IIIT Hyderabad's Director Discusses Contributions To Technology & Research

Prof PJ Narayanan, Director of IIIT Hyderabad shares how the institute is contributing towards nation building through its various transdisciplinary and research based

How is your institute matching the pace of Artificial Intelligence? What programmes do you offer in this field?

IIIT Hyderabad has been a pioneer in AI and its component areas from the beginning. The institute started with a research centre focused on Natural Language Processing as its first entity with language translation as its major activity. We built strong research centres in Computer Vision, Robotics, Speech Processing, Data Analytics, Cognitive Sciences, etc., over the years. The Kohli Centre on Intelligent Systems (KCIS) at IIIT-H, established in 2015 with support from the TCS Foundation, has played a major role in propelling the institute and the country forward in AI research, education and outreach.

All academic programs in IIIT-H are research-focused. AI courses are available BTech, MTech, MS and PhD students at the institute. We deliberately decided not to have bachelors and masters programs in AI. However, specialisation in different AI areas is available to every student in IIIT, including the BTech students. Close to half the MS and PhD thesis are in core AI areas or application of it in other fields. We have a pioneering group in ML-based Science, which is an area with huge potentials.

As India’s leading AI research institute do you have any research that can help the healthcare industry?

IIIT Hyderabad is involved with several projects in the broader healthcare area in partnership with the IHub-Data established under the NM-ICPS program by DST and several NGOs and other agencies involved on the ground. This includes efforts to improve public health as well as enhancing diagnosis and drugs. Some of the activities include:

· Construction of the normative atlas of the standard healthy Indian Brain, based on the scan, registration and study of a large number of individuals. Diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions of Indian patients should be based on data from Indian population, not western ones.

· A method for oral cancer screening using mobile cameras and AI technology has been developed and is being carried out in Telangana and AP in collaboration with Grace Cancer Foundation, Biocon International and Vishnu Dental colleges.

· Genomic surveillance of communicable diseases like TB, Dengue, Malaria, using data from hospitals across the country has started at the institute. Such observations are critical to catch early signals on the outbreak of such diseases in different parts of the country.

· Drug design using ML techniques is an active research area at IIIT-H. Drug design is a highly expensive operation. It can be made more efficient in cost and time by ML-based analysis of data and formulation of future strategies.

· We are developing a system to assess thoracic water content in the lungs using bioimpedance measurements from a belt with multiple sensors worn by an individual.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) on campus. Please elaborate on its benefits vis a vis students, academia and industry.

The CIE on campus is among the largest academic incubators in the country. Though the primary focus of CIE is the institute’s students, faculty and alumni, we wanted to be a strong player in the Hyderabad and Indian innovation and start-up ecosystem. Our incubator has about 50 startups that connect strongly with the deep technology research at the institute. CIE provides help and mentoring on technical, administrative and funding matters to the startups. Any member of the institute community or the Hyderabad community who has the ambition to venture on their own can get all help through CIE.

Can you shed light on some transdisciplinary programmes that IIIT Hyderabad offers?

IIIT is a top technology university but is not limiting its attention to the core technology areas. We believe information and communication technologies can play strong role in practically every domain of human activity. Conversely, insights from these domains are critical to design computing-based solutions that are used by the larger populace.

We have several transdisciplinary research efforts in our research centres. In particular, we have started unique dual-degree programs that give a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a research-based master’s degree in domains like Computational Natural Sciences, Computational Linguistics and Computational Human Science. These are very special programs unavailable in any institution across the globe. The PhD, Masters and UG Honours students have the opportunity to specialise in varied areas like Cognitive Sciences, Quantum Computing, Spatial Informatics, Internet of Things, Robotics, etc.

In what way is IIIT–H contributing to tech industry, learning, job creation and nation-building?

IIIT contributes in multiple ways. Our students are very well trained in technology and domains and can directly contribute to the cutting-edge products and solutions industry works on. Most companies who hire our graduates appreciate the well-rounded vision of our graduates that extends to beyond technology. The research at the institute solves today’s and tomorrow’s problems of the society. Some of the solutions are transferred to industry to carry forward or to startups to develop. Academic institutions are like watering holes: different sections of the society – students, industry, start-ups, government, professionals – benefit from it different ways.

How successful has the public-private partnership (PPP) model been for you?

IIIT is a unique institution: neither private nor government. Through the PPP model, we try to combine the best social orientation of the government institutions and the dynamism of private institutions. The government model has its strengths and several weaknesses that we see every day. The private sector has its own difficulties too. Academic institutions help different sections of the society in different ways. It is important for the broader society to support and nurture academic institutions with high potential. The PPP model embodies just that.

We are very pleased that the PPP model of IIIT-H was the guiding principle behind the creating of 20 PPP IIITs by the Central and State governments along with industry partners. That is a major contribution of IIIT-H to the Indian society.

What tangible outcomes has IIIT Hyderabad achieved in the field of research and technology development which is translating into societal benefit?

Our achievements in research are too many. Academically, we are ranked among the top 5-6 institutions in the country though we have been in existence only for 25 years. This also needs to be seen in the light of the low direct investment made on the institution compared to the multiple institutions established in the last two decades. In high-end AI research, IIIT-H is ranked at the very top of all institutions in the country. We have worked on several translation systems involving Indian languages and English. Research at the institute has resulted in enhanced earthquake codes for the country. We have been instrumental in developing building standards for energy efficiency and cool roofs. Our research has translated into sports analytics that is broadcast along with cricket broadcast on Star TV. These are just some of the examples.

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