Eat, pray, love Artificial Intelligence

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In one of the most impressive student events organized at IIT Kharagpur, teachers, students, industry experts came together to talk Artificial Intelligence.

Spelled up.AI and pronounced “Upay” or ‘solution’ in Hindi, the up.AI summit from October 5-7 tried to delve into the problems – illiteracy, hunger, disease, natural disasters – and how AI can be used to solve them. Up.AI was organized by the Computer Science and Engineering Department of IIT Kharagpur and its newly established Centre of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence.

Students at the up.AI boot camp

The meet not only focused on the thematic areas of AI, but also its practical applications. Speakers, – teachers, industry heads, entrepreneurs and researchers – gave demonstrations of how AI was being used in their respective fields – be it retail, banking, healthcare, transport or education. Ms Swapna Agarwal, part of the Research and Innovation team of TCS in Kolkata, for example introduced the audience to her work in computer vision with specific emphasis on 3D point-cloud registration. A team associated with a top bank showed how AI was being used in risk analysis and assessing the credibility of start-ups. Mr Malaikannan Sankarasubbu, Vice-President, AI Research @Saama Technologies, explained how AI was being used in clinical trials, especially those of medicines. Mr Shailesh Kumar, Chief Data Scientist, Jio CoE in AI, showed how AI can revolutionize education (The most unique of the applications that Mr Kumar described was how AI could be used to teach students the art of thinking).

Prof. Plaban Kumar Bhowmick, Assistant Professor, Centre for Educational Technology explained how AI was being used extensively by IIT Kharagpur in the National Digital Library. Prof. Mrigank Sharad, Department of Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering of IIT Kharagpur, and Director and CPO of AgNext, an IIT KGP startup, showed how AI is being used in crop-screening and in data-driven precision farming. Mr Rupak Kumar Thakur, Deep Learning Engineer at AgricX Lab, explained how his lab is using deep learning based computer vision algorithms to do quality assessment and standardization of agricultural produce with a focus on potato.

Prof. Sudeshna Sarkar, Head, CoE for AI

The audience at the up.AI summit not only included senior students at IIT Kharagpur who are already working on AI but also students from the first and second year. The message that went out to them from the speakers was simple. One, that India stands to benefit from AI in a big way. Professor Pallab Dasgupta of the Computer Science and Engineering Department and Dean, Sponsored Research and Consultancy, pointed out that just like IT had proved to be one of the wealth creators for India, AI would be equally beneficial for India, given that the country already had a lot going for it by way of digital penetration, its huge talent pool, and its proven ability to scale up new technology.

The other message that went out to the young audience was that instead of exploiting the hype around AI, they had to innovate and “create”. Mr Subrat Panda, Head of AI and Data Sciences at Capillary Technologies, clearly made that point during his virtual class from Bengaluru. Dr. Suryanil Ghosh, Chairman, TotalStart Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Developers, reminded students that they need to engage in interdisciplinary research since “The AI revolution in India will be driven by interdisciplinary collaboration in research.”

Lecture at up.AI summit

The point was reiterated during the panel discussion, which also highlighted several other problem areas. The panel included faculty, students as well as experts like Suddha Sattwa Kundu, VP Head, Retail Risk Loss Forecasting, Collections & Fraud Prevention Strategy of HSBC Technology and Services, and Mr Kumar of Jio Center in AI. It was pointed out that the toughest challenge in Machine Learning is data acquisition, and that students tended to prefer projects for which data is available. The other point highlighted was the lack of gender diversity in the community working on ML. It was suggested that student groups like ‘Lean In Tech’ could encourage girls interested in ML/AI to come forward in this arena.

IIT Kharagpur has been using AI extensively for the past few years. A recent survey by SRIC showed as many as 83 of its Faculty use AI in their work. The enthusiasm surrounding AI was palpable in the enormous crowd of close to a thousand students who congregated at the boot camp on October 5, prior to the beginning of the summit . The bootcamp introduced attendant students to theory, implementation and deployment of AI-powered algorithms. The event also featured a Deep Learning Quiz. It was followed by a contest named J.A.R.V.I.S. Chronicles that saw overwhelming participation.

Demonstration at the boot camp

The up.AI summit has led to a larger competition termed up.AI Challenge. Till October 21, students will have time to form teams and present proposals for projects dealing with AI. Under the mentorship of IIT Kharagpur professors, 10 select projects will be incubated during the winter vacation and in a competition to be held in January 2019, the best among them will be awarded. As Professor Sudeshna Sarkar, head CoE for AI, said, “The idea was to have some AI related activity going on at IIT Kharagpur. There is a lot of enthusiasm among the students and events like the up.AI meet will not only encourage students but also inform, shape up and channelize creativity. All this is great for the newly-established CoE for AI.”

Prof. Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, Director, IIT Kharagpur, said, “The talent and interest in AI in IIT KGP, and the support from others is incredible. We need to make it happen more and more. Thanks to Anirban Santara and Team up.AI for organizing the event at IIT KGP. Let’s take this movement forward.”

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