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1956 witnessed the coining of the term AI, by American computer scientist John McCarthy. This umbrella term today encompasses things right from robotic process automation to actual robotics. Of late, it has gained importance due to big data and the increase in size, speed and data that businesses collect. AI can perform various tasks more efficiently, from identifying patterns in data to speech recognition to problem-solving, thus, helping businesses gain more insight.

Apala Lahiri Chavan, President, Human Factors International –MIDAAAS shared insights on Artificial Intelligence, how AI has become the current talking point of technology. “Artificial Intelligence at the very minimum can help in the ability to work with big data because AI works best with as much data as possible that could be provided to the AI systems. This enables the system to come up with intelligent and meaningful insights, thus, adding value with its suggestions or solutions. Unlike the human brain that has its limits, AI looks out for maximum possibilities by connecting millions of dots, so to speak,” she says.

Having become an essential part of technology today, the core challenge of AI includes programming computers for traits such as knowledge, reasoning, problem-solving, learning, perception, planning and the ability to manipulate and move objects. Machines can act and react like humans only when they have been fed with a good amount of information.



Some of the questions that we put forth to Apala Lahiri on AI and here’s what she had to say:

Can AI help user experience in products?

Data forms the core for AI systems, so if it has a lot of ofdata about users of a particular product, then it can arrive at a conclusion regarding patterns of usage, where is the customer population, where would the user stick on regarding product usage and where the challenges are. Moreover, arriving at answers to these questions is quite challenging if conventional analysis systems were to be used. On the other hand, with an AI system, businesses would know how a particular product is being used, know about customers coming in, how the product features  are being used in a short span of time, and hence, be able to act quickly upon an experience that seems to be broken whilst investigating deeper. These are the areas where AI can help user experience in products. Of course, the ethics of collecting and acting on user data is a larger question that is being debated upon even as we speak!

Can AI also provide predictive insights of products?

If there are two different ideas, an AI system can look into the given data about the target segment of customers. Given the type of customers, the AI would look into the kind of preferences, work, and behaviour with all its crunched data.

Technology is surpassing all means and moving towards development of such powerful systems. When it comes to AI, a lot is being witnessed in terms of its development. It is not just the development of intelligence that is being worked upon but how almost the entire human brain could be mimicked. Even developers cannot predict how an AI system would work and at times are surprised at how the system moves forward.



The role of AI in the India:

AI is a luxury, and the possibilities it has in solving problems in India is immense. Even though India seems to have progressed, it still has an enormous illiteracy rate. 50% of rural women who work as domestic help or at construction sites are illiterate, and herein begins marginalisation of such a large section of our population. They are not self-sufficient, they cannot run micro enterprises, nor can they grow in their jobs. Hence, AI systems can play a huge role if it can impart basic life skills or functional literacy i.e. how to read, write and learn a bit of English, understand rights or understand financial issues. This would help them navigate through life with dignity and prosperity.

Can AI help bring those at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid higher?

Yes, AI can undoubtedly do that. Especially in most Asian and African countries, there exists hierarchies in society, be it in income or education, irrespective of the rural-urban divide. Those at the bottom of that hierarchy tend to feel intimidated and judged by those above. Therefore, AI systems could help people at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid to interact and learn in a much easier way as it can be non-judgemental and completely neutral. This is hugely liberating, especially in countries like India where the illiteracy and poverty rate is quite high.

Verticals and domains AI can be put to use:

AI can play a huge role in health care where diagnosis could be made fast and cheap, without having any actual doctors; which is quite a significant application in countries like India. AI could also be handy in crop guidance or crop management. Billions of data points of farmland images can be looked upon, and within few second an analysis could be made as to whether the area is suitable for crop planting or not, how much water is needed, what kind of crops would be right and then the information can be used to advise the farmer. Hence, AI is quite impactful for applications of this nature.

AI provides scalability for solving such large problems; otherwise, human beings would have to be deployed all the time.



Any product that is leveraging AI to eradicate problems from the society?

Much work is going on and more so in academic research institutions and of course, initiatives like IBM’s Watson. There are lots of programs where AI systems are being analysed, and experiments are being run in India and other African and Asian countries to scale the problem of literacy. Instead of human teachers, pure artificial intelligence is being put to use. Large corporates are trying to apply AI in different areas such as agriculture and medicine.

The challenge is that unless we develop the capability locally to develop and deploy AI systems, it is going to be expensive. Therefore, non-profit organisations of computer scientists, AI developers, roboticist, are taking up the initiative to train local people and build their skills. In India, these kinds of programs have not started yet, but it would be helpful even if readymade systems were used in agriculture, medicine, healthcare, education.

However, since AI system is a virtual entity with which people have to interact, the question arises as to whether people are comfortable in a culture like this and is it beneficial.

“We should all collaborate to see with our different skills and perspective how can we make them contextual. Moreover, if we all collaborate, then maybe instead of repeating the same thing, we can contribute to what each other is doing, and the result is going to be so much more impactful,”
says Apala.

The positives and negatives of AI:

The ability to come up with intelligent and meaningful insights quickly based on a lot of data and information; this is a value add as it also enables us to quickly determines possible suggestions or solutions for a certain problem. The AI system can look at ways to find a solution by looking at a maximum number of possibilities, unlike the human brain that is limited. This is a very positive thing as it is hugely beneficially in so many ways. The negatives, on the other hand, include human biases that developers or designers could carry when developing an artificial intelligence system. AI is nothing but algorithms, and if the algorithms are biased, then this is where the fear of mishaps come from.

Is there a way to curb these biases?

There needs to be an agreement across entities, whether corporate, governments or other institutions across the world to always follow some basic principles. Some fundamental human values and ethical guidelines need to be embedded in the AI systems as a non-negotiable, no matter what the problem is and how it is crunching the data and coming up with solutions.


