Editorial Team

Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) is launching the ‘Nilekani Centre at AI4Bharat’ to advance the state of Indian language technology with the intention to create societal impact.  This Centre is being supported by Rohini and Nandan Nilekani with a generous grant of Rs. 36 crore through Nilekani Philanthropies.

This new Centre will work on advancing Indian language technology to create a wider impact. It was inaugurated in the campus today (28th July 2022) by Mr. Nandan Nilekani. As part of this launch event, a workshop open to students, researchers, and startups was held to discuss the resources available to build Indian language technologies.

AI4Bharat was setup as an initiative of IIT Madras to build open-source language AI for Indian languages. Over the past two years, the team led by Dr. Mitesh Khapra, Dr. Pratyush Kumar and Dr. Anoop Kunchukuttan has made several contributions to Indian language technology including state of the art models for Machine Translation and Speech Recognition.

Speaking about the launch of this centre, Mr. Nandan Nilekani said, “The Digital India Bhashini mission has been launched with the goal of all services and information being available to citizens in their own language with ‘collaborative AI’ at the core of the design. AI4Bharat will further contribute to and accelerate the Indic language AI work as a public good and is fully aligned with the goals of the Bhashini mission.”

Congratulating the team behind the ‘Nilekani Centre at AI4Bharat,’ Prof. V Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, said, “I am happy that IIT Madras is taking a leadership role in Indian language AI which is of national importance. I am looking forward to AI4Bharat’s cutting edge research being translated to real-world use.”

Elaborating on the Nilekani Center, Dr. Mitesh M. Khapra, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Madras, said, “Given the rich diversity of languages in India coupled with a rapidly expanding digital world, it is important to make significant advances in language technology to benefit the common man. While language technology has significantly improved for English and a few languages, Indian languages are lagging behind. The focus of the Centre would be to bridge this gap.”

The Centre has made several cutting-edge resources open-source, which can be accessed by anyone. These models are freely available and can be downloaded from their webpage (https://ai4bharat.iitm.ac.in/).

Elaborating further on this Centre, Dr. Pratyush Kumar, Researcher, Microsoft Research and Adjunct Faculty, IIT Madras, said, “The Centre is advantageously situated at the intersection of academia, industry, and organisations working for public good. This allows its contributions to be broad-based, spanning cutting-edge AI research, open datasets as an infrastructure, and applications for use by people.”

Speaking about the technology being developed at the Centre, Dr. Anoop Kunchukuttan, Researcher at Microsoft said, “Building AI technologies for the diverse set of Indian languages is expensive given the need for large datasets and compute power. In this context, we are grateful that several organisations have been supporting the efforts to build open-source AI.”

Adding on, Dr. Vivek Raghavan who is the Chief AI Evangelist at EkStep Foundation and will be acting as a mentor to the Centre said, “The Centre will focus on doing foundational work which can benefit society at large. We hope that start-ups and other industries working on Indian language technology will benefit from the datasets, tools, and pre-trained models being developed at the Centre. The idea is to energise the ecosystem to do more for Indian languages.”

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