Mohandas Pai (second left), Chairman of India-based Aarin Capital Partners and former director of tech company Infosys at the India Global Forum Middle East and Africa 2023 Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

The top technology companies in the world are the biggest threat to humanity, said Mohandas Pai, Indian businessman and former director of Indian tech company Infosys.

Speaking at a panel discussion on Data and the Ethical Frontiers of AI at the India Global Forum Middle East and Africa 2023 in Dubai, he voiced concern about big tech’s unprecedented power and influence over the world.

"Big tech has got monopolistic power, which has never happened in human history to this extent,” said Pai, currently chairman of India-based Aarin Capital Partners.

With Google commanding a staggering 93 per cent share of global search, the dynamics have shifted, he said. Previously, major monopolies necessitated a physical connection to reach people and operated within controlled environments. However, the digital era has transformed us into virtual avatars, consolidating control within a singular database. “Global tech conglomerates are the biggest threat to humanity because they have the data of all humanity,” he said.

Pai underscored the importance of individuals posing fundamental questions about the ownership of their data.

"My data should belong to me. It could be on any platform, Google, X, or whatever it is, the data shall belong to me. Who will control the data and use the data? It should be me as an individual. And I think it’s important to ask, where does the data reside? It should be in my country because, in my country as a citizen, I'm protected by my government," said Pai.

Highlighting concerns about the monopolistic power of digital platforms, he advocated classifying these tech services as public utilities, stating: "We must bring in the idea that all platforms that have the data of human beings are public utilities, much like the electricity grid and telephone services are public utilities."

While admitting AI is going to become more powerful, Pai expressed optimism that there are enough smart people on the planet to make sure that it can be used for the good of humanity. “AI can be used for controlling humanity and that is worrisome, and that’s why all of us need to put in place proper regulations. We need a universal declaration to protect the digital rights of eight billion people on the planet,” said Pai.

Sachin Dev Duggal, Chief Wizard and Co-founder of Builder AI, pointed out that AI is just the tip of the iceberg. “We’ve forgotten there’s a massive piece underneath, cloud infrastructure and social media. The deep fake issue is only an issue because you can disseminate it on social media,” he said. Meanwhile, Shanshank Bijapur, CEO and Co-founder of SpotDraft said we should stop taking a hostile view of technology like AI. “I think we should stop looking at AI as a problem and start looking at it as a solution, which is what it is really intended to be,” he said.

In an earlier session, Nikhil Kamath, co-founder of India’s leading investment and stock trading platform Zerodha, said this is the best time for those looking to invest in India. “A lot has changed in India over the last decade. Notwithstanding the intricacies and nuances of working in India, I think the one big change that I have noticed is the funnel for money to come in from the Middle East of India has gotten significantly simpler.”

Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Kamath highlighted three notable investment prospects within India for regional investors: electric vehicles, education, and content. “Education is getting disrupted in a large way in India. Companies are not insisting upon people coming to them with a certain degree to hire them. A lot of people in India are getting access to the internet and smartphones, and this is happening very quickly. As the GDP per capita in India were to go up, the amount of money content creators make will go up proportionately,” Kamath said.

The IGF Middle East and Africa 2023 (IGF ME&A), which opened on Monday, brings together business leaders, policymakers, and thought leaders from India, the UAE, and Africa. The summit will conclude on November 29.

UAE-India trade takes off thanks to CEPA, says Ambassador Sunjay Sudhir
Sunjay Sudhir, India’s Ambassador to the UAE, today lauded the “special relationship” between India and the UAE. Speaking on the second day of IGF ME&A in Dubai, Sudhir said: “This is such a special relationship for India. The last decade has seen a transformation in the India-UAE relationship, which has become so multi-dimensional. Because of CEPA, our trade grew over 16 per cent last year.” He also noted that the relationship is mutually beneficial, with big Indian companies investing into the UAE and the UAE’s sovereign wealth funds and industries investing in India. The ambassador also expressed his happiness on Africa being part of this year’s IGF. “I’m very happy that this IGF is giving a special focus to Africa. It’s a continent with about the same population as India, about the same GDP as India, huge potential as well as common struggles with climate change. If we’re trying to evolve a global narrative, then Africa cannot be ignored. They have to be part and parcel of it,” said Sudhir.