AI and India’s IT Odyssey—From Humble Beginnings to Global Dominance: A Fireside Chat with NR Narayana Murthy

AI and India’s IT Odyssey—From Humble Beginnings to Global Dominance: A Fireside Chat with NR Narayana Murthy

Shalini Urs

Given AI’s dominance and growth potential, there is naturally enormous interest in decoding how AI will impact and shape India’s growth trajectory. To understand the landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Information Technology (IT) industry in India, few voices resonate as profoundly as that of NR Narayana Murthy, the legendary co-founder of Infosys and a pioneering figure in India’s technological journey. With a career spanning decades, Narayana Murthy’s (NRN) insights have not only shaped the trajectory of Indian IT but have also influenced global perceptions of the industry.

In this episode of InfoFire, I have the privilege of engaging with NRN to unravel the transformative potential of AI and its intersection with India’s IT landscape. From the early days of Indian software services to the contemporary challenges and opportunities presented by AI, Narayana Murthy offers a rare glimpse into the evolution and future trajectory of the industry. Join me as I embark on a captivating dialogue with NR Narayana Murthy, exploring the synergies between AI innovation and the dynamic IT ecosystem of India and uncovering the strategies and principles that continue to drive India’s technological prowess on the global stage.


Evolution of and Revolution by the Indian IT Industry

The Indian Information Technology (IT) industry has undergone a profound transformation pivotal in reshaping India’s economy. Experts and industry observers have extensively documented its evolution and impact. The success of the Indian IT sector can be attributed to three main factors: the economic liberalization policies of 1991, the establishment of Software Technology Parks (STPs), and the Y2K problem.

Comprising information technology services and business process outsourcing, the IT-BPM sector contributes significantly to India’s GDP, accounting for 7.4% in FY 2022. With an estimated revenue of US$ 245 billion in FY 2023 and employing 5.4 million people as of March 2023, the sector is a major driver of employment and economic growth.

Various books such as The Outsourcer: The Story of India’s IT Revolution by Sharma, The Maverick Effect: The Inside Story of India’s IT Revolution by Harish Mehta, and Against All Odds: The IT Story of India by Gopalakrishnan, chronicle the industry’s evolution and the contributions of leading IT companies. However, the role of numerous scientists, academics, bureaucrats, and entrepreneurs who laid the groundwork for India’s technological success remains underappreciated.

—The Indian Information Technology industry has undergone a profound transformation pivotal in reshaping India's economy—

The prehistory of India’s IT journey dates back to before independence, with the establishment of research institutes like the Indian Statistical Institute fostering the development of computer science and technology. Books like Icons of Indian IT by Parthasarathy & Sadagopan highlight the contributions of forgotten pioneers in computer education and visionary leaders like Dr. N Seshagiri, founder of the National Informatics Centre (NIC). Similarly, “Icons of Indian IT” pays homage to forgotten pioneers of computer education and visionary leaders like Dr. N Seshagiri, whose initiatives like the Software Technology Park (STP) scheme propelled India’s software exports to unprecedented heights in the 1990s.

Narratives like The Maverick Effect shed light on how a group of talented individuals persuaded the government to liberalize the system, leading to the establishment of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) in 1988. NASSCOM, the industry body, began in Harish Mehta’s office. Working with top IT experts, they advocated for an environment that nurtured the IT industry, paving the way for the IT revolution. Meanwhile, accounts like Kris Gopalakrishnan offer insider perspectives on the industry’s growth, emphasizing persistence, resilience, and faith in technology.

Overall, the Indian IT industry’s journey reflects a convergence of innovation, talent, and favorable policy frameworks. From its humble beginnings to its current global prominence, the industry continues to be a driving force in India’s economic landscape, shaping its trajectory as a technology powerhouse.

AI for Good and AI as the Public Good

The Digital Public Goods Alliance is a multi-stakeholder initiative with a mission to accelerate the attainment of the sustainable development goals in low- and middle-income countries by facilitating the discovery, development, use of, and investment in digital public goods.

AI has become a pervasive topic, capturing the attention of entrepreneurs, researchers, policymakers, and the public alike. Beyond the sensationalism and widespread discussions, the true magnitude of its power and potential is substantial. As AI’s power grows, there is an urgent need to figure out what—and who—this technology is really for.  In her book AI Needs You, Verity Harding argues that society must take the lead in answering this urgent question and ensuring that AI fulfills its promise. Harding’s book argues that society must act with clear purpose and intentionality to ensure that artificial intelligence (AI) serves the public good now and in the future. The paramount question is how we can harness this influence for the betterment of humanity. There is a growing call to designate AI as Digital Public Goods (DPG).

