Raj Reddy – India’s only Turing Prize winner, pioneer of artificial intelligence

Raj Reddy – India’s only Turing Prize winner, pioneer of artificial intelligence
Raj Reddy, a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, is the first person of Asian descent to receive the Turing Prize, often called the Nobel Prize in computer science. He is still the only Indian to win the award.
Reddy, who comes from a farming family in Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh, is a pioneer of artificial intelligence (AI). He has been researching AI since the 1960s, when few in the world knew much about it. Reddy says AI has transformed the world over the past 10 years in a way that previously seemed like it would take at least 50 years.

“I joined the field when the subject began. I was in the right place at the right time. We now have computers that are a trillion times more powerful, memories that are a trillion times larger. Back then the first computer had only 4KB of memory and if it couldn’t fit into your program you had to recalculate. So yes, things have changed exponentially and more since 2007, when the first smartphone appeared, which allowed for extensive communication, ”he says.
Reddy, best known for his pioneering work in the field of speech technology, encourages aspiring engineering students to make computer science their subject of choice, but cautions them not to limit themselves to the subject. He was a civil engineer himself, before earning a Ph.D. in AI at Stanford University.
“Most of education in the US has this broad liberal arts focus, where you end up spending just two of your four years of engineering studying core subjects. The rest is studying languages, history, philosophy and, during our time, we would regret all the IIT students at Carnegie who had not read or seen a Shakespeare play, ”he laughs.
Reddy says India’s engineering curriculum should be similarly shortened to two years, and students should be asked to take 20 different courses of 20 subjects for the other two. And students, he says, must demonstrate excellence even in these other subjects, and not study them just to earn a passing grade.
AI, says Reddy, has had the most surprising impact on speech recognition and natural language processing, facilitating machine translation of different languages. “You speak Telugu and I speak Gujarati and we both understand each other because the phone is translating it and transmitting the Telugu translation to me instantly. While there is still a while, Google and Microsoft have already demonstrated the concept in many languages, ”he says.
Reddy says that talking to computers and giving the computer the ability to understand and process was something that couldn’t be done even 10 years ago. “Now it is possible through deep learning. While it is possible in English, think of a situation where an Indian can speak to the computer in his mother tongue and the computer can respond to him. Then all of a sudden you are empowering a lot of semi-literate people by expanding their knowledge base, ”he says.

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