Top data scientist and founder of BQE, Shafat Qazi sketches an imminent future driven by the technology
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Can you tell us about your journey?
SHAFAT QAZI (SQ): I was born and raised in Kashmir, attending the prestigious Burn Hall School. I later moved to the United States, pursuing a master’s degree in New York. Subsequently, I relocated to California’s Silicon Valley, the global epicentre of innovation and technology. There, I founded BQE Software, which has grown into one of the largest Kashmir-origin technology companies worldwide. My fascination with technology started at fourteen when I built an FM Radio station, although it led to some trouble with authorities as it was banned at the time. Nonetheless, it marked the genesis of my passion for technology and innovation.
KL: In this era of artificial intelligence, what do you see as the future milestones for technology?
SQ: We stand at the cusp of a monumental technological revolution, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution or the advent of the Internet. This involves humans taking steps towards creating superior artificial intelligence or “superhumans” who can perform tasks more efficiently than us. Artificial intelligence is pivotal here and it is a field we have focused on extensively over the years. We have now developed natural language processing to enable computers to comprehend language and context. Additionally, deep neural networks can form references and our proprietary ChatGPT-based technology is ground-breaking with numerous applications.
For the average person, this translates into tools that can greatly simplify lives, not necessarily eliminate jobs or threaten civilization. It empowers accelerated research, development, comfort and lifestyles. Consider autonomous vehicles guided by AI that can label images and make decisions about navigating roads independently. This is a reality. I am experiencing today and I believe Kashmiris can anticipate it in five to seven years as technology permeates globally. So we must prepare for driverless cars, robots and AI systems that will reshape our world.
KL: What is the current state of BQE, the company you founded?
SQ: I started BQE Software out of my garage, determined to address a major pain point for consultants and small businesses like accountants, lawyers and architects who lacked comprehensive technology to manage their offices. Our software not only aids time management but also generates invoices from tracked hours to streamline billing. BQE rapidly grew from our inaugural product BillQuick to BQE Core, serving over 400,000 users at one point.
In 2021, BQE attracted interest from private equity firms and ultimately chose SERET Pvt Ltd as our partner due to aligned goals. They now hold majority ownership but I retain a significant stake. They are driving growth more effectively than I could alone and aim to take BQE to the next level, whether that is going public or seeking a strategic buyer. I am happy being on the board, collaborating with them, and learning from their business acumen as we delve into advanced metrics. I am also immensely proud of our team that has built up the company. We now have over 100 employees based in Kashmir.
For those doubting Kashmir’s potential for tech start-ups, BQE proves we can build thriving companies here. Other successes like Gatoes and FastBeetle highlight the rich startup ecosystem developing in Kashmir. I highly encourage Kashmiris to explore technology solutions as that is the direction the world is headed. Technology is no longer siloed but underlies virtually every sector from publishing to hospitality. Everyone needs software and technology to manage operations now.
KL: Are we heading towards a new era of unemployment or economic downturn due to AI?
SQ: This is an understandable concern given AI’s impact on employment like autonomous cars potentially displacing taxi drivers. However, we must view this differently. Many of these jobs like driving are low-skilled and repetitive. By automating them with technology, we can retrain workers for more meaningful roles.
For instance, aeroplanes have used autopilot for years, with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner rarely manually landed by pilots anymore. Technology has surpassed humans in many respects here. Yet pilots are still present due to regulations, albeit in an assistive capacity. We already trust technology in aviation for increased safety and efficiency. Similar transformations will occur across industries – cars may become subscription services that passengers simply summon. This is the imminent future.
Consider ChatGPT generating AI articles that still require human editing to meet standards. It serves as a productive tool to expedite tasks rather than wholly replace jobs.
KL: How should developing countries shape their education systems to prepare for the future?
SQ: India, despite being categorised as the developing world, is at par with advanced nations now in education. India’s education system has significantly empowered its citizens’ success. Several leading tech CEOs including at Microsoft and Google are Indian graduates. Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumni are found in top positions globally. Hence a focus on science and technology serves countries well. Whether one becomes an engineer, doctor or scientist, these skills have global value.
KL: How can economic balance be maintained amid rapid technological change?
SQ: I believe we are entering a Nash equilibrium, where players maintain their chosen strategies seeing no incentive to deviate after considering opponents’ moves.
We cannot sustain the concentration of wealth among the top 5 per cent of the population, as it would disrupt equilibrium. Currently, tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have amassed substantial wealth. However, this is temporary. Indian firms are listed on overseas stock markets like in the US. Private equity is investing heavily in countries like India, spreading wealth more widely. I foresee equilibrium eventually being achieved.
Consider China –15 years ago it seemed unlikely to rival the US economy. Yet, today, it boasts the world’s second-largest economy and is poised to surpass the US soon. I expect similar trajectories for India and Africa, leading to equilibrium. India’s GDP will rise, narrowing its gap with the US. But this shift will take time.
Moreover, this is not solely driven by the internet or tech. It traces back to past World Trade Organization agreements that opened up trade between India, the US, China etc. under the most favoured nation status. These emerging economies have made a huge impact. Wealth disparities will likely diminish but not persist for many more years.
(Umaima Reshi processed the interview)