Two pivotal factors underpinning these discussions are the acknowledgment that the data fueling AI constitutes public goods and the recognition of global challenges, such as climate change and pandemics like COVID-19. These challenges are intricate problems requiring innovative and collaborative approaches. However, the transition of AI into the realm of DPGs faces challenges due to the prevalent governance of AI systems by intellectual property (IP) regulations, restricting the widespread free and open use of algorithms.

In response to my question on AI for Public Good, NRN talked briefly about AI history and focused more on the importance of data collection and management in a country such as India before we begin to harness it. According to NRN, science delves into the mysteries of nature, while technology applies scientific ideas to create scalable, efficient, and cost-effective products and services for humanity, bridging socioeconomic divides. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a rich history spanning six decades, with applications such as chess playing, robotics, and expert systems. While robotics and chess AI progressed rapidly, expert systems faced resistance, particularly in healthcare, due to liability concerns.

Recent advancements like machine learning and deep learning have propelled AI into the spotlight, enabling breakthroughs in various domains, including OpenAI’s ChatGPT, DPT-4, robotic surgery, and generative AI. Despite its potential, AI requires substantial data, posing a challenge in countries like India, where data culture is evolving. The government’s data protection bill marks a crucial step forward, but addressing privacy, ethics, fake data, and security threats remains paramount.

Collecting and classifying data for the public good requires collaboration among experts to navigate privacy and data integrity issues. The efficacy of machine learning and deep learning algorithms hinges on access to large datasets, underscoring the importance of national dialogue and strategic planning in data governance. In a populous country like India, the challenge lies in the vast amount of data and its collection and quality. By prioritizing data collection and delineating data categories, India can harness the transformative power of AI for societal benefit. Data is becoming a key driver of economic vitality with demonstrated potential to serve the public good. It can be key in fulfilling human rights, including child rights, and attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, the lack of timely and reliable access to quality data hinders realizing its potential. Therefore, we have a collective obligation to act.

AI in India and NASSCOM’s AI Adoption Index

Given AI’s potential, nations, governments, businesses, and industry bodies worldwide are actively formulating strategies for its adoption and growth. This collective effort reflects the recognition of AI’s transformative capabilities and its implications for various sectors and stakeholders globally, including India.

At Davos, amidst the buzz surrounding AI’s potential, global tech firms and Indian consulting giants such as Tata Consultancy Services and emphasized their AI capabilities. Indian tech hubs, represented by technology and consulting giants like Wipro, Infosys, and Tech, showcased their advancements in AI and manufacturing.

Recognizing the intrinsic link between India’s digital economy goals and AI adoption, NASSCOM has developed a framework to track AI adoption within the country. According to their research, the maturity of AI adoption correlates strongly with India’s ambitious trillion-dollar digital economy and $5 trillion GDP goals by FY2026-27. It suggests that a unit increase in AI intensity can augment Total Factor Productivity growth by 0.05%.

As per NASSCOM’s recent AI Adoption Index (2022), India is positioned at the “Enthusiast” stage with a score of 2.45 on a four-point scale, indicating moderate AI adoption. This implies that most enterprises in India are still in the intermediate stages, leaving significant room for growth and advancement in AI adoption.

This prompts the question: what measures could accelerate and enhance AI adoption in the country?

NRN emphasizes that India primarily resides in stage two across most technologies, including AI, and stage three in select areas. During the Infosys Science Foundation Prize Ceremony in November 2023, NRN outlined four stages of invention and innovation for a nation. In Stage 1, a nation lacks invention and innovation, failing to utilize ideas from other nations to benefit its citizens. Stage 2 marks the beginning of producing products and services based on inventions and innovations from other nations, thus improving the quality of life for its citizens. Stage 3 represents a crucial phase where a nation leverages higher education and research to innovate and enhance existing ideas for better productivity, quality, cost-effectiveness, and comfort. Finally, Stage 4, the pinnacle of national progress, is achieved when a nation becomes an inventor of new processes, products, and services. He emphasized the transition from reliance on external inventions to becoming an inventor of new processes, products, and services.

