The American Academy of Arts & Sciences(AMACAD) was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and others who believed the new republic should honour exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. Nearly two and a half centuries later, the Academy continues to dedicate itself to recognizing excellence. The Academy’s members represent today’s innovative thinkers in every field and profession, including more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.
Dr Paulraj, a professor emeritus of engineering at Stanford University, needs no introduction to our readers. A scientist who began his career in the Indian Navy, where he served for 26 years and is credited with a world class anti-submarine SONAR system. But he is better known as the key inventor of a breakthrough wireless technology called MIMO (multiple input multiple output) for which he won numerous recognitions including the prestigious 2014 Marconi Society Prize, often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Engineers.” Every Wi-Fi router and 4G phone today uses MIMO technology pioneered by him. A winner of IEEE’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal and the Marconi Prize, he was inducted into the US Patent Trademark Office’s Inventors Hall of Fame in 2018.
Dr Paulraj, who is closely associated with Synergia Foundation and a distinguished panellist in two Synergia Conclaves, gave an exclusive interview to Tobby Simon, The President & Founder of Synergia Foundation to mark this remarkable achievement in his career.
Tobby : Dr Paulraj please accept our heartiest congratulations on being invited to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. As Indians we feel so proud of your achievement and thank you for sparing time for this interview. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently a field in which you as a scientist greatly interested. You have been publicly describing the advancements made by China in this critical field. How critical is this lead for China's aspiration as a world power vis a vis the US? What lessons are there for India to be counted in the field of AI?
Dr Paulraj: China leads in mass market AI applications. The Chinese Government has been focussing of making policies that promote and encourage investments in AI applications and products. The government has been publicly lowering the concerns of the citizens about privacy protection which has made the wide spread application of AI in all segments of daily life widely acceptable. However, without doubt, as fare as cutting edge research and innovation is concerned, the U.S, remains the leading powerhouse in this field. To give you an idea of this primacy of the U.S, 90 percent of the pioneers in high end AI are in the US, to name a few-Hinton, Le Cunn and Bengio etc not to forget my colleagues and neighbours on the Standford Campus like Feigenbaum, the late McCarthy and Fei Fei Li. While the U.S leads in the field of AI research, it has been slow in converting this reseach into useable technology in the form of applications etc. As regards China, I reiterate what I had spoken to the Indian media in October 2019. Global influence and economic power are increasingly linked to mass marketed high technologies like ICT, pharma, robotics, industry 4.0 and commercial aviation. China recognised this many years back and has been aggressively investing in mass marketable high technology. For the future this will be AI or machine learning, robotics and quantum computing, and China is among the leading countries in all these.
We must realise that AI is now on hyper cycle peak, its value for a nation’s economy and power is indisputable.
In India there are no strong leaders in this technology at present but there is no reason why we cannot make a strong beginning, go the China way and drive AI applications. Being a democracy, it would be slower. To cite one example, real time language translation apps can bring over a billion people who do not know English to bridge this huge divide in our country. Like China, we have to make our own patents and leverage the huge intellectual and scientific pool that we have in cities like Bengaluru. The majority of Indian headquartered high tech companies are innovating for their foreign owners with little scientific benefits for the country per se.
Tobby: Can you give your ideas for India's post COVID19 recovery?
Dr Paulraj: Frankly, I am not an expert in either the medical or economic field and would not be able to make any observations on that account. My expertise lies in the Information Technology which I observe is being amply leveraged in India. On my part, I am involved with the US government committees on IT response to the COVID 19.
I think we will see disruptions of globalization and supply chains. Both good and bad for India. India will need to build more internal capability in high tech. We import ALL our high tech. The bureaucracy in India is shockingly ill informed and cannot lead the country forward on this. India needs to reach out to experts inside and outside to craft right policies. We did this in the early years of our nation hood under Nehru, but increasingly became insular. China opened up heavily to the outside for science and technology. I have seen it myself over 25 years.
Tobby: It's predicted that COVID 19 has taught the world that there are other ways to work than traditional. Lots of disruptions are expected. Your comments.
Dr Paulraj: Once we get an effective vaccine, I feel in many areas we will see normalcy restored. Yes there will be disruptions for sure, especially you will see less of business and leisure travel for some time and global sourcing may see a dip. But this “normal” is hardly what we need as there are far more critical issues to consider- poverty, inequality, global warming, weakening respect for values enshrined in the Indian constitution. What is really worrying is the realisation that the earth cannot support the billions of humans to maintain a decent standard of living. COVID 19 hopefully will help to focus on issue that really matter for mankind. In India, it is an opportunity for us to become more united as a Nation and tackle the big things.
Tobby: What is your message for young Indian scientists who look up to you as role model?
Dr Paulraj: Let me begin with the truism that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. This is true for great social movements as it is for high personal aspirations. Worthwhile things takes hard work, much patience and a perseverance to overcome failures. Hard work comes more easily if we love what we do, and we usually love what we do if are good at doing it. But finding what we are good at is also not easy. More likely, it comes from working hard at something which slowly turns into the work we love. Once we find what we love, a lot of life will fall into place. Attempting difficult things also means you will encounter frequent failures. In my own life, I have learned much more from failures than from successes. Failures have a sting and we are more likely to pay attention to what they can teach. So hard work, perseverance, patience and determination are the key. Great people are really just ordinary people with an extraordinary amount of determination. Great people do not quit. So as we reach for success, be prepared for failures.
Tobby: Thank you Paul for your frank and forthright remarks and sparing us the time. We wish you many more such achievements as you continue to contribute in a meaningful manner to the advancement of technology.