‘Responsible AI, hyper-automation, integrating humanities with tech top priority,’ says new IIT-Madras director

V Kamakoti has a new role at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras as Director. Before that, Kamakoti spent years at the main institution, both as a student and as a member of the faculty.

“The number of labs, student strength, departments, everything has increased tremendously since 1989 when I first joined the institute, compared to today in 2022,” said the newly appointed director of IIT Madras.

Kamakoti spoke about his plans to take his alma mater to newer paths in an interview with biharengineering.in. His plans include responsible artificial intelligence (AI), sponsored research into international rankings, and interdisciplinary courses.

‘Responsible AI’

Kamakoti, who took charge last month, said that when it comes to new age technologies, the responsibility is still limited and it is going to be difficult to take care of. “It becomes very important to look at ethics, which falls under the category of values-based education. If something goes wrong with AI, who is responsible? How do we ensure accountability in an AI system and ensure there is no bias? These are both very interesting and important topics. They will determine whether AI will be successful. That’s why we’ll be exploring ‘Responsible AI’ as a key area of ​​focus,” the 53-year-old said.

His immediate plan also includes an IT-driven governance mechanism called “Hyper Automation” to improve the efficiency of automated processes and systems.

To bridge the gap between theory and practice, the institute will focus on increasing the number of posts for the ‘Faculty of Practice’, he says. Kamakoti, who obtained his PhD from IIT-Madras in 1995, pointed out that these positions allow established industry professionals to work and attend classes at IIT Madras.

“The real construction of the system in the field provides much more insight into how the system works than just theoretical knowledge, and the ‘Faculty of Practice’ plays a very good role there. It allows students to get a holistic view not only about the basics and operation of the systems, but also about what happens when we actually try to develop such systems in the field. We already have some 20 positions and will be expanding them significantly to ensure the courses are handled properly,” he added.

Humanities and Languages

About his plans to increase the multidisciplinary quotient in the curriculum, he said that humanities and languages ​​will play a very important role in technology-oriented areas and that language-related input is needed for technology. “We’re going to handle the government’s National Language Translation Mission, where we’re trying to have a common platform that can be multilingual. It will be a major digital intervention and potentially the IT backbone of the country,” he added.

As many as nine international MTech courses in fields such as data sciences, energy systems, cyber-physical systems and quantum technologies will be launched to attract foreign students to the campus. “We have seen a lot of interest in our industrial MTech courses around the world. We think we will attract at least 1,000 applications from foreign students. That is our expectation,” said the director.

Ranking, quality research

IIT-Madras topped the National Institute of Ranking Framework (NIRF) in 2021, but failed to break through the top 100 list in any of the international rankings. In QS World University Rankings 2022, it ranks 225th.

While Kamakoti believes it is important for educational institutions to rank highly globally, he said Indian institutions should also work on their international perception. “In international rankings, there are some technological aspects, but perception is given a lot of weight. One of the things we need to do is expand our reach, and we’re already working. We are very excited about reaching multiple countries. We will now do it in a much more organized way,” he added.

IIT-Madras is home to several successful ventures and more than 200 deep technology startups have incubated here. Kamakoti, associate dean of Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research (ICSR) at IIT-Madras before taking over as director, attributes this to the institute’s strong interdisciplinary approach and the availability of the necessary infrastructure.

However, he believes that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the environment at IIT, contributing greatly to the success of startups. “Interdisciplinary projects involving students from multiple engineering departments are strongly encouraged. We believe that this interaction is a key factor that has led to several successful startups of the Institute. The 24-hour learning culture has been hit hard by the pandemic,” he said.

When asked whether funding is a challenge for quality research in India, he said, “Funding is never a challenge when we go with a relevant proposal.” “Sponsored research is helping us to explore virgin territory. It actually feeds practical research. Funding agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology (DST) have certain sponsored areas of research where one can explore virgin territory. This is called ‘discovery proposals’ where we can discover areas,” he added.

Any sponsored research that helps build fundamental know-how, Kamakoti said, will essentially aid product-oriented or translational research. “Sponsored research fuels good product-oriented research,” he added.

Sajal Jain
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