While AI enhances citizens’ lives, achieving stage three necessitates a concentrated effort to bolster indigenous research and development. He underscores that investing in education and research will propel AI, like other technologies, to stage three, citing South Korea’s trajectory as a testament to this transformative potential.

Startups and the Thriving Ecosystem: NRN’s Mantra of criteria for funding

Over the past 30 years, venture capital has been a vital source of financing for high-growth start-ups. The rise and spread of the VC industry have been both a cause and consequence of the shift in the concentration of economic control and power beyond the traditional wealthy families. Venture capital is by far the most interesting form of capital and, along with tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists are the most interesting sort of capitalists who propelled Silicon Valley to the heart of the world economy and currently driving the rise of artificial intelligence and other smart technologies (Wooldridge (2022)  The allure of these technologies fuels a bandwagon effect, compelling every aspiring entrepreneur to contemplate AI as the quintessential pursuit.

Despite a slow and hesitant start, the Indian startup ecosystem has experienced a meteoric rise over the past decade, exhibiting remarkable growth as if on steroids. From a modest $3.1 billion in 2012, the ecosystem has expanded nearly thirteenfold to reach $38.5 billion by 2021, marking a significant milestone. As noted by Sheth et al. (2022), 2021 emerged as a pivotal year for venture capital investments in India, solidifying its position as the third-largest startup ecosystem and unicorn hub globally, following the US and China. With approximately 60,000 startups and 107 unicorns, India’s startup economy reached a significant landmark by welcoming its 100th startup into the unicorn club in 2022.

The startup scene, its vibrant ecosystem, and Bangalore’s emergence as the startup capital dominate conversations in India’s entrepreneurial landscape. As our conversation transitions to the burgeoning startup ecosystem and venture capital, NR Narayana Murthy’s role as the founder of Catamaran Venture Capital becomes pertinent.

In the context of startup investments, I posed a question to NRN about the specific traits and factors he prioritizes when considering funding for AI startups and India’s readiness to embrace AI innovation.

In response, NRN acknowledged the influx of applications from entrepreneurs in AI, machine learning, and deep learning domains. He said Catamaran asks five simple questions and outlined a set of generic attributes crucial for investment decisions:

  • Differentiated Value Proposition: Does the startup offer a unique value proposition unseen in the market?
  • Market Potential: Is there a clear market for the idea, or can the idea create a new market?
  • Team Expertise: Has the startup assembled a team with diverse expertise and experience relevant to their venture?
  • Shared Values: Does the founding team share a common set of enduring values evident in their personal and professional lives?
  • Leadership: Is there a clear leader within the team who embodies competence, integrity, and dedication?

NRN emphasized that while the focus remains on the viability and uniqueness of the idea, these criteria are universal, irrespective of the startup’s sector. The primary objective is identifying startups capable of developing products or services that meet consumer needs and drive market demand.

While each investor or venture capitalist (VC) may have their own playbook, there is a science behind their decision-making process, as revealed by one of the most comprehensive surveys of VC firms conducted by Paul Gompers of Harvard Business School, Will Gornall of the Sauder School of Business, Steven N. Kaplan of the Chicago Booth School of Business, and Ilya A. Strebulaev of Stanford Business School. This study sheds light on the framework guiding the winnowing process, which suggests that VCs typically prioritize either the “jockey” or the “horse” (with the entrepreneurial team being the jockey and the startup’s strategy and business model being the horse).

Gompers and his colleagues found that VCs consider the jockey and the horse essential in their decision-making process. Still, ultimately, they prioritize the founding management team as more critical. This sentiment is echoed by legendary VC investor Peter Thiel, who emphasized in the survey that VCs “live and die by the founders.”

AI and Healthcare: Reaching the Unreached

Reaching the unreached is a paramount global and regional health priority, aligning with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is imperative to ensure that every individual, regardless of circumstance, receives equitable access to healthcare services. By reaching the unreached, we can aspire to create a world where no one is left behind and all individuals can experience the highest attainable standard of health and well-being.

The Center for Digital Health and Artificial Intelligence (CDHAI) at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School plays a pivotal role in navigating essential issues of trust, governance, and accessibility concerning AI’s integration into healthcare. Through advocacy and initiatives, CDHAI endeavors to harness the potential of AI as a tool for promoting health equity.

