees making poor decisions.

These decisions, often stemming from a lack of security education or falling prey to sophisticated phishing attempts, pose serious risks to enterprise security. With AI integrated into every aspect of security, we anticipate a significant reduction in such human errors. AI can revolutionise risk analysis, threat detection, and even engage in active threat combat.

Looking ahead, I see AI playing a role in combating hackers in real-time, potentially outperforming humans in speed and efficiency. Additionally, AI’s capabilities make it particularly adept at addressing complex threats like distributed denial-of-service attacks, offering a formidable defence against such cyber threats.

How do you perceive the traction of GenAI in your industry?

GenAI is gaining traction across various fronts, both at personal and enterprise levels. Organisations in our industry, for instance, are leveraging GenAI to coach their sales teams, integrating it into sales force automation to ensure more effective interactions with retailers. Our own front-end sales team has benefited from this, being empowered by GenAI to have more impactful discussions.

Moreover, many of us are already tapping into GenAI for content creation, particularly on social media. AI offers significant advantages in terms of speed, cost efficiency, and time savings compared to traditional methods. It’s not about replacing human input; rather, it’s about enhancing human capabilities through AI-driven content creation. This translates to increased productivity, with individuals now able to produce more content in less time. For instance, where someone might have previously managed two creatives a day, they can now handle four, leading to a higher output of content overall. This shift underscores the remarkable efficiency and cost-effectiveness that GenAI brings to the table.

What is your outlook for the industry?

In the future, we’re likely to witness the integration of LLMs alongside general AI, marking a significant shift towards automation in various domains. Currently, human intervention is required to operate large language models, but envision a scenario where bots take over these tasks. This concept of bots interacting with bots, forming a network of machine-to-machine AI usage, represents a potential trajectory for the future. Particularly in a diverse country like India, there’s a growing need to train bots in different languages and dialects to cater to rural communities.

While English and some Western languages have dominated the landscape of language models, there’s a burgeoning potential in Indian vernacular languages. Although currently not as refined as English or other Western languages, the capability of LLMs in local languages is steadily improving. Over the next 6 to 12 months, we may observe a notable shift towards vernacular languages, driven by increasing adoption and technological advancements.

The pace of development in this direction also hinges on adoption rates. Greater adoption translates to accelerated development, attracting more interest from startups and larger companies alike. As the business potential in vernacular languages becomes more evident, expect to see a surge in investment and innovation, further propelling the evolution of these technologies.

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