Raj Reddy, The AI Pioneer From India

Raj Reddy, the AI pioneer from India, is currently the Moza Bint Nasser University Professor in the Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department.

The US and China as frontrunners in the battle for supremacy in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) may be leaving India some distance behind, but an Indian-born scientist is still considered one of the pioneers of research in the area. Dr Dabbala Rajagopal “Raj” Reddy, who celebrates his 86th birthday this month, is currently the Moza Bint Nasser University Professor in the Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department. His research interests include the “study of human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence” while his current research projects include “spoken language systems; gigabit networks; universal digital libraries; and distance learning on demand”.

Born in Katur, a small village in Andhra Pradesh with a population of 500 people who lived without water or electricity or doctors, Reddy learnt writing on sand since there was neither paper nor pencil. His father was a farmer and after going to the village’s one-room primary school, the young boy became the first member of his family to attend college. After getting his bachelor’s degree from Guindy College of Engineering, Madras (now Chennai), and a master’s degree from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, he worked for IBM in Australia for a few years before moving to the US for his master’s degree followed by a doctorate, both in computer science, from Stanford University. Three years of teaching at Stanford was followed by a move to Carnegie Mellon University, where he founded the school’s Robotics Institute and where he teaches till date.

At a time when AI wasn’t yet a buzzword, it caught the attention of the man whose great passion has been to make information technology accessible to poorer nations. Thus began a lifelong journey during which he’s pushed thinking on the subject into newer dimensions. AI’s use in looking for patterns amidst large sets of data, dates back several decades. What makes recent developments in the area, including products like ChatGPT and Bard, so exciting is that they are products of what is commonly referred to as generative AI.

And it is to this that much of Reddy’s work over the last 50 years has been dedicated.

While he was on the computer science faculty at Carnegie Mellon in the 1970s, Reddy led a project to construct a computer program that could understand continuous human speech. The difficulties were enormous because of the differences with written text. That’s where Reddy came in with his insight that the issues in speech understanding were central to AI generally.

AI is challenging the conventional understanding of the human brain and unlocking its secrets, as demonstrated by the findings published in Nature Neuroscience.

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