Alpana Saha was involved in an engaging and delightful interaction with Prof Ranjan Bose director of IIIT, New Delhi and the extraction of the interaction is presented below for the reader to relish the insights provided by Dr Ranjan Bose to Alpana Saha.
You are Director of Information Technology institute. India has been a dominating country in the Information Technology sector. What is the graph now?
We have been taking giant strides in the sector of Information Technology for quite some time now. We are known as one of the leaders in IT sector and we have put flag way up high in this sector. The question is how we keep this lead ahead. Some of the newer technology, which is coming up like Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and block chain. How do we keep the banner of the nation flying high that is the important question?
How can we be leader in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology as well?
So the first thing to realize is that artificial intelligence is here to stay. It is basically going to change the way we are going to lead our life. So we will be interacting with smart assistants in the future. We may be taking rides in the automated or AI enabled cars. Getting lot of deliveries done through AI enabled systems and many more such activities.
So we can say that AI can improve our life as science has done to the life of human being. But what about the demographic dividend in the country, and how can we capitalize on that? How can we make AI and human work together and improving the society?
One thing is for sure that AI will replace many of the mundane jobs. They will also reduce the number of errors done because machine doesn’t get tired. They can work 24X7. At the same time artificial intelligence has its limitations and that’s where we have to think how we capitalize upon the creative intelligence of the human beings. The big natural resource that we have in terms of human resource, we have to trigger on that part. That doesn’t come automatically. We have to focus on our education system, which will enable students to think creatively. Students need to come up with disruptive ideas. Look for opportunities. Do things which machine and artificial intelligence system cannot.
Alpana Saha: So you mean to say that skill development of the existing human resources in the country is a must to cope up with the upcoming challenges of the artificial intelligence in the country?
I would reformulate the question and say that we need to develop life skill. Today what students have to do is to learn, unlearn and relearn. The students should develop the skill to learn and unlearn is the life skills. Another thing that machine cannot do easily is entrepreneurship. One of the basic things that we need to inculcate in our students is entrepreneurial thinking, which may necessarily not lead to an incubated entrepreneurial company but it poses certain questions that a student must ask.
Because tomorrow’s world depends on right questions we ask and not on right answer we give.
How academic curriculum of the country needs to change so that students can develop the skill of asking right questions. According to you students should learn to unlearn things and learn new things. This means that students need to be innovative. The curriculum becoming redundant very fast. Earlier for five years same curriculum could be carried but has curriculum gets outdated in just one and a half year. How will we balance this challenge, which is posed before the nation?
So the students have to become lifelong learners. This is the first requirement. Our curricula have to change. We should make system, which enables students to take courses at their own pace, own time and own choice. Anywhere and anytime courses is the flavor of the time. This brick and mortor system of education will soon give way to the newer form of learning where students can learn the courses of their choices at their own pace and levels. They should be able to re-skill themselves every two-three years.
Alpana Saha: If students have to learn and unlearn on their own pace, so the same analysis and assessment process for students cannot work in new curriculum system. What do you have to say regarding this and what is your thought?
So assessment should also be student based. Common assessment for all students is not right. In fact the curricula should encourage project-based learning and hands-on learning. That is what is done at many courses of IIIT Delhi. They have to do some projects at their end. They even have to show a working model. The students are assessed on the basis of their projects and working models they create. No two models or projects are same. The evaluation methodology needs to evolve.
What is the trick of the trade to survive in the present changing scenario of science for students?
The first and foremost thing is that students need to be prepared for uncertainty. Can one become prepared for the uncertainty? The answer to this is yes. It is a way of thinking. What we mean by saying prepared for uncertainty is we have to teach students to identify opportunities and problems. So, we can always formulate a problem to solve and solve the formulated problem. This is the skill, which today AI systems don’t have. That is where humans will have a leading edge. We need to teach students to quickly identify what is trending and what skills they need to acquire to solve those problems and problems are plenty. We just need to look around. Just look at the city of Delhi. We can find many problems to be solved today. Many of these can be solved with the aid of information technology.
Alpana Saha: One personal question, how did you come to the field of information technology? What attracted you to make your career in IT?
So I am an electrical engineer by training. Electrical engineer has more to do with signal processing. The moment you generate data, you have to process data and analyze data and use data in an efficient and effective manner. So that was my initiation into this beautiful world of information technology. As a personal interest my research is in the information theory. Where we look at the rate at which we can communicate information and the limit we pose error free or reduce error communication.
As you are from electrical engineering background what all do differences you find in electrical engineering and Information technology?
There is a big overlap in the branches. Electrical engineering is quite broad. It has various aspects covering from communication to computers to robotics to control power system. Information technology is taking the core of the basic data. Today we hear about Internet of Things. Internet of Things has become internet of every thing. So the key factor in internet of thing is generation of data and that too actionable data. Data is in motion, which means there are concerns of privacy, secrecy and concern about authentication of data. All of that together have to be handled in very smart and elegant manner.
Has artificial intelligence emerged from Information technology branch? How can we have balance between accuracy of data and ensure privacy at the same time?
So we all agree that data is the new oil. Data is the new place where there is huge money. Therefore privacy, secrecy and integrity of data are all very important because my healthcare data is very critical for health care company. Similarly what time I get up the Alexa in my house knows it very well. So my privacy and security is at risk. Secrecy is definitely important and privacy is a big concern. Lot of work in the shape of research work is going on today for data secrecy and private policy maintenance. If you turn the problem around you can actually generate false data and fake news, which you are aware, is big issue in many of the places. That itself is a big challenge. So therefore we have a very interesting area called the data science. We have realized the importance of this and our institute is offering some of the state of art courses in data science. We have active program for the industries. So we are doing outreach program to train industry people in the interesting area of data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT.
Alpana Saha: What is your advice to the policy maker in securing data?
Today there are lots of white paper and policy documents for data protection. We have to look at strengthening the research culture in the country. The whole work of data science should be protected because next war will be fought in cyberspace. This is of primary importance. So it is the information that has to be protected. We have to train our engineers and scientists to work in protecting data and make good use of data.
You appropriately said that next war will be fought for data. Please elaborate on the various aspect of data protection so that academicians and students of the nation get benefited from it?
The popular and discrete step we can take is that engage defense people in the field of data protection. The first and foremost is that defense forces should take interest in such activities with academia. For example Delhi Police has opened a Centre of Technology in policing here in IIIT Delhi where they bring to us real world problem with data and we solve them. That is one way to work. The other way is to start from the other side. Lot of interesting work already being done at the academic institutions is and our government agencies, law enforcement agencies and defense forces can actually come and have a look at it and see what is useful to them. Funding of these centres of excellence at various academic institutions is also a great idea. Where real world problems can be looked at by the academicians and repeated training of people in the defense forces and in public domain and law enforcement division should be done periodically.
Be prepared to protect the data and both academicians and policy makers should come together to protect data.