Welcome to "Behind the Mic," Today, we have the honor of featuring Nitish Kumar, the AI Team Lead at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Nitish Kumar, a visionary Scientist at U R Rao Satellite Center with an exemplary career spanning nearly a decade at ISRO, stands out for his significant contributions to Artificial Intelligence and space technology. He possesses an extraordinary ability to make AI systems more intelligible, explainable, and agile, leveraging his expertise to benefit national and global space projects.In recognition of his contributions, Nitish has received prestigious accolades such as the Innovative Young Scientist Award from ISRO and the Innovative Project Award from INAE (Indian National Academy of Engineering). He has also given various talks at corporations such as Nvidia, BMTMN, and IIITDM. Nitish’s technical skills match his expertise in leadership in Large Language Models, Computer Vision, AI, Reinforcement/Imitation Learning, and more.

Curious about how a leading scientist at ISRO prioritizes customer experience in the realm of AI and space technology? Let’s delve into Nitish Kumar’s insightful journey

Q 1: What inspired you to pursue a career in customer experience, and how did you get started in this field?

The dive into customer experience has been somewhat incidental for me. As someone tasked with tracking and implementing state-of-the-art AI and ML solutions in ISRO, I realized early on that developing and deploying these solutions was one aspect, and customer experience was another. If the user experience is not good, the solutions are not used to their potential. So, as someone who has to ensure that AI solutions are deployed to their potential, I had to delve into customer experience. As I worked on AI projects, it slowly dawned on me that to contribute to the “AI for All” objective of the Government, it was essential to prioritize customer experience when using AI tools. When AI can deliver beyond expectations in terms of customer experience, there is an increase in demand and curiosity in the tech stack. This fuels further investment and research into AI, which is essential for our nation. It’s a catalyst for technological growth and national progress.

Q 2: How do you incorporate cutting-edge technologies such as AI, machine learning, and blockchain into your product development process to enhance customer experience?

As I mentioned earlier, my journey has often involved developing products based on AI, machine learning, and other advanced technologies before fully considering customer experience. However, after a few projects, I realized the importance of prioritizing the user experience right from the start. Now, I tailor AI and machine learning solutions to enhance customer satisfaction. As Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology, not the other way around.” This philosophy continues to drive my dedication to both AI innovation and exceptional user experience. I’ve found that solutions with good explainability and interpretability are more readily accepted.
Ensuring that AI systems are transparent and their decisions can be understood by users is crucial. Additionally, it’s important to introduce AI gradually by integrating familiar elements.

Q 3: What strategies or practices have you found most effective in delivering exceptional customer experiences?

For AI/ML-related technologies, I’ve found that solutions with good explainability and interpretability are more readily accepted. Ensuring that AI systems are transparent and their decisions can be understood by users is essential.

Additionally, it’s crucial to introduce AI gradually by integrating familiar elements. Another strategy is to involve as many people as possible in decision-making for product development and reviews. When designing AI solutions, it is important to ensure that customers do not feel “alienated” when using them, as this can potentially hurt their work satisfaction. People should feel they are achieving more with AI, rather than feeling that AI is taking over. This is often dependent on the user’s “work-view.” In contemporary India, the concept of work is still linked to traditional notions where a person may not feel they have worked until they have completed a specific set of tasks. Efficiency can be a vague parameter, and people often feel they are working hard even if the outcomes are not proportional. With AI solutions, I ensure that people are involved in decisions or tasks alongside AI while incorporating elements that allow them to explore new territories they might not otherwise be able to. In essence, customer experience, especially with AI, involves patience. We have to give customers time to adapt to technological advancements. This approach ensures a smoother transition and better acceptance of new technologies.

Q 4: What advice would you give someone looking to build a career in customer experience?

I would advise everyone, regardless of their role, to pay attention to customer experience. Customer experience translates into more than just revenues; it can give purpose to the entire organization and shape the character of a brand. For those directly interacting with customers, I recommend embracing the concept of “Verstehen.” This sociological theory, introduced by Max Weber, emphasizes understanding social actions from others’ perspectives. “To understand a person, one must perceive the world through their eyes.” – Max Weber. Unlike the more commonly referenced terms like emotional intelligence and empathy, which can sometimes be used superficially, “Verstehen” provides a deeper and more structured approach to truly understanding customers. There are challenges and limitations that come with practicing this concept, which Weber has clearly outlined. These limitations must be systematically addressed. When the producer can peek into the mind of the consumer, customer experience will undoubtedly benefit. If addressing a large customer base, I advise finding the common denominator for the core cultural values and practices that define their customers’ identities. Offer them new practices that involve your product and provide improvements or innovations without compromising their essential identity. This integration should be done thoughtfully, ensuring that new practices are harmonized with existing cultural frameworks.

Q 5: Can you share a particularly memorable success story where your efforts significantly improved customer satisfaction?

One of the most memorable success stories in my career involved the development and deployment of GYAAN, our cognitive agent for knowledge navigation at ISRO. This project aimed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of information retrieval for our scientists and researchers. Initially, we designed GYAAN to utilize advanced semantic and contextual search capabilities. However, we soon realized that our users, accustomed to traditional string-based search methods, found it challenging to adapt to the new system. We sought to understand our users’ perspectives deeply through the concept of Verstehen. Users often couldn’t articulate what was wrong, so we had to step into their shoes. We discovered that the familiarity with Google-style keyword searches was a significant factor. Once this was clear, we acknowledged the importance of gradual integration and familiar interfaces. By incorporating a string-based search option alongside the advanced features, we provided a bridge between familiar practices and innovative technology. Furthermore, we involved our users in the decision-making process, ensuring they felt included and valued. This approach not only improved the acceptance of GYAAN but also significantly enhanced user satisfaction.

Q 6: How do you handle difficult customer interactions, and what have you learned from those experiences?

This is a good question. Having worked in AI for almost a decade, I must say that scientists are some of the toughest customers. They expect nothing short of the best, and the applications of my solutions are critical, requiring very high precision, which is not the forte of data-driven AI/ML models. However, on the bright side, my customers are also tenacious and naturally inquisitive about technology. I try to find a middle ground by introducing explainability and interpretability. I also take the tough requirements as a challenge, which often leads to innovations. I try to focus on the positive aspects of these interactions and do not expect them to be easy.

Q 7: What role do technology and data play in your approach to enhancing customer experience?

Technology and data play a crucial role in customer experience. With AI/ML, the idea is to gather as much user feedback and interaction data as possible. The goal is to turn data into information and information into insight. Developing insights is subjective and requires both experience and a human touch. As Technology is developing the data available is also developing and the nuances of human touch are also evolving.


In this exclusive interview, Nitish shares his journey, inspirations, and his forward-thinking vision for the future of AI and space technology. Nitish Kumar’s pioneering work at ISRO showcases the transformative power of AI in advancing space technology. His story is a testament to the impact of vision, expertise, and relentless passion. We hope this conversation has inspired you and sparked your curiosity for these cutting-edge fields.

Stay tuned for more enlightening conversations that promise to leave you eager for more!


Behind the Mic | Nitish Kumar