Sheena Sachdeva|May 25, 2022
Interview: IIT Patna is helping to break language barriers, says director
IIT Patna’s computer science and engineering (CSE) department is finding tech solutions to language issues in e-commerce, judiciary, social media.
NEW DELHI: Indian Institute of Technology Patna has joined a Bihar government project to improve science and technology education in the state which uses a hub-and-spoke model for working together. In an email interview with Careers360, TN Singh, director, IIT Patna, spoke about the institution’s research projects on language processing and translations, new industry-relevant courses, how it is overcoming funding-related challenges by launching courses in PPP-mode and more. Edited excerpts below.
Q. Recently, IIT Patna, along with a few polytechnic colleges in the state, has started to set up a hub-and-spoke model in collaboration with the government of Bihar. How is it progressing?
A. IIT Patna is a knowledge partner in this initiative of the department of science and technology, Government of Bihar. This programme is part of Seven Nishchay Part II scheme of the Bihar government. In the project, 11 hubs and 33 spokes have been identified by the government of Bihar. IIT Patna will develop labs in the hubs and spokes as per the approved detailed project report (DPR), including training teachers, coordinating with industry partners and training students in the respective domain chosen for their college.
Q. IIT Patna has recently collaborated with Flipkart to provide translation and transliteration support to the e-commerce giant. What are the other such collaborations in the pipeline and how do students benefit?
A. The local language is critical for e-commerce companies to expand in smaller towns and rural areas. In August 2020, Flipkart forged a partnership with the Artificial Intelligence-Natural Language Processing-Machine Learning (AI-NLP-ML) Research Group of the department of computer science and engineering to automate the process of translating and transliterating over 5.4 million words from English to Indian languages using state-of-the-art AI-NLP-ML techniques. The research carried out jointly has helped Flipkart to offer its app interface in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Assamese, Odia, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.
The technology developed as part of this research is extremely useful for a multilingual country like India which speaks 22 official languages, and a large number of the population (approximately 80 percent) can’t communicate in English. This collaboration has provided IIT Patna faculty, students (PhD, MTech, and BTech) and project staff a platform to work on a challenging problem that has practical use-cases in our multilingual society. Apart from research expenses, this collaboration has provided long-term internship opportunities to PhD students, access to the actual user-generated data (the fuel of today’s technology), and Flipkart’s internal platform.
IIT Patna has developed a machine translation system to translate judicial documents from English-to-Indian and Indian-to-English languages. This is important as a huge number of documents are generated daily in the different layers of courts in various vernacular languages. There is a necessity to translate these so that judges, lawyers, legal firms and the common citizens can quickly access this information in the language they are most comfortable with. Manual translation by professional translators of such huge data is both time-consuming and expensive, and this results in significant delays in the overall justice delivery process. The advanced techniques of artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning can be a big rescue here.
Another interesting project that IIT Patna has taken up is to build an automated translation system using AI-NLP-ML techniques to translate educational content from English to the Indian languages.
IIT Patna has partnered with Wipro to develop technologies and know-how in the areas of AI-NLP-ML to detect hate speech from social media, prevent them from rapid dissemination, and convert the objectionable content into a standard language; for detecting misinformation and fake news from social media content; and question-answering system in the healthcare domain. These ongoing projects have provided a platform for our faculty members and students to work on industry-relevant problems in collaboration with international universities like the University of Texas at Austin, United States of America, and Artificial Intelligence Institute, University of South Carolina, USA.
As part of IMPRINT 2, another project in collaboration with Wipro is related to building a multilingual chatbot for the judiciary, healthcare and railway domains. The project aims at: (i) developing a chatbot called Sevak, which can understand written and spoken Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu) along with English; (ii) it aims at designing Sevak such that it supports the mixing of languages, i.e. Hindi and English (Hinglish), Bengali and English (Benglish) ; (iii) the product will be an open-source, pluggable, chatbot engine; (iv) Sevak service will be provided through Facebook messenger, Android app; (v) Will serve in railways, primary health care, and judiciary.
With the generous grant from Accenture, we are currently working towards developing a persuasive, personalised, knowledge grounded conversational system (or, chatbot) using the latest natural language processing and machine learning techniques. With the tremendous advancement in technologies and the phenomenal rise in the widespread adoption of AI-powered smart devices and virtual assistants, more and more organisations are very rapidly moving towards a conversation-driven interface to better engage their customers.
Another interesting project in the pipeline is named AgroLiteracy which aims to create a chatbot and/or question-answering system in the agriculture domain. This project is planned with Samsung Research, and Bihar’s department of agriculture, under the technology
innovation hub on video, speech and text analytics, IIT Patna. AgroLiteracy is a multilingual chatbot, primarily aimed at helping Indian farmers with a voicebot which can understand English and Indian languages.
Q. Last year, IIT-P introduced three new BTech courses on artificial intelligence, engineering physics and BSc courses in mathematics and computing. What new courses and centres are you planning?
A. IIT Patna is committed to providing industry-relevant education and skills without compromising academic rigour. At present, IIT Patna is working on developing executive MTech programmes in AI and mechatronics for industry professionals; executive post graduate diplomas in HR [human resource management]; and a vast number of certificate programmes offering industry-ready skills.
Further, IIT Patna is also working towards the development of online degree programmes in line with National Education Policy 2020 in the areas of computer science, AI, and management. All the above new online or hybrid programmes will be offered in PPP [public-private partnership] mode to ensure financial viability and sustainability.
Q. Recently, AICTE extended the moratorium on setting up new engineering colleges. What can be done to improve the current scenario?
A. IIT Patna is partnering with the state government to offer support for improving engineering education in terms of offering faculty development programmes (FDPs), helping in setting up centres of excellence, and holding workshops and seminars by IIT P faculty members to train state government teachers and their lab technicians. We would like to work closely with AICTE to help them improve the state of affairs in engineering education in the country.
Q. The recent Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on IITs highlighted challenges in funds allotment, and low student intake for second-generation IITs, leading to gaps in the performance. What challenges are you facing?
A. IIT-P is adopting the public-private partnership model to initiate new online or hybrid industry-ready courses to overcome funding-related challenges. It is envisaged that this model will also help in enhancing the impact of IIT-P on engineering education on a larger scale.
Q. In a Rajya Sabha reply, the education ministry highlighted the shortage of teachers in IITs with 100 teachers’ positions lying vacant in IIT-Patna. What’s happening on that front?
A. IIT Patna is organising the recruitment process on a priority basis. One round has recently finished, and another round of a special drive is ongoing. More rounds of recruitment are planned this year. Recruitment of suitable candidates for faculty positions is a priority for
IIT-P is adopting the public-private partnership model to initiate new online or hybrid industry-ready courses to overcome funding-related challenges. It is envisaged that this model will also help in enhancing the impact of IIT-P on engineering education on a larger scale
IIT Patna is also working towards the development of online degree programmes in line with National Education Policy 2020 in the areas of computer science, AI, and management. All the above new online or hybrid programmes will be offered in PPP mode.
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