About Apala

Apala Lahiri Chavan is President of Human Factors International (Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia). Her passion is to envision how user experience can be inclusive, democratic and a change agent. She is also fascinated by changes in user experience across time and space. Apala is an award-winning designer (International Audi Design Award 1996). She co-edited the book Innovative Solutions: What Designers Need to Know for Today’s Emerging Markets and her TEDx talk is Three Laws of User Experience. Follow her @FuturistApala

It is estimated that founders can end up spending more than 50% of their time raising funds for their venture. While the amount of time spent on this activity may be debatable and vary based on multiple factors including the credibility / track-record of the founder, investment climate, industry sector, etc., what is undisputed is the fact that fund raising is a major focus area AND a huge drain on founders’ time. Unfortunately, it is also one activity that cannot be delegated to anyone lse.


In my case, at every stage of all my ventures’ growth and development, I’ve had to spend huge amounts of time focussing on fund raising.


So, given how critical this activity is, founders will be well advised to ask themselves the following questions,BEFORE they plunge headlong into raising funds,



  1. “Do I really need external funding”?  Very often, people can build businesses without

Institutional capital (venture capital, or, even early-stage angel funding). A business can be built, out of cash flows of the business, customer advances, entrepreneur’s own savings, loans from friends and family or other softer resources. There are a lot of businesses such as professional services firms that break even quickly, which can be boot strapped without external funding.


Founders, therefore, need to ask themselves what funds are really required till they reach profitability and whether there is an absolute imperative to seek outside funding or if the amount is something that they can mobilise internally


  1. “Is it Risk capital or just Working capital that I need”? Typically, working capital refers to capital you need to deploy for a period of time,which is likely to be returned to the business; E.g., for buying an inventory of goods that you will end up selling at a profit for which money will flow back into the business. For this, you need to invest an initial amount that can be recovered later. Working capital could also go towards salaries etc., that you need to pay initially but can be recovered from the services provided by your employees. On the other hand, risk capital is different and would go towards R&Dand product development costs, branding, marketing, etc. In this case, the results of undertaking these activities are unknown, and things may or may not work out; nevertheless, you need these elements in order to build out the business but the entire capital invested is “at risk.”


Potential funders for both the types of capital listed above are different. Working capital typically comes from banks, NBFCs(non-banking financial institutions) or sources that don’t expect safety of the principal to be compromised and seek some collaterals or guarantee in return for lending the funds. They are mostly willing to fund over the short-term and expect moderate returns.


Risk capital,however, is for “risk investors” who would expect a stake or piece of your company. They understand the high risk, expect multi-bagger returns or compensation for the risk. These include angel investors, VC (venture capital) firms, etc.


  1. ”When should I raise to raise Venture Capital or equity funding”?This can be particularly tricky. When you raise external funding too early in the game, you may end up with a low valuation, and you dilute your stake disproportionately. However, choosing to raise funds too late and you don’t have enough fuel (cash) to experiment and try out various things, take risks and play aggressively for a win.


In my opinion, if you are clear about needing VC funding then the earlier, the better. Dilution (of his / her stake) never affected any entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are passionate people who want to see their dreams and passion change into reality. For this, they need all the help they can get given the low odds of success (Less than 5 % of startups actually last / succeed). No company ever shuts down because the founder diluted too much; rather, companies have to shutter because the last Rs10,000 to pay the bills is no longer there.


But, some experts think differently. They advocate that you should develop the business to a certain stage so that you are clear about how much money is required, for what purpose this will be used, and can show some market traction before raising funds - at which point the valuation will be better, and dilution of stake will be lower. As I said before, the timing issue is a tricky one to resolve.




  1. What will be the source of funds?” (Angels / HNIs, Angel networks, Seed stage funds, Venture Capitalists, PE firms)


This should be determined by a few factors such as:

  • The quantum of the fund raise: Each class of investor has their sweet spot on how much they typically invest and should be approached accordingly based on the size of funds one is seeking.
  • Stage of the business: The clarity of business model, proof of concept, market validation is important and will decide whom to approach. VCs usually need a more mature set-up compared to a seed stage fund, which in turn would like to come in when there is some proof as compared to an angel or HNI who bets on an idea. Some exceptions to the rule may apply. For instance, some VCs have a start-up accelerator funds or pools. PE firms usually provide what is known as “growth-capital”. They will come in after the proof of concept has been validated and soundly established, when there is clear profitability or a path to profitability exists. PE firms provide give funds for growth, and not for proving the business model.


  1. How much funding should I raise?


Raising higher than normal funding may encourage profligate spending and excesses as we have seen during the boom days. However, having access to money rarely killed a company, but the lack of it (money) will certainly do. But how much to raise is determined by the amount that is needed to execute your plan and getting to the next milestone. The next milestone could be:reaching profitability, reaching enough scale to be able to attract the next round of funding for a much larger amount, developing the product fully so that you can deploy it in ‘live’ customer environments, or developing the business to a level where you will start generating revenues to sustain your monthly burn, etc.


It is important to raise as much funding as you can based on a) your need b) market appetite and b) your capability to attract investors. It’s better to have more rather than less funding.


K Ganesh, Serial Entrepreneur and Partner – 

As a product manager, it is very important to sift through the chaff to find the set of actionable metrics that help you make decisions, tter understand your users and market dynamics. Master Class for Product Managers by Vivek Raghavan, Group Product Manager for TurboTax at Intuit.


Key Takeaways from the session:



~50 techies and business executives attended the session by Mukund Venkatesh (GM India Operations, Global Analytics) and Vikash Kumar (Director, Risk / Analytics, Global Analytics). The Session discussed the challenges, experiences and specific examples associated with predicting risk in a digital consumer lending operation. Key takeaways:


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