OpenAI Taps Former Twitter India Head to Kickstart in The Country

OpenAI Taps Former Twitter India Head to Kickstart in The Country – OpenAI has enlisted Rishi Jaitly, former Twitter India head, as a senior advisor to spearhead discussions with the government on AI policy, according to exclusive information obtained. Additionally, OpenAI is exploring the establishment of a local team in India. Insiders informed the news outlet that Jaitly has been assisting OpenAI in navigating the intricacies of the Indian policy and regulatory environment.

Presently, OpenAI lacks an official presence in India, except for a recently approved trademark. Despite this, CEO Sam Altman, during his global tour in June, visited New Delhi and had a productive meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite the positive conversation, neither Altman nor the company made any announcements during the two-day visit.

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The status of Jaitly’s formal employment at OpenAI remains unclear, yet he has assumed an advisory role, guiding the company on building connections in India. According to two sources, he assumed this role following Altman’s visit to New Delhi. From 2007 to 2009, Jaitly led the public-private partnership division at Google in India before transitioning to Twitter (now X) in 2012. His LinkedIn profile indicates he was the inaugural employee for the company in the country.

Subsequently, he ascended to the position of VP for the APAC and MENA region. In late 2016, Jaitly departed from Twitter and took on the role of co-founder and CEO at Times Bridge, the global investment arm of The Times Group. The Times Bridge portfolio encompasses notable names like Uber, Airbnb, Coursera, Mubi, Smule, and Wattpad. Jaitly concluded his tenure at the firm in 2022.

Anna Makanju, OpenAI’s Vice President of Global Affairs, is slated to address the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence summit in Delhi next week, alongside fellow industry experts and international politicians. She will be a part of the session titled “Collaborative AI for Global Partnership (CAIGP) – Global Cooperation for Equitable AI.” Sources mentioned that Jaitly assisted in setting up Makanju’s participation at the event.

In recent weeks, OpenAI’s leadership experienced turbulence, with Altman and board president Greg Brockman being suddenly removed from the company. They briefly joined Microsoft before returning to OpenAI with a restructured board. During Altman’s June visit to New Delhi for a Times Group event, he responded to a question about building foundational models with a $10 million budget, calling it “hopeless.” 

This statement faced criticism from Indian entrepreneurs. Altman later clarified that his words were misconstrued, emphasizing the challenge of competing with entities like OpenAI on such a budget. “The right question is what a startup can do that’s never been done before, that will contribute a new thing to the world. I have no doubt Indian startups can and will do that,” he said in a post on X.

Detractors have criticized India for falling significantly behind in AI development, primarily attributed to a funding deficit. In September, a piece highlighted that India’s AI startups had garnered approximately $4 billion—an impressive figure until contrasted with the $50 billion invested in China’s AI ecosystem or the $11 billion+ raised by OpenAI alone. 

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Some argue, however, that a more empathetic perspective recognizes India’s AI development as nascent, citing startups like Sarvam, which recently secured $41 million from investors such as Lightspeed, Peak XV, and Khosla Ventures, as just commencing their journey in building foundational models. “While there are over 1,500 AI-based startups in India with over $4 billion of funding, India is still losing the AI innovation battle,” analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein said in a note.

This creates a substantial opportunity for entities like OpenAI. India, the globe’s most populous nation and the second-largest internet market following China, boasting over 880 million users, represents a significant avenue for expansion. Altman alluded to the company’s interest in the country during his visit to the engineering college IIIT Delhi in June. “It really is amazing to watch what’s happening in India with the embrace of AI — not just OpenAI but other technologies, too,” he said at the time.

However, OpenAI has not disclosed any investments in the country, aside from obtaining a trademark. While the company views India as a key market, according to an OpenAI investor, any move may not happen swiftly. With a more aligned board supporting its ambitious commercial push, regulatory considerations remain a significant hurdle. 

Thus, focusing on regulatory initiatives might be the company’s primary and crucial step. Understanding the trajectory of developments in the upcoming years appears to be the immediate task. Notably, Indian government officials have signaled their reluctance to impose stringent regulations on AI development this year. India’s IT Minister of State, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has consistently advocated for international collaboration to formulate a framework for regulating AI, emphasizing the importance of safety and trust as guiding principles.

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“We are very committed to AI,” he said at the Global Technology Summit in New Delhi earlier this week, hosted by Carnegie India and India’s external affairs ministry. “We certainly are focused on using AI in real-life use cases and our prime minister is absolutely a believer that technology can transform the lives of people, make governments deliver more, deliver faster, deliver better. And so AI is going to be for us used to build models and build capabilities that are aimed at real-life use cases.”

In contrast to OpenAI, Microsoft, its major investor and strategic partner—with an observer seat on the board—holds a robust position in India. The software giant, present in the Indian market since 1990, operates one of its largest R&D centers in Bengaluru and maintains three data centers nationwide. With a workforce exceeding 20,000 employees across 10 Indian cities, Microsoft is not only deeply rooted but also actively invests in Indian startups.

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