AI and digital technology will have a greater impact on the entire value chain of the healthcare industry than any previous developments. According to Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Report 2023, the focus areas that attracted the most private investment in 2022 were medical and healthcare ($6.1 billion). AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare outcomes by introducing cost-saving efficiencies and expanding its reach.

AI applications are anticipated to address the “iron triangle” challenge in healthcare, where three interconnected factors—access, affordability, and effectiveness—often necessitate difficult trade-offs. Traditionally, attempting to enhance one factor may compromise another within healthcare systems.

According to the World Economic Forum, AI presents a trillion-dollar opportunity in India’s healthcare sector. AI expenditure in India surged by over 109% in 2018, totaling $665 million, with projections indicating a rise to $11.78 billion by 2025. This growth is expected to contribute $1 trillion to India’s economy by 2035. Given this growth potential, insights and experiences regarding the current state of AI in healthcare and its reach across India’s billion people, as well as strategies for further implementation, are important.

In this context, I asked, How can we leverage AI for the healthcare sector in India? NR Narayana Murthy responded:

I must confess that I am not up to date on the use of AI in healthcare in India, except for some applications in remote healthcare consulting and perhaps a few cases of robotic surgery and expert systems, which are very few cases. However, AI, robotics, and expert systems, including machine learning and deep learning, have been used globally as assistive technology in medical and surgical areas and remote healthcare advisory delivery. So, beyond that, at this point in time, I don’t know if I can say authoritatively what is happening in AI in healthcare.

AI Pitfalls and Problems: Disinformation Phenomenon

Since 1947, the Doomsday Clock, maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has been a metaphorical symbol indicating the likelihood of a human-made global catastrophe. It symbolizes the threats posed to humanity by unchecked scientific and technological advances. Currently set at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been since its inception, the Doomsday Clock highlights the urgency of existing global challenges. Notably, a new addition to this year’s assessment is the emergence of AI and its potential for misuse and even weaponization.

As AI advances and becomes more pervasive, so do its risks. From mass disinformation campaigns and deepfakes to fully autonomous weapon systems, the convergence of AI, technology, and “bad intentions” demands priority attention. Prominent figures ranging from tech billionaires like Sam Altman to historians such as Yuval Noah Harari have voiced concerns regarding the dangers posed by AI. Speaking at the World Governments Summit in Dubai via a video call, Sam Altman reiterated his call for a body like the International Atomic Energy Agency to be created to oversee AI that’s likely advancing faster than the world expects.

While at Davos this year, there was a palpable sense of optimism and excitement about AI. However, beneath the veneer of innovation, a contrasting narrative emerged—a subdued dialogue on the existential risks posed by these advanced AI systems. With almost half of the world’s population heading to the polls in a national election in 2024, AI and democracy were the talk of Davos. World leaders at the World Economic Forum were grappling with how the arrival of ChatGPT will affect these democracies—and how governments will, in turn, regulate AI. Sam Altman and Bill Gates also weigh AI Risks in Big Election Year.

The upcoming Indian General elections in April-May 2024 and the US presidential elections in November 2024 mark the first after the release of widely accessible generative AI tools capable of creating realistic synthetic text, images, audio, and videos. There is a palpable fear that these tools will expedite disinformation and misinformation campaigns, leading to further polarization and radicalization of voters in both India and the US. The combination of disinformation networks, AI-generated memetic warfare, and deepfakes forms a formidable challenge in the forthcoming United States presidential election.

The Indian General elections in April-May 2024 and the US presidential elections in November 2024 mark the first after the release of widely accessible generative AI tools capable of creating realistic synthetic text, images, audio, and videos. There is this palpable fear that these tools will accelerate disinformation and misinformation campaigns, further polarizing and radicalizing voters in India and the US. The combination of disinformation networks, AI-generated memetic warfare, and deepfakes is a deadly trifecta in the upcoming United States presidential election.

Darrell M. West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, notes that “Almost every democracy is under stress, independent of technology,” and the addition of disinformation only exacerbates the situation, creating numerous opportunities for mischief. He describes it as a “perfect storm of disinformation.”

When asked to share his thoughts on the perils of AI in bringing about existential crisis and the disinformation phenomenon and how to combat the same, NRN had this to say:

As mentioned earlier, it falls upon our experts in sciences, including social sciences and philosophy, to determine the optimal boundary conditions for self-learning and unsupervised algorithms to prevent them from making decisions that could endanger humanity or act in undesirable ways.

