IIT Madras Launches Centre to Create Open Source AI, Advanced Tech for Indian Languages

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT) Madras on Thursday launched the ‘Nilekani Centre at AI4Bharat’. This new Centre will work on advancing Indian language technology.  This Centre is being supported by Rohini and Nandan Nilekani with a generous grant of Rs 36 crore through Nilekani Philanthropies.

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.

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AI4Bharat was set-up 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, 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.”

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 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 the public good. This allows its contributions to be broad-based, spanning cutting-edge AI research, open datasets as 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 computing power. In this context, we are grateful that several organisations have been supporting the efforts to build open-source AI.”

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