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Tiger Tyagarajan: GenAI Is a Technology. Embrace It

Presenting Tiger Tyagarajan, president and outgoing CEO, Genpact, in a passionate defence of the Indian IT sector as it braces itself for an epoch-changing tech disruption. He compares GenAI innovations to the invention of steam engine. Edited excerpts:

Photo: Tribhuvan Tiwari

How big a threat or an opportunity is ChatGPT, or applications like it, for the IT sector, particularly the Indian IT sector?

It is an opportunity for those who embrace and use it. If you have an individual, a business or an organisation that says that they do not need to use it, then it is a threat. I can argue that at some point in time, if a business—it does not matter which—is not using technologies like these, they are done with and finished. It is like saying, today there are businesses that do not use Excel spreadsheets. They will not exist. Ultimately, GenAI will become like Excel spreadsheets. Everyone will use it, and it will change the way work gets done.

What we understood of GenAI is that it is largely about languages and communication. But does it have an impact on IT services beyond that?

It is about natural language, the way all of us speak. One portion of IT services’ work is someone sitting down and writing a code. That code, at some level, still requires a human to look at it, correct it and improve it. Over time, the code will get better. It opens up opportunities to do more higher-level coding because now the machine will do a lot of simpler coding.

Technology could have been a plough, an axe or fire. That then allowed humans to move to more complicated stuff. The same thing is going to happen with GenAI.

The other thing that happens with something like technology—and GenAI is a great example of that—is that, one, simpler stuff gets done by the machine and, therefore, humans will do more complex things. Two, the simpler thing is now done at almost zero cost, because the machine can do it at zero cost and in seconds, rather than days and weeks and months.

Do you think Indian IT companies are investing enough to upskill its workforce to face GenAI disruptions?

The IT services industry in India, at a broad industry level, is one of the leading engines of reskilling in the world. There is no industry that has constantly undertaken reskilling, because that is actually one of the things that we do for our clients. Our industry’s ability to train is higher because we gather all the requirements, and we have scale and then we have platforms that train, because our business is training. Our business is reskilling. The danger comes when a company decides not to do it as fast as it is required.

So, in the whole ecosystem that will use or develop GenAI, are there any losers?

People who do not change fast will lose in every industry. And that is going to happen because not everyone can change fast. So, there are going to be companies that will lose, and they will lose quickly.

One of the things about GenAI is that it is a technology. You have got to embrace it, and you have got to find a way to use it. If you take creative industries, while technologies such as GenAI will produce bulk, the premium on human creativity will become dearer.

What does that do to content producers? Look at the writers’ strike in Hollywood. People are thinking that their work will move to IT companies.

Transition is always a problem.  There will be people during transition who will lose because they are not yet ready to understand the technology. The faster the transition, the more painful the loss for the people who lose. It happened during the transition from pre-steam engine to steam engine, from pre-computer to computer use and calculator use and so on. This transition—unfortunately it is true—will create pain. Which is why one of the things that we are driving the hardest at Genpact is that everyone must learn and get reskilled, because the chances are then they will move on to the next world more easily.

Indian IT companies do not seem to be doing any innovation in GenAI. Mostly business leaders say that they are happy taking technology from Big Tech and offer it at a price as a plug-in to their existing offerings. Do you see Indian companies ever investing in creating alternatives to Big Tech?

I completely, vehemently disagree with the statement you have made. The IT industry is highly innovative. Innovation is not just producing an LLM platform. That is the mistake that people make. Innovation is not only the person who makes the LLM. Innovation is happening across the globe by people who know how to use it and who solve problems using them. No LLM can solve problems by itself. If the definition of innovation is innovative solutions to a problem by bringing technologies available, Genpact does it. All our competitors in the IT services world do it, and they will continue to do it.

Each of us innovate in different ways. For example, Microsoft LLM will never be able to do the actual specific solution for insurance claims. They will innovate in large language models. They will make it cheaper, better, wider, broader, etc. They depend on us to use it. If we all stop using it, then their innovation is useless.