I want to focus on both innovation and invention: Intel's Nivruti Rai

The 49-year-old on why AI is the most important technology today and 5G being a little evolutionary, but a lot revolutionary

Sayan Chakraborty
Published: Apr 23, 2019 11:14:38 AM IST
Updated: Apr 23, 2019 12:06:52 PM IST

Everything about entrepreneurship, the good, bad and the ugly of it, fascinates me. I take a keen interest on startups and venture capital firms and have written extensively on fundraises, M&As and business strategies. I can safely say changing tracks from engineering to journalism has been one of my best decisions. When not working, I indulge in almost every Indian's poison, cricket, playing or watching. I am a foodie and video game buff.

g_115095_nivruti_rai_280x210.jpgNivruti Rai, country head, Intel India and vice president data centres group at Intel
Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for Forbes India
For the longest time, Nivruti Rai wanted to become a fashion designer. But with degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Oregon State University, she landed up at Intel as design engineer in the US in 1994. Today, the 49-year-old is country head, Intel India, and vice president data centres group at Intel. In an interview with Forbes India, Rai talks about how Intel is poised to make the most of 5G technology and the relevance of its India unit. Edited excerpts:
 
Q. How is India placed in Intel’s overall scheme of things, vis-à-vis a decade or two ago?
Intel India is the second largest design house for Intel, after the US. Intel is investing heavily in R&D in India; we have spent over $5 billion in 20 years. Thirteen years ago, there were many people at Intel India, but we weren’t driving projects where we had complete accountability. We are now accountable for leading technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G.
 
Q. How is Intel gearing up to capitalise on the newest technologies? What is the India team’s contribution in it?
We are doing AI, which is the most important technology today, and there is 5G. I believe we will lead in 5G because no other company has end-to-end solutions. We have solutions for everything… from the modem to the cloud, the edge network in between and the base stations as well as radio access networks. The digital revolution is based on data.

 In memory, we are working on non-volatile 3D memory, where a small pen drive can store terabytes of data. We are building transmission technologies for 5G with optical solutions. We are also looking at analytics. Intel India is working on each of these areas. There are many products that we develop and there are some things that we are accountable for.

 Along with Niti Aayog and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, we are working on an AI policy for India. Such a policy has been written for very few countries. Intel is taking this work that Intel India has done to other countries, including the US.
 
Q. AI is a top priority for most organisations. Does Intel India have a different approach compared to the rest?
Many people are working on training, but there are very few solutions on inferencing. Training and inferencing require different modules. For training, you don’t require a lot of complicated mathematics, but many small execution capabilities. For inferencing, you need speed and serial execution. The inferencing engine that we built for Intel is based out of the work that came out of India.
 
Q. Which is the bigger focus for Intel India and the parent company: Invention or innovation?
I want to focus on both innovation and invention. Invention is something that is fundamentally new. Innovation is mostly use-case driven. While innovation drives a lot of business value, invention is the root.

 At Intel India, we drive inventions as well as innovations. Have inventions come out of India yet? Many. But are they as valuable as I would like to quote? Possibly not.

 Innovations are many. Around AI, I have myself driven sensors. The idea of network storage data centres was from Intel India. We are also doing IP creation for graphics and microprocessors.
 
Q. What makes you so optimistic about 5G in India? How will the company capitalise on it?
1G was analogue, 2G was digital and 3G was where we started having data in phone calls. 4G is a lot of internet with movies and all of that. And 5G… one of our general managers says is a little evolutionary, but a lot revolutionary. Between 4G and 5G, there is 10x lower latency, meaning 10x lesser delay, 100x more bandwidth and 1,000x more devices. In 1 sq km, there could be a million devices. So if 4G connected people, 5G will connect everything.

The belief is that there will be billions of connected devices. So now my focus is on wherever there is connectivity. It could be traffic lights, moving cars, etc. With 5G, one can enable traffic management, energy management or assist cars to go driverless, though the focus in India is on collision avoidance. When I look at everything, phone is just one [aspect]. Consumers will benefit from 5G solutions. We are working with telecom service providers and consortiums which have the likes of Ericsson and Nokia on some interesting projects.
 
Q. Could you please elaborate?
This one is in the exploration stage. We are calling it Wow (wireless over wire). It’s a connectivity broadband technology, aimed to enable all villages with broadband access in a manner that it can scale. There are fibre optics laid till the gram panchayat [level] and we understand that there is electricity in every village. For this, we can look at opportunities to partner with state governments to provide broadband to villages without worrying about fibre installation. The idea is to leverage the electricity wire to provide broadband. There are 16 inventions that went into this. All of them happened in India. Imagine the power of data in the hands of villagers. You can use natural language processing and AI to enable communication for somebody sitting in Karnataka and doing business with, say, someone in Spain.
 
Q. How has the Maker Lab startup incubator in Bengaluru shaped up?
Maker Lab is important to Intel India. If you look at Indian startups, most of them are software. Not many invention or system type of startups because they are expensive. Think of a data centre, which is very expensive. People in India are now looking at innovations around ethernet, optical networking, etc.

We have incubated over 55 startups in three years. The goal is not to see how many startups we have incubated but how many are alive and generating revenues. The summation revenues that the startups that we have incubated are generating, for me, are the success criteria. We are not just enabling people to come up with ideas, but are marrying them with venture capitalists so that they get funding. Their cumulative revenue is large enough to not be forgotten, but I can’t give you the numbers.

(This story appears in the 26 April, 2019 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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