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Inside IIT Madras: Institute may work on regional alternative to ChatGPT, says director V Kamakoti

Inside IIT Madras: Institute may work on regional alternative to ChatGPT, says director V Kamakoti

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras may soon work on a ChatGPT alternative that would concentrate on regional languages, as opposed to the OpenAI platform that is currently available in English only, institute director V Kamakoti said.

In an interview with Moneycontrol, Kamakoti said that using data generated through Swayam, the government’s e-learning initiative to provide teaching learning resources to everyone, it is possible to create a good chat engineering platform like Maths Chat, or Physics Chat. The other big thing could be adding multilingual capacity to the application.

The IIT Madras director said that J&K Operations, the company that developed BharOS, an indigenous operating system for smartphones, is close to striking deals with some organisations. Kamakoti also talked about what sets IIT Madras apart from other institutions when it comes to innovation, his outlook on space tech, semiconductors and his aims for the institute. Edited excerpts:

What makes IIT Madras different in terms of driving innovation and entrepreneurship?

So in the last 20 years, my predecessors and I, we have been working on what we call translational research. We thought, why don’t we convert our ideas that are on paper into something on the field as a product? To give a good shape to this, one of the things that we started very early, around 2007-2008, was the IIT Madras Research Park. The research park makes a big difference because its inmates need to be in contact with IIT Madras. And the type of contacts can be that they can give us a project, they can hire our faculty as consultants, they can hire our students, their students can do a PhD here.

For everything we have a point system. And any company intending to continue in that place for more than a few years should satisfy this…  It’s not just real estate. We are also looking at collaboration. So these types of very proactive, visionary steps taken by my predecessors have really made an impact for us, with now at least 40 percent of our faculty looking at translation of their ideas into commercial products.

The Nilekani Centre for AI for Bharat was started last year to promote development of technology in Indic languages. What’s been going on there?


Today, whatever government application we have needs to have a multilingual touch. So the ultimate aim is to have a technology where if I talk in English, the system will automatically generate a response in Hindi or any other regional language. The middle system will take care of the language issues. Over a period of time, this artificial intelligence will also learn. There’s a heavy level of natural language processing going on which affects translation.

Also read: Inside IIT Madras: Institute working on AI solution for text to speech translation of Indian languages

This solution can be applied in the education sector. If there is a video where someone is talking in English, the AI will automatically extract the text and the algorithm will get it translated, which can be further put on the screen of a student in a different language.

So, what’s happening now at the Nilekani centre?

So today, the work behind text-to-text translation is already done. I think we have capabilities in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi… And English, of course

What’s next? 

We are also working on speech to text, which has been done nicely. Next is text-to-speech translations.

A month or so ago, IIT Madras introduced BharOS, a native mobile operating system. What’s happening with that?

BharOS has been released and there are multiple agencies who are working with us and will continue to work with us to set up their own indigenous private app server and application cloud. And they would like to run all the software updates, the mobile updates, and the app updates can come through this particular network which they want.

An organisation can have its own network, and all the phones in the organisation will talk to that server, and won’t go out and talk to external app stories.

Is it running in any organisation right now? 

It has only been three to four weeks since we have announced it. There are many organisations who have asked, and the company (J&K Operations) is in the final stages of striking some deals.

A few weeks ago, IIT Madras, Indian Space Association and the US Consulate came out with a report on space technology. What is necessary to further space tech-related entrepreneurship in India?

I think ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) and IN-SPACe (Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre) are doing a great job of taking the startups and putting them together. The only thing that we need is for end-users to start investing in these startups. End-users like strategic users, people who need satellite imagery, etc. Once they get that done – I think that is going to be very, very important for the startups – end-users have to pump in money. Only then there’ll be… sustainability.

There has been a lot of chatter around ChatGPT and its usage. Is the institute working on something concentrating on the Indian audience?

I strongly believe that using the data generated through the Swayam platform (government’s e-learning initiative), a good chat engineering platform like Maths Chat, or Physics Chat is possible. The other big focus would be the translation part. As of now, ChatGPT is only available in English. So if I could bring the multilingual part, I think that’s going to be the biggest thing after ChatGPT. I am sure we will be doing it, if not now, but at some later date.

The government has been concentrating on indigenous semiconductors. You have worked on the Shakti microprocessor. What’s IIT Madras’ role in making India self-reliant in semiconductors?

Any academic institution can take the horse to the pond, but it is for the horse to drink from the pond. Here, the pond is the Shakti chip, its open architecture, and the industry is the horse. We have taken the horse to the pond. We’re showing that we have some chips and they work. We have proof that this chip is secure.

Also read: Inside IIT Madras: Big industry prefers Chinese chips over Indian

Why should the industry invest in Shakti when they are getting Chinese chips much cheaper? There are at least five startups that are working on Shakti. They are working on different aspects. But then larger investment from bigger people is also necessary.

You have been director of IIT Madras for more than a year. What’s your goal, and where would you want to see IIT Madras at the end of your term?

IIT Madras will be on the map for [being] one of the big institutes in the area of interdisciplinary education. We already have multiple interdisciplinary programmes. Now, students in the first two years study on whatever they have been allotted based on their ranking. Subsequently, after the second year, they can take multiple streams and go and work on any of those things. People are showing interest across multiple streams and we aspire to be known as one of the biggest explorers of this interdisciplinary education.

Secondly, we really want to have a very strong outreach programme. We strongly believe that local relevance can help us in being global. I really want to have some sort of interaction with a lot of villages. So in this context, we have set up, in the last year… 100 rural interaction centres in 68 locations in Tamil Nadu. Since India has 1.55 lakh post offices, we want to have one IIT interaction centre in every district.

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