Science & Technology

The Indian AI pioneer Raj Reddy

A scientist of Indian descent is still regarded as one of the forerunners of research in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), despite the US and China being the leaders in the race for supremacy in the creation of AI and putting India far behind. Dr. Dabbala Rajagopal “Raj” Reddy, who turns 86 this month, holds the Moza Bint Nasser University Professorship in the Department of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Speaking language systems, gigabit networks, universal digital libraries, and distance learning on demand are some of his current research projects. His research interests include “the study of human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence.”

Reddy learned to write on sand because there was no paper nor a pencil available when he was growing up in Katur, a small Andhra Pradesh village with 500 residents who did not have access to power, water, or doctors. The little kid, whose father worked as a farmer, graduated from the one-room primary school in the community and went on to become the first member of his family to attend college. After earning a master’s degree from the University of New South Wales in Sydney and a bachelor’s degree from Guindy College of Engineering in Madras (now Chennai), he spent a few years working for IBM in Australia before relocating to the US to pursue his master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford University.

After spending three years teaching at Stanford, he moved to Carnegie Mellon University, where he started the robotics institute and continues to teach today.

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The man whose great interest has been to make information technology accessible to poorer nations noticed AI at a period when it was not yet a buzzword. Thus began a lifelong adventure that has led him to expand his perspective on the issue. It has been decades since AI was used to find patterns in huge data sets. Recent advancements in the field, such as ChatGPT and Bard, are particularly fascinating because they are examples of what is known as generative AI. And much of Reddy’s work over the past 50 years has been devoted to this.

Reddy oversaw an attempt to create a computer software that could comprehend continuous human speech in the 1970s while he was a member of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon. The changes from written material presented significant challenges. Reddy stepped in at that point with his idea that the problems with speech understanding were fundamental to AI as a whole.

Hearsay I, the outcome of his early work, used a number of cooperating parallel processes representing various sources of knowledge, including acoustic, phonetic, syntactic, and semantic, to predict what might appear in a particular context or to confirm a hypothesis that had been generated from a prior prediction.

Hearsay I could actually recognize speech continuously. It laid the groundwork for current commercial voice recognition technology, along with its predecessors. His work indirectly contributed to the development of the well-known “blackboard model” for integrating and using information from many knowledge sources to solve a given problem. Today, the approach is used in all areas of practical artificial intelligence.

Reddy was jointly given the A.M. Turing Award in 1994 for “pioneering the design and construction of large scale artificial intelligence systems, demonstrating the practical importance and potential commercial impact of artificial intelligence technology.” Reddy also received the A.M. Turing Award in 1993.

There is not a significant honor that he has not received, including the French Legion of Honor in 1984, the IBM Research Ralph Gomory Fellow Award in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2001, the Okawa Prize in 2004 and 2005, the Honda Prize in 2005, and the Vannevar Bush Award from the U.S. National Science Board in 2006.

Despite his success, he continues to have a utopian vision of a society in which individuals at the bottom of the economic pyramid can gain from the technology that they and others are developing. Looking further into the future, I see the emergence of personalized guardian angels that will get the right information to the right people at the right time in the right language with the right level of detail, Reddy said in a speech in 2021 when he was given the Computer History Museum Fellow Award for his life’s work on artificial intelligence, robotics, and computer science education.

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