IITs set up schools, centres to foster research in AI

Rise in demand for manpower pushing institutes to train their students in artificial intelligence, say experts.
Last week, IIT-Bombay announced that it will set up a ‘Technocraft Centre for Applied Artificial Intelligence’ (TCA2I), a research centre to foster collaboration between industry and academia in applied AI. (IIT-Bombay)
Last week, IIT-Bombay announced that it will set up a ‘Technocraft Centre for Applied Artificial Intelligence’ (TCA2I), a research centre to foster collaboration between industry and academia in applied AI. (IIT-Bombay)
Published on Mar 14, 2021 11:59 PM IST
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ByPriyanka Sahoo, Mumbai

Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) across the country are now setting up new schools and research centres in applied artificial intelligence (AI) and data sciences (DS) to cater to the rising demand for qualified manpower in the area.

Last week, IIT-Bombay announced that it will set up a ‘Technocraft Centre for Applied Artificial Intelligence’ (TCA2I), a research centre to foster collaboration between industry and academia in applied AI. This comes merely a year after the institute set up a new Centre for Machine Intelligence and Data Science (C-MInDS) to build a future talent pool in AI and DS through research, teaching, and collaboration with industry/government.

While AI, Machine Learning (ML) and DS are widely taught to computer science students, institutes are realising the need to train students from all streams of engineering in these courses, given an increase in demand for qualified manpower in AI.

C-MInDS at IIT-Bombay is now offering a BTech minor in subjects in the field of AI and dual degree MTech programme. “BTech students from any stream can complete five additional courses in AI and ML-related subjects and they will be awarded with a minor degree in machine intelligence and data sciences. The courses cut across all streams. The goal is to develop manpower, who are experts in their own domains, but also have expertise in AI and ML,” said Manjesh Hanawal, assistant professor, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, IIT-Bombay, who is an associated faculty at both CMInDs and TCA2I. So far, around 100 students have registered for the BTech Minor course.

In 2019, ed-tech company Great Learning estimated that around 97,000 jobs related to AI, analytics and DS were lying vacant in India. However, India ranked 40th among 172 countries in 2020 in AI-readiness, according to Oxford Insights and the International Research Development Centre. The study measured the country’s preparedness to adapt to AI technologies across 33 indicators.

Demand for talent in AI and ML is 30% higher than the supply, said Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president and chief strategy officer, NASSCOMM, a not-for-profit association of the IT industry.

Research output in AI, too, is poor as less than 2% of all PhDs are in the field of AI, ML and DS, according to a Niti Aayog report. Centres such as those set up at IITs will help improve the country’s research output, said Gupta.

At Madras, the Robert Bosch Centre for Data Science and AI (RBCDSAI) was kicked off in 2017 and has since then published over 93 research papers.

In September 2020, IIT-Delhi set up a School of Artificial Intelligence (ScAI) which began PhD programmes in AI from January this year. It has received around 160 applications in its first term.

“From the next semester, we plan to start an MTech programme with an intake of 40. We have identified five core areas where we have our strength in AI applications — healthcare, material sciences, industry 4.0, robotics and multilingual natural language processing. ScAI aims to bring AI researchers across all departments together. It will facilitate collaborations to foster research in AI,” said Mausam, professor and founding head of ScAI. CMInDS, too, is likely to start regular MTech and PhD programmes in AI from the next semester.

“There is an urgent need to improve the quality and quantity of research in AI as well as create highly trained professionals,” said Mausam. Inter-disciplinary research involving AI is key, said faculty members.

“TCA2I focuses on research across domains. We are looking at interdisciplinary research in the application of AI in supply chain, logistics, transportation, cyber security, among others,” said Hanawal.

“Today, many donors are also realising that there is a huge thrust on making our workforce ready to adapt to AI as well as bring out high-quality research work in AI,” said Hanawal. TCA2I at IIT-Bombay has been set up with donations to the tune of 15 crore spread over three years from alumni members.

Many of the centres at IITs, such as Madras and Kharagpur, are set up in partnership with major IT organisations. “We are seeing many of our member companies partnering with these institutes for research centres. One of the reasons is they all have cases where they want to work on solutions in partnership with the academia. Through these centres, we have scope to build out new use cases where both the academia and the organisations can get an edge in these areas. For the institutions, these centres offer an opportunity to focus more on research,” said Gupta, adding that NASSCOM was also developing and curating courses in emerging technologies in partnership with various institutions and making the courses accessible.

Madras was the first IIT in the country to offer an interdisciplinary five-year dual degree programme in data science — the students earn a bachelors degree in any branch of engineering and a masters degree in data science.

B Ravindran, professor of Computer Science and Engineering and head of the RBCDSAI at IIT-Madras, said, “The goals of the centre were three-fold — to encourage fundamental research, to enable adoption of cutting edge AI in multiple verticals, and to impart high-quality AI education. We are one of the most productive AI labs in the country now, as measured by publications in top AI conferences. We also have significantly improved our footprint in interdisciplinary applications of AI across transportation, biology, manufacturing and finance.”

The centre is now planning a part-time MTech in Industrial AI and an advanced programme for working professionals in applied machine intelligence.

“AI, being a transformative technology, is a necessary skill for everyone and such centres play an important role in bringing about awareness and necessary appreciation. Our centre has projects that span various engineering departments, management studies, biotechnology, and social sciences,” said Ravindran.

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