This is crucial because when dealing with self-learning and unsupervised algorithms, human intervention is necessary to establish boundaries. Even if these algorithms learn something new, humans must retain control and have the final say in assessing and addressing the situation.

Another critical issue is ensuring that these remarkable technologies do not fall into the hands of malevolent forces. It is the responsibility of our experts, researchers, and security forces to collaborate and establish guidelines. They must also form consortia with the security forces of other nations to prevent the misuse of unsupervised and self-learning algorithms by malicious individuals and terrorists.

While many advocate for regulations, it’s crucial to recognize that terrorists and malevolent entities often disregard them. Therefore, it is primarily the responsibility of security forces and institutions like RAW in India and the CIA in the US, among others, to collaborate and ensure that these transformative technologies are not exploited for nefarious purposes.

The disinformation phenomenon is a grave concern, as evidenced by the proliferation of deepfake videos and misinformation campaigns. To combat this, stringent measures must be implemented on social media platforms. Only users whose identities have been verified through Know Your Customer (KYC) processes should be allowed to post messages. This would safeguard innocent individuals from having their reputations tarnished by malicious actors. 

NRN underscored the risks of deepfake technology by recounting a distressing incident in which malicious individuals created a fabricated video featuring him and one of his colleagues from Infosys for fraudulent advertising and fundraising.

Government regulations regarding social media platforms must also be reinforced to protect innocent people from being targeted and maligned. Establishing digital identities through Aadhaar or other means would serve as a deterrent against such malicious activities.

To summarize, NRN believes in implementing the following measures to address the threats posed by AI:

  • Establishing optimal boundary conditions.
  • Ensuring that humans retain control over AI systems.
  • Preventing these technologies from falling into the hands of malevolent forces.
  • A simple verification process such as knowing your customer (KYC) and establishing digital identities through unique identification systems like AADHAR in India
  • Enforcing government regulations on social media platforms
  • Forming international consortia to address the challenges posed by AI.

Overall, NRN emphasized the paramount importance of protecting people, especially the vulnerable, from the repercussions of misinformation and disinformation. He underscored the importance of collaborative efforts between experts, security forces, and governments to mitigate these threats effectively.

Addressing Employability, Talent Gap, and Declining Natural Intelligence Challenges: Investing in Education and R&D

The ups and downs of intelligence have been a topic of academic studies for over a century and a half. The question of whether humans are becoming more or less intelligent has been systematically studied at least since the 1930s. Throughout the 20th century, population intelligence quotients experienced an upward trend, famously known as the Flynn effect. However, recent years have witnessed a slowdown or even reversal of this trend in various countries, referred to as the ‘Negative Flynn Effect.’

Various theories attempt to explain the fluctuations in intelligence trends, with divergent perspectives on the causes of the Flynn effect and its reversal. Some studies attribute these phenomena to environmental factors, including industrial chemical emissions, as Julian Cribb advocates in his book Earth Detox: How and Why We Must Clean Up Our Planet.” Conversely, others link these trends to technological advancements like the internet. Additionally, there is ongoing debate regarding the impact of artificial intelligence on human intelligence, decision-making capabilities, and work habits, with some questioning whether AI contributes to cognitive decline and increased passivity.

Various theories have emerged to explain this phenomenon, with some attributing it to environmental factors such as industrial chemical emissions, as proposed by Julian Cribb in his book Earth Detox. Others correlate it with technological advancements like the internet. The advent of AI has further fueled discussions on whether it contributes to declining human intelligence, affecting decision-making abilities, and fostering laziness.

The rise of AI in recent years has sparked numerous memes and jokes about its ascendancy and the perceived decline of human intelligence. Meanwhile, researchers are actively investigating potential decreases in intelligence, prompting educators and employers to intensify efforts in narrowing the talent gap and improving the employability of present and future cohorts. These endeavors primarily focus on fostering critical thinking skills and enhancing the employability prospects of younger generations.

In our globally competitive knowledge economy, the issue of employability takes on heightened significance, given the constant state of change. Educators, employers, policymakers, and scholars recognize the challenges associated with employability, particularly in a swiftly evolving landscape (Peeters et al., 2019). Debates abound regarding the trajectory of technology and its impact on humanity, the evolving dynamics between artificial intelligence and employment, and the potential ramifications of enhanced productivity on widespread structural unemployment.

