Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence Launched by Prime Minister Modi

CIOReviewIndia Team | Friday, 09 March 2018, 06:02 IST

Prime Minister Modi inaugurated India’s first artificial intelligence institute – the Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence - and dedicated it to the nation last month. 

Co-founded by successful technology entrepreneurs Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani, the non-profit Institute will focus on harnessing the power of AI to solve deep-rooted problems in healthcare, education, agriculture, and infrastructure to accelerate social development. 

"Wadhwani AI is a prime example of how the public sector and the private sector can come together with good intentions to build a world-class institute, aimed at benefiting the poor," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating the institute. 

The Institute was launched in the presence of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Devendra Fadnavis, the Governor of Maharashtra, Shri C. Vidyasagar Rao, and the CEO of NITI Aayog, Shri Amitabh Kant.

The Wadhwani brothers have committed $30 million to the Institute, and will also be personally involved, offering their expertise in creating and scaling successful business and philanthropic organizations.  

Based in Mumbai, Wadhwani AI will be the AI-focused ‘hub’ conducting research and engineering within the broad domain of Artificial Intelligence, including techniques from Machine Learning, Data Science, and Cognitive Reasoning, as well as related areas such as IoT and computing systems to solve global development challenges.  The institute will be led by AI pioneer and founding MD of Microsoft Research India, Dr. P. Anandan. 

The brothers are not new to philanthropy.  Based in Silicon Valley, Romesh Wadhwani, who recently signed the ‘Giving Pledge’ created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, formed National Entrepreneurship Network several years ago, a nonprofit focused on skills and entrepreneurship development in India and other countries.  He is the Founding Chairman and CEO of the $3.5 billion Symphony Technology Group.

Sunil Wadhwani, based in Pittsburgh and a trustee of Carnegie-Mellon University, is the founder of the Wadhwani Initiative for Sustainable Healthcare, or WISH Foundation, which brings quality healthcare to underserved populations in India and other countries.  WISH runs a network of health centers in partnership with government, which last year provided free healthcare to over four million families.  He is the co-Founder and former Chairman and CEO of iGate Corporation, which was sold in 2015 for $4.5 billion.

“We will apply AI in key domains such as education, public health, agriculture, infrastructure and financial inclusion. Success means bringing innovative solutions that achieve large-scale positive social impact. We hope this will transform how AI research is conducted and applied to help societies throughout the world,” said Romesh Wadhwani. 

"AI is a game-changing technology," said Sunil Wadhwani. "There’s a lot of research being done at companies like Amazon, Google and Alibaba, and at universities like Carnegie-Mellon and MIT.  However, virtually all of that is targeted at commercial applications, and there’s little or no research on how to use AI to accelerate social development. Our goal is to have, within the next two years, over 100 researchers working on leveraging AI to improve the quality of life for the bottom two billion people in the world.”

Wadhwani AI is partnering with the government of Maharashtra which will help the Institute identify problem areas to focus on, and test and scale the solutions.  Wadhwani AI also aims to create a talent ecosystem in AI in partnership with various Indian universities, by helping them set up Master’s programs in Data Sciences and AI.  Wadhwani AI will help with curriculum development, faculty training and providing real-world projects for the students to work on.

The CEO of the new Institute is Dr. Anandan, a renowned researcher in Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence, which he taught at Yale University.  He is the Founder and former Managing Director of Microsoft Research India and also the former head of Adobe Research India. 

The institute will partner with several India Institutes of Technology and other leading academic institutions in India, as well as leading U.S. universities including the University of Southern California, University of Washington, New York University, Carnegie-Mellon and MIT. These universities will send their faculty and students to collaborate with Wadhwani AI on finding solutions to development challenges. The new Institute will also work with government and other partners to create an ecosystem for collecting, storing and sharing data for social good.

A day before its launch, Wadhwani AI hosted a summit of 75 leading AI researchers, social sector experts and senior government officials, to identify challenges that could be addressed using AI.  Ideas discussed included using AI to help farmers understand when they should plant their seeds for best crop-yields, improving the training and effectiveness of community health workers, addressing high dropout rates in rural schools, making educational content available in local languages and dialects, and facilitating the early detection of disease.

“Our goal is to start developing and implementing AI-based solutions within the first year itself.  It’s a big challenge, but there is a huge need to be addressed and we don’t want to lose any time.  And we are fortunate that government – at both the central and state level - is being very supportive of our approach,” said Sunil Wadhwani.