Dr. Sundar Raj Vijayanagar, Professor of Digital Business, IFIM-B School

An alumnus of IIT Bombay and a topper at Bombay University in Operations Management, Dr. Sundar is a top-notch IT professional with a successful track record of nearly 32 years in Manufacturing, Logistics and BFSI domain. With over 12 years of academics/ teaching experience in various capacities, Dr. Sundar has presented papers and case studies at national and international conferences organized by the likes of Gartner, Microsoft, IBM, CII, INFOCOM, Audit Council of India, SunGard, ASSOCHAM, CeBIT. Dr. Sundar was also appointed as the Head of CODR (Centre for Open Data Research) on a consulting basis and will be playing the role of Director-CODR. CODR is an exclusive Centre of Excellence for Data Research, Analytics, AI and ML formed jointly by Public Affairs Center (PAC), Govt of Karnataka and IIIT-B. CODR will be physically located in IIIT-B campus with funding from Karnataka Govt.

The fast-paced economy of the world has created a greater need for a drift towards digital adoption. The progressive use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has not only made daily living a little more comfortable but, as an aid to medicine, defence and finance, it is a clear indicator of where the future is heading. The current COVID-19 pandemic only has accelerated this adoption due to the need for social distancing and minimizing physical transactions.

AI and Data science have overtaken our lives in many ways. Take the example of our mobile phone, a device that has become a part of our daily life. Our phones have AI embedded in every application or activity; right from unlocking the phone, where we use facial or fingerprint recognition, to applications such as search engines, social media, e-commerce, navigation and so on. The content that we view, or the suggestions that we receive based on our likings and habits, are also the functions of the algorithm working in the background of our devices.

There was a time when the applications of AI and data science were restricted to laboratories, defence and highly advanced applications used by the space agencies. High costs led to such technologies being confined to restrictive spaces. However, this has evolved with time, where there has been an increase in the use cases for AI and data science, and the day is not too far when every machine created by humans will be powered by AI.

With this rapid movement towards digitization, a thorough understanding of the current and emerging technology from an early age will only aid in the adoption of these technologies, greater preparedness and thus, a faster-growing economy. Several developed countries have already implemented an understanding of new-age technologies right from an undergraduate level, and our country is by no means behind.

Covid-19 and the impact of Data Analytics

The world is facing a pandemic that most of this generation hasn’t witnessed before and is not prepared to handle. With its rapid spread, health organizations were in a fix not only to find a cure but also to identify citizens who bore the virus. This is where AI and data science has been playing a major role in reducing the burden of these healthcare organizations. The past pandemics were fought mainly by healthcare workers. Data amassed would then be analyzed by statisticians which would help in finding preventives and fighting measures for the pandemics of the future. The comparison of the curve for the Covid-19 pandemic with that of Spanish Flu in 1918 is a testimony of the fact that curves and statistics did exist then as well. Which then brings us to the question of what has changed over the years? The answer lies in the ability to capture real-time data, process it on a real-time basis and instantly communicate the possible outcomes. In the past, due to the paucity of time and lack of powerful computing devices, statisticians were mainly constrained to a limited number of models.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms have helped in predicting the vulnerable population with a high probability of infecting the disease and focus testing only on the limited population conserving the valuable testing kits. It has also been helping in developing the required infrastructure including PPEs, ICU beds, ventilators, drugs, doctors, and pandemics staff by the accurate prediction of infections across different zones of the country.  Moreover, the use of technology has also helped hospitals administration staff and police to restrict the lockdown to containment zones, thus allowing the less-vulnerable population to lead their lives normally and carry on with economic activities in these less affected areas.

The role of educational Institutions

Analytics India Magazine claims that India alone contributes to more than 6% of Data Science, AI and ML job openings worldwide. To take the benefit of this constant increase in demand, many students are seeking specialized courses in this field to build a successful career. Several leading educational institutions and universities are carefully designing and delivering high-quality courses to train the students and meet the industry standards. While most institutions are offering these courses at the postgraduate level, some of them are looking to offer diverse courses in Data Science at the graduate levels as well. To meet this demand, it is imperative that Universities introduce more specialized courses in AI/ML and Data Science in addition to the traditional BE/B.Tech course.

This new global shift has only accelerated the demand for well-versed data science, AI and ML professionals. This, in turn, has opened the doors for several new Data Science and AI specialized courses to flourish and help meet the accelerated demands of the current industry climate. I believe that we will see an influx of students choosing to join AI/ML and Data Science courses both at undergraduate as well as at graduate levels. In the ’90s and 2000s, Computer and IT related courses saw massive popularity globally, and a similar trend would be observed for AI/ML and Data Science courses during the next decade. On the other hand, the traditional BE/BTech programs will continue to exist and might even be revamped to add a few relevant AI/ML elective course. This will equip the Engineers to use data science techniques more effectively in their respective fields.

Situations like the current pandemic have provided greater proof that the current problems, as well as the problems of the future, can be solved faster by leveraging the power of AI and data science. Considering these established facts it has now become imperative that academic institutions consider including specialized courses in data science and AI to pave the way for professionals to be better prepared for the future. Integrating domain knowledge with judicious application data science techniques will be the new success mantra for Industry 4.0.

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