The quality of students and their employability have been a cause of concern for the industry. NRN has long bemoaned the quality of graduates and their poor employability. He is also known to be critical of our Indian education system.  

At the Infosys Prize 2023 announcement ceremony, NRN advocated for a $20 billion investment to cultivate the educators of tomorrow and recommended that the government should invite 10,000 retired highly accomplished teachers from across the world, including India, in STEM areas, paying $100,000 a year and create 2500 “Train the Teacher” colleges in the country. This kind of focus on education and research will help the country to transition from stage 2 to 3 and finally to stage 4—the pinnacle for a nation. He stressed the need to cultivate critical thinking and problem-solving skills among students to equip them for future employment opportunities and societal contributions.

So, in our fireside chat, too, I brought up the issue of employability and his recommendation about investing $1 billion in primary and secondary education. In response, NRN reaffirmed his faith and fiat in investing in education and elaborated:  

The initiative to enhance employability among Indian students is not solely my idea; it is primarily based on a McKinsey study. My focus is on nurturing Indian citizens who are not only employable but also valuable contributors to our nation. Students inherently wish to contribute positively to the country and secure good jobs, which is commendable. However, our education system sometimes fails to support a portion of these talented youngsters. Therefore, our task is clear: we must enhance the quality of education starting from the primary school level, not just at the college level. This entails teaching critical, analytical, and independent thinking and the ability to employ Socratic questioning and relate classroom learning to the world around them. These skills will equip students to solve real-world problems as they grow older. I have reiterated these points numerous times, emphasizing that while this journey may be long and challenging, it is absolutely necessary for India’s development. It is better to embark on this effort today than wait for tomorrow. Regarding the proposed $1 billion spending on teachers, I believe it is entirely feasible for a country like India, especially considering our growing economy. I urge our leaders and bureaucracy to consider this suggestion seriously and seek expert evaluation. If deemed viable, our political system should take steps to make it a reality.

India’s R&D expenditure is among the highest globally, but when it comes to the share of GDP, it has been falling and is among the lowest. Cumulative global R&D spending has been growing and inching towards $2.5 trillion. Academics and industry veterans have repeatedly raised their voices and bemoaned India’s relative decline in R&D spending. Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, emphasized the need for India to triple spending on research and development (R&D) to 3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) from 0.7 percent now. He made these remarks during a keynote address at the Pan IIT World of Technology (PIWOT) event in Bengaluru in December 2023, where he also highlighted the private sector’s need to contribute 1.5 percent to the total R&D spending.

This issue also arose in our conversations. NRN’s response to the decline in R&D spending as a percentage of GDP is as follows:

Yes, you’re absolutely correct. Over the past decade, the percentage of our GDP allocated to research and development (R&D) has indeed declined, currently standing at only 0.65%. This downward trend is concerning, particularly when compared to other BRIC countries. Despite the absolute amount of spending on R&D not decreasing, the proportion relative to our GDP has diminished. For researchers and academics, this is indeed a worrying trend. It indicates that we are still in the second stage of the innovation ladder – one focused on producing products and services based on innovations from other nations. To progress to stages three and four, where we innovate and become inventors of new processes and products, both the government and the private sector must invest more in R&D. It’s not solely the responsibility of the government; the private sector must also contribute to propel our nation forward on the innovation front. Your astute observation underscores the urgency for collaborative action from both sectors to advance India’s innovation capabilities.

In conclusion, NRN urged policymakers and stakeholders to consider these recommendations seriously to address the challenges and harness the potential of AI and education for India’s sustainable development.

Responsible AI and building trust

AI’s Power Needs Guardrails and Framework of Trust is Imperative, cautions the Responsible AI Institute, which is working towards “AI We Can Trust.” According to the Responsible AI Institute, when not designed thoughtfully and responsibly, AI systems can be biased, insecure, and not compliant with existing laws, even violating human rights. Along with The National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI), the report Towards the Development of Responsible ‘AI for All’ by NITI Aayog, released in 2021, has developed seven core principles of Responsible AI, providing a framework for India.

In this context, I posed the following question: Do you think industries in India would comply with these frameworks, or would “profits at all costs” continue to be the principle propelling companies? 

NRN said: I’ve always believed, and tried it during my 30 years as CEO and chairman at Infosys, that investing money in R&D, quality, productivity, and training only leads to higher profits. You don’t reduce profits by investing in these areas. So, I entirely agree with your assumption that profit will not suffer if you put more and more money into R&D, moving up the innovation ladder, and improving productivity and quality.

