ChatGPT has been embroiled in India’s culture wars

5 months ago
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Encouraged by the government’s stance, right-wing commentators were quick to portray India’s Hindu majority as under constant threat and discrimination.

“The commentators are doing their job of stirring up public problems in the country under any pretext, no matter how stupid,” said Hartosh Singh Bal, executive editor of the magazine. Caravan, a magazine about politics and culture. “The government is not only pushing the narrative, these commentators are also creating their own environment around them… They feed on such controversy because it keeps them relevant and gives them a certain notoriety.”

“Discourse in India is messy,” says Aakar Patel, a journalist and former head of the India bureau of Amnesty International, adding that there is no logic to being drawn into a culture war.

So far, there have been no official calls to ban ChatGPT and the government has not intervened in the dispute, but companies caught in these political storms are facing negative repercussions that are making some potential users nervous.

“Most of my customers are Hindus. I don’t know their love or hate for science, but I won’t risk offending them with controversial software,” says Zaid, a Delhi-based entrepreneur who only asked to be named to avoid backlash from customers. . He added that he would “categorically not install anything like ChatGPT for his online business.”

In 2020, jewelry company Tanishq became the focus of an online protest campaign after publishing an advertisement depicting a blended family. Radical Hindu groups called for a boycott and the company pulled the ad. In 2021, clothing and lifestyle company Fabindia promoted a range of clothing items for the Hindu festival of Diwali using the phrase Urdu (a language primarily associated with Muslims in India and Pakistan). Hours later, the hashtag #boycottFabindia went viral on Twitter. The brand relented, removed the ads and renamed the clothing line.

In May 2021, Unacademy, one of India’s largest educational technology platforms, was forced to apologize after a question in one of the exam papers caused a backlash from Hindu nationalist groups. Six months later, a video of a student performing a skit based on the Hindu epic Ramayana at a company-sponsored event went viral, with right-wing groups accusing the platform of insulting religion. #AntiHinduUnacademy is trending on Twitter.

In 2016, e-commerce company Myntra was attacked for simplifying Hindu culture after a meme that scene from the epic Mahabharata with the brand of the company distributed in social networks. Both the meme and the controversy have resurfaced in 2021. The company claimed it had nothing to do with the image, but #BoycottMyntra and #UninstallMyntra are trending nonetheless.

Tech industry officials said they hope the controversy doesn’t stop people in India from experimenting with generative AI, which they say has huge potential in many sectors.

“You can’t blame this on AI,” Ravisutanjani Kumar, CEO of education technology startup Testbook, told WIRED. Testbrook is already using generative AI in its business.

However, some in the tech sector say the ChatGPT controversy has given them pause. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the manager of PhysicsWallah, an education platform with a market valuation in excess of a billion dollars, said the company would likely stay away from ChatGPT, at least until the storm dies down. “Ideally, we would stay away,” they said. “But if the business potential is high, we’ll wait until the controversy subsides and then tap into it.”

A senior manager at TradeIndia, who also asked for anonymity, was more pragmatic, saying they already use ChatGPT extensively to write website content for business clients. “Look, at the end of the day, it’s about costs,” they said. “If ChatGPT saves money on writers’ salaries and produces the desired results, the controversy won’t matter.”

Gupta says tech companies that want to operate in India need to be prepared for future controversy. These grievances are being used for political gain and to attract powerful conservative and religious groups, he said, and the government shows little sign that it is willing to tone down its rhetoric for the sake of the business climate.

“Companies should also have a process in place to deal with online boycotts or any allegations that arise,” Gupta says. “But [they] it will take a lot of firefighting because such incidents will continue.”

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