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In Conversation With Dr. Laxmidhar Behera

Ranjani Saigal

Dr. Laxmidhar Behera is working as Poonam Goel and Prabhu Goel Chair Professor at IIT Kanpur having research and teaching experience of more than 23 years. He has received the BSc (engineering) and MSc (engineering) degrees from NIT Rourkela in 1988 and 1990, respectively. He received the PhD degree from IIT Delhi in 1996. He pursued the postdoctoral studies in the German National Research Center for Information Technology, GMD, Sank Augustin, Germany, during 2000-2001. Previously, he has worked as an assistant professor at BITS Pilani during 1995- 1999 and as a reader at Intelligent Systems Research Center (ISRC), University of Ulster, United Kingdom during 2007-2009. He has also worked as a visiting researcher/professor at FHG, Germany, and ETH, Zurich, Switzerland. He is the Guest Professor at Hangzhou Dianzi University, China and is also UCF graduate faculty scholar. He is one of the pioneers in the field of AI based autonomous robotics. His research interests lie in the convergence of machine learning, control theory, robotic vision and heterogeneous robotic platforms. He has received more than INR 150 million research grants to support his research activities. He has established industrial collaboration with TCS, Renault Nissan, and ADNOC, Abu Dhabi while making significant technological development in the areas such robotics based ware-house automation, vision and drone guided driver assistance system, and drone guided pipeline inspection systems. He is also leading a start-up - iSmritiTek - on IoT and machine learning. His team secured 3rd, 4th and 5th positions in pick task, stow-cum-pick task and stow task respectively at Amazon Robotics Challenge 2017. He has published more than 220 papers in Journals and Conference Proceedings. He is a Fellow of INAE and Senior Member of IEEE. He is one of the technical committee members on Robotics and Intelligent Systems in IEEE SMC society. His other research interests include intelligent control, semantic signal/music processing, neural networks, control of cyber-physical systems and cognitive modelling. He is also directing a school project that aims at providing world-class education to bright students, who are economically challenged.

Dr. Behera will present a talk on Monday 15 October 2018 at 6:00 pm in Room no. 6-120 at MIT in Cambridge, MA 02142. 



Could you tell us a little about your research work in AI? 

I mostly apply AI techniques to develop autonomous robotic systems. For example, a robot manipulator is given a list of items to be picked from a rack. The robot is interfaced with a camera and AI based vision algorithm. This robot can autonomously look at the different boxes in the rack and identify the listed objects. 

I also make robots to learn its own kinematics and dynamics so that they can navigate autonomously in any unstructured environment and these robots can manipulate objects autonomously.  AI in music information retrieval is another interest. AI based brain wave controlled wheel chair has been developed in my lab. 

The discoveries in the field of AI are expected to change the way we live. What are some of the ways you think our lives would be dramatically altered in the next 10 years?

The current research in AI and robotics are driven by high powered computations - for example GPUs and cloud computing have a major role. But these kind of research have not provided any insight about being self-aware. That is because our scientific understanding of being self-aware has not gone beyond behavior based paradigm. In that sense our life will become more mechanized.

Will countries like the USA and India have different experiences as new technology emerges? 

People in both countries get more mechanized because of new technologies - there is no new experience. These technologies do not give any new information about the life itself. In general indulgence in technology is dragging people of all countries from becoming aesthetically more creative, compassionate and peaceful.

What is the state of research in AI in India? There seems to be concerns that it lags significantly behind China and USA which people feel may be an economic disadvantage moving forward? 

Yes, India lags both USA and China in the current state-of-the art in AI. But that may be blessings in disguise. However I agree that there are many sectors where AI can play important roles such as Agriculture, healthcare and education.  For example AI and robotics in Agriculture can create profitable value chain systems that can generate a lot of jobs and allied opportunities.  

Your interest is in exploring possibilities of a conscious machine. What is consciousness? 

Even after more than 300 years of history of modern science, we do not have a machine that is self-aware. As a human being when I say that I am conscious, I have an identity and that identity is based on various levels of experiences - physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual. However, most of us do not understand consciousness scientifically. That is why there has been no progress in developing a conscious machine. We have a research group  - connected across multiples IITs - that has been working on this area since last 15 years taking inspiration from Bhagavata Sankhya. In fact, Indian spirituality can contribute a lot to such developments.  

How would the evolution of a conscious machine happen ?

The objective of science and technology is to know Truth. That is the pinnacle of any civilization. A conscious machine will be environmentally sensitive, compassionate and will assist humans in deeper understanding of the self.

Would that be a danger to human society or an aid?

Yes, the current AI based technologies will pose a danger as that will lead to more mechanization of the society. In contrast a conscious machine will help us to become more creative and non-violent.

What does the world look like 100 years from now? 

The work on conscious (semantic) machines will take center stage. There will be more literacy in consciousness. If that happens, there is a BIG hope for the future. In fact, I am working towards establishing an University where this subject can be systematically studied from different perspectives - science, art, philosophy and culture. There will be more such initiatives from many parts of the world.

Any special message for our readers ? 

We do science, art, literature, charity and so on to know Truth. If Truth is not dearer in our quest, then there will be wanting in our lives in all possibilities.

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