Regarding the issue of enhancing trust, I come at this problem from a different perspective. Trust comes from dependability, and dependability comes from delivering what you have promised. Therefore, if you exceed your promises regarding quality, time, and cost reduction, people will automatically start trusting you more and more.

To achieve this, earning respect is important because once a corporation aims to become respectable, it will naturally start satisfying every stakeholder. From the day Infosys was started, we kept our vision of becoming a globally respected corporation. My parents and later teachers taught me that seeking respect from society means not doing anything that harms any stakeholder. They emphasized the importance of fairness to fellow employees, customers, investors, and the government through proper tax payments and society by avoiding actions that harm it.

By investing more in R&D and working towards earning society’s respect in every action, I believe that all our problems will melt away like dew on a sunny morning.

Triple Bottom Line and Justice and Fairness are our Dharma

From responsible AI and building trust, our conversation transitioned to Triple Bottom Line—a business concept that states firms should commit to measuring their social and environmental impact—in addition to their financial performance—rather than solely focusing on generating profit, or the standard “bottom line.”

Our fireside chat concluded with a brief discussion about the importance of fairness, the triple bottom line (TBL), and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles. NRN emphasized his belief in compassionate capitalism and elaborated as follows:

Thank you. As you said, fairness and justice are our dharmas, our real duties, whether as a human being, a corporate leader, or a teacher. It’s what the Bhagavad Gita and every religion teach us—that doing good for society earns respect and brings prosperity.

Regarding your question about being just and fair while still making profits, movements like the triple bottom line (TBL)—focusing on profits, people, and the planet—are crucial frameworks. My belief in the triple bottom line stems from the conviction that being rich in a poor, dirty, polluted, and unlivable environment isn’t true wealth. That’s why I advocate for the ESG framework and compassionate capitalism.

I urge all corporate leaders to become evangelists for ESG, the triple bottom line, and compassionate capitalism. Our age-old wisdom, Sarve Jano Sukhino Bhavantu (May all beings be happy), and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The world is one family), underscore the importance of these principles. We must not just talk about them but embody them in our actions.

Thank you for this opportunity, and I’m grateful for your time and efforts in conducting this interview. I hope our viewers will learn and adopt these timeless, universal values. What we’ve discussed today transcends the boundaries of caste, religion, nationality, and region—relevant to every corner of our planet. Thank you again, and I look forward to our paths crossing again soon.

Cite this article in APA as: Urs, S. AI and India’s IT odyssey—From humble beginnings to global dominance: A fireside chat with NR Narayana Murthy. (2024, March 14). Information Matters, Vol. 4, Issue 3.


  • Shalini Urs

    Dr. Shalini Urs is an information scientist with a 360-degree view of information and has researched issues ranging from the theoretical foundations of information sciences to Informatics. She is an institution builder whose brainchild is the MYRA School of Business (, founded in 2012. She also founded the International School of Information Management (, the first Information School in India, as an autonomous constituent unit of the University of Mysore in 2005 with grants from the Ford Foundation and Informatics India Limited. She is currently involved with Gooru India Foundation as a Board member ( and is actively involved in implementing Gooru’s Learning Navigator platform across schools. She is professor emerita at the Department of Library and Information Science of the University of Mysore, India. She conceptualized and developed the Vidyanidhi Digital Library and eScholarship portal in 2000 with funding from the Government of India, which became a national initiative with further funding from the Ford Foundation in 2002.

    View all posts

Shalini Urs

Dr. Shalini Urs is an information scientist with a 360-degree view of information and has researched issues ranging from the theoretical foundations of information sciences to Informatics. She is an institution builder whose brainchild is the MYRA School of Business (, founded in 2012. She also founded the International School of Information Management (, the first Information School in India, as an autonomous constituent unit of the University of Mysore in 2005 with grants from the Ford Foundation and Informatics India Limited. She is currently involved with Gooru India Foundation as a Board member ( and is actively involved in implementing Gooru’s Learning Navigator platform across schools. She is professor emerita at the Department of Library and Information Science of the University of Mysore, India. She conceptualized and developed the Vidyanidhi Digital Library and eScholarship portal in 2000 with funding from the Government of India, which became a national initiative with further funding from the Ford Foundation in 2002.