An Interview with Tej Kohli, by Rasika Sittamparam

Give and Tech

Tej Kohli is an entrepreneur, global business leader and philanthropist based in London. Following his own successes in tech and real estate, he now seeks to support the pioneers and innovators that are shaping a brighter future – through his investments in fields with significant potential, and through various non-profit organisations with the mission to meet the needs of underserved communities around the globe.

While his interest in ophthalmology remains, machine learning is Kohli’s current preoccupation. He announces this with a glint in his eyes. ‘Artificial intelligence, in the next 3-5 years, if not sooner, will be worth $150 trillion,’ he says, adding for comparison that the internet is worth $50 trillion.

Despite the enormity of his valuation, he reminds us that futuristic projects require capital, a high-risk attitude and a lot of patience. ‘You have to invest in things which are by no means certain,’ he says. ‘You know how much property is going to appreciate, more or less, while with AI you don’t know what’s really going to happen.’

Kohli wants to be at the forefront of the technologies he adopts. The companies he’s investing in ‘will be worth half a billion to a billion dollars in the next five years’, he says. He is injecting millions of his own money in emerging technologies through his own firm Kohli Ventures to help entrepreneurs fight ‘the world’s most pressing challenges’ in AI, robotics and genomics. He believes such technologies can help everything from increasing the efficiency of businesses by 70 per cent to improving global healthcare and even extending human lifespan.

He gives his backing of Detraxi as an example – a US-based regenerative biotechnology company that is developing a proprietary solution to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Detraxi’s proprietary solution is currently nearing completion of pre-clinical trials. ‘Just think about how big this is going to be,’ he says excitedly. ‘It will be profitable but also very helpful – fewer people will die.’

AI has the power to reduce poverty, he says, but it needs a globalised economy for a seamless function. The London-based Kohli is a ‘strong believer’ in globalisation. ‘Home is where your dentist is – and he’s in Costa Rica,’ he jokes, adding that he feels very much at home in the UK, where his children are schooled. He is also one to go ‘wherever the good deals’ are. So where next? ‘Shenzhen is the hub of artificial intelligence,’ he says. ‘It could even become better than Silicon Valley in a few years.’

You know how much property Is going to appreciate, more or less, while with AI you don’t know what’s really going to happen.

However, Kohli is conscious that globalisation, AI and machinepowered automation have caused short-term despair among the poor. He links this to the rise of populist ‘strongmen’ such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who preach anti-globalist sentiment. ‘It’s created a vacuum, it’s created disparity between the very rich like me and the not so rich.’

Add an ageing demographic and the world’s $250 trillion debt, and one has the recipe for further inequality. Still, Kohli is optimistic. ‘Overall we are moving in the right direction, but there is some pain in the short run.’

Part of his confidence is fuelled by his faith in the next generation: he recently channelled €20 million into the burgeoning esports sphere, a virtual sports industry for video gamers. ‘I’m a big fan of youth – they have very good ideas. When I see young, smart people, I feel very encouraged that we’re going to be OK.’

This outlook is part of a forwardlooking belief system embraced by technophiles. ‘Artificial intelligence is very expensive when you bring it into existing businesses – it’s disruptive and in the short run it might even take you back profitability-wise. But younger people are much more open to it – they accept it, they understand it,’ he concludes. ‘They know it’s the only way to be competitive.’