IIT Madras launches 'Nilekani Centre at AI4Bharat’ on campus. Here are all the details

Funded through a grant of Rs 36 crore from Nilekani Philanthropies, the initiative aims to advance the state of Indian language technology with the intention to create a societal impact
Pic credits: Express
Pic credits: Express

On July 28, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) launched a ‘Nilekani Centre at AI4Bharat’ to advance the state of Indian language technology with the intention to create societal impact. This initiative is being supported by Rohini and Nandan Nilekani with a generous grant of Rs 36 crore through Nilekani Philanthropies.

The centre was inaugurated on July 28 on campus by Nandan Nilekani. As part of this launch event, a workshop open to students, researchers and start-ups was held to discuss the resources available to build Indian language technologies. 

A press note released by the institute stated that the AI4Bharat centre was set up as an initiative of IIT Madras to build open-source language AI for Indian languages. Further, over the past two years, the team led by Dr Mitesh Khapra, Dr Pratyush Kumar and Dr Anoop Kunchukuttan has made several contributions to Indian language technology, including state-of-the-art models for Machine Translation and Speech Recognition, it added.

While speaking at the launch of the centre, Nandan Nilekani said, "The Digital India Bhashini mission has been launched with the goal of all services and information being available to citizens in their own language with 'collaborative AI’ at the core of the design." Additionally, "AI4Bharat will further contribute to and accelerate the Indic language AI work as a public good and is fully aligned with the goals of the Bhashini mission," he added. 

Director of IIT Madras, Prof V Kamakoti, congratulating the team behind this centre, said, “I am happy that IIT Madras is taking a leadership role in Indian language AI which is of national importance. I am looking forward to AI4Bharat’s cutting-edge research being translated to real-world use.”

Talking about the centre, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Madras, Dr Mitesh M Khapra said, "Given the rich diversity of languages in India, coupled with a rapidly expanding digital world, it is important to make significant advances in language technology to benefit the common man. While language technology has significantly improved for English and a few languages, Indian languages are lagging behind. The focus of the centre would be to bridge this gap.”

Dr Pratyush Kumar, Researcher, Microsoft Research and Adjunct Faculty, IIT Madras, said, "The centre is advantageously situated at the intersection of academia, industry and organisations working for the public good. This allows its contributions to be broad-based, spanning cutting-edge AI research, open datasets as infrastructure and applications for use by people.”

Giving insights about the technology being developed at the centre, a Researcher at Microsoft, Dr Anoop Kunchukuttan, said, "Building AI technologies for the diverse set of Indian languages is expensive given the need for large datasets and computing power. In this context, we are grateful that several organisations have been supporting the efforts to build open-source AI.”

Having said that, Chief AI Evangelist at EkStep Foundation as well as a mentor to the new centre, Dr Vivek Raghavan said, "The centre will focus on doing foundational work which can benefit society at large." Further, he added, "We hope that start-ups and other industries working on Indian language technology will benefit from the datasets, tools and pre-trained models being developed at the centre. The idea is to energise the ecosystem to do more for Indian languages.”

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