India is one of the most important markets for Google and a source of incredible talent and innovation that help create and empower the company’s products globally, a top official at the tech giant has said.
Karan Bhatia, Google’s global head of government affairs and public policy, told PTI on Friday that the company is very excited about India and its trajectory. “India is one of our most important markets around the world. It’s really a second home to us. We’ve been in the country for almost two decades now. We have thousands of employees there. It is both a source of incredible talent and innovation that really help create and empower Google products around the world,” he said.
It is also a dynamic market where you see an explosion in both internet usage and in new small businesses and startups, Bhatia said. In the last nine years, he said, India has been an incredible story that has seen an explosion in the use of the internet, particularly in rural regions which are experiencing the fastest growth in penetration, and growth in terms of digital-first businesses. “We’re seeing more unicorns, more startups, more companies that are thinking digitally first. And then, you’re seeing a government that really understands the important role of digitalisation, digital policies,” Bhatia said.
He said across the board, there is an ecosystem that exists in India that is driving forward the country’s presence in the global digital network. “Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi has had a digital-first mindset, from the outset. You can see the way he has encouraged the government’s adoption of digital technology. You look at something like Aadhar. So, there certainly is a significant component that has been the result of the government’s leadership,” he said. Bhatia served as the Deputy US Trade Representative from 2005 to 2007. He is credited with leading the negotiation of the United States Korea Free Trade Agreement and the Open Skies Agreement with India.
“We are excited at the Prime minister’s visit for many reasons. We see a lot of opportunity for ongoing growth in that relationship on the people-to-people side, on the business-to-business side. “I would love to see us three years from now have double the level of partnerships between the US and India in the digital space and think that’s a realistic possibility,” he said. Prime Minister Modi is visiting the US from June 21-24 at the invitation of US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. They will host Modi at a state dinner on June 22. The visit also includes an address to the Joint Session of the Congress on June 22.
Bhatia said Google is playing an important role in this field. “We’re doing it through our products where we continue to build and develop new products for the Indian market and frankly in India for the global market. We’re also doing it through some of the partnerships that we have with startups,” he said. He said Google launched the India Digitization Fund, a USD 10 billion investment by the tech giant in Indian companies, a couple of years ago. “We’re partnered with Jio, Airtel, and also with small new startups, which are really the source of so much innovation,” he said. Bhatia said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with US President Joe Biden here next week will send a “clear signal” to their governments that they want to see this relationship, commercial relationship grow, particularly in the technology and digital area.
“I think that is at a very high level, the biggest thing that can be done. There are always regulations and policies that are evolving, particularly in the technology space that can sometimes create challenges, and sometimes create impediments. “It’s important that those policies be looked at through the framing of how we drive these two economies together and allow them to grow together and to continue to work more effectively together. That would be the biggest thing that I would hope for,” he said. Bhatia said Google considers itself an AI-first company and has been investing in this area for years.
“Indeed, many of the products that you’re using today from Google have already got AI embedded in them, including products that actually are working in India and working better in India than ever before,” he said. “Our new language capabilities in Google are being made available through artificial intelligence, but there is a lot of opportunity to continue to do things, which is one of the reasons why we were recently proud to announce a new partnership with IIT Madras, to help grow our AI capabilities and presence there. He said Google is also working with a lot of Indian companies on artificial intelligence solutions to some of their opportunities and challenges, he said, adding the US and India could be two AI superpowers working together.
“We’ve been part of the dialogue. Google obviously is at the forefront of emerging and critical technologies both in the United States and India. It’s good for there to be a high-level dialogue around what are the enablers and the impediments to increasing collaboration in that area,” Bhatia said. Many companies, including Google, are looking to grow in India and continue to invest in India, he said, adding there has obviously been a strong appetite. “I think the prime Minister is right to be focused on this because it is a very competitive global environment right now,” he said. There are a lot of countries around the world that are looking to try and attract companies with tracked investment, particularly in the technology space because this is what is going to shape economic development trajectories, he said, adding that the fact that India’s plays such a priority on this makes a lot of sense.
“The Indian government, like every government around the world, continues to invest in digital and technology infrastructure, continuing to invest in people skills. How do you help everybody have the basic knowledge of how to utilise technology, how to utilise the internet. That is a second big area of focus. “Third, the government itself is an adopter of technology and certainly we’ve seen the Indian government do that. And then lastly, creating the right policy and regulatory environment, one that allows innovation to exist, allows these cross border partnerships,” he said when asked about the areas of improvement in India.