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BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: Pakistan’s startup ecosystem is going through a difficult phase and it is being reflected in lower funding, which has shrunk from $173 million in the quarter of January-March 2022 to just $5.2 million in April-June 2023. Many startups are scaling back or completely shutting down operations.

The lower funding has come due to several reasons including a global slowdown. However, internally, Pakistan’s ability to attract investors has also been hindered by an economy marred by uncertainty and persistent political turmoil.

In such a situation, an experienced US-based industry leader has called for successful local businesses to invest in Pakistan’s startup ecosystem as angel investors.

Pakistan’s startup funding suffers massive fall in April-June

“The angel investment model works better than VC (Venture Capital) model in developing countries,” Chris Ilsley told Business Recorder while briefing international journalists in Boston.

Ilsley is CEO and president of InnoVenture Labs, a non-profit technology incubator helping early-stage biotech and cleantech companies increase their probability of success. It has helped in creating 85 companies and raised grant equity of about $1.1 billion.

He said local successful businesses should come forward and invest to support women entrepreneurs, edtech, live sciences, software (developing startups), healthcare etc.

Ilsley also spoke to international journalists on technology, startups and Artificial Intelligence at the Cambridge Innovation Center, focusing particularly on companies and startups present in Boston. The programme has been arranged by the Foreign Press Centers of the US Department of State.

“The Android technology you are using was built in this building,” he said.

“You would have every tech company you could dream of within a quarter or half a mile from here.”

The rise of AI

Downplaying panic around the rise of AI and the debate for its potential to harm mankind, Ilsley said: “AI is a tool for me.”

“If my data is used for the public (cause), I will not have a problem with that.”

The need for AI and robotic technologies to learn ethics at inception

Meanwhile, as the visit continued, Matthias Scheutz, President and CEO of Thinking Robots, and a professor in computer science at Tufts University where he directs the Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory, said that there is a need for built-in ethical constraints to ensure robotics and AI will be safe and beneficial to humans.

“Artificial intelligence and robotic technologies will ultimately require built-in ethical constraints to ensure technology is safe and beneficial to humans,” said Scheutz as he briefed journalists at Tufts University.

“The greatest danger for Al and robotics technologies getting out of hand arises from unconstrained machine learning where Al systems acquire knowledge and start to pursue goals that were not intended by their human designers,” he said.

To safeguard Al and robotics technologies, it is not sufficient to specify what to optimise for or to add an “emergency button” to AI systems; for they might later set their own goals and prevent their shutdowns, he added.

“Rather, Al systems need to be designed from the ground up with ethical provisions that include representations of social and moral norms, ethical principles, and laws that the system cannot ignore,” he added.

The programme continued as his student displayed two robots - Dempster and Shafer, named after the two researchers who developed the Dempster-Shafer Theory (DST).

A demonstration followed on how AI robots react to commands and what ethical questions arise when they take command.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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