By getting into brain research, we gain and so does the world: S Gopalakrishnan

Infosys co-founder S ('Kris') Gopalakrishnan is betting on brain research in India to help the country match the best in the world in new areas of computing such as artificial intelligence, data science and neuromorphic engineering. He's funded Rs 225 crore in a brain research centre at the Indian Institute of Science and set up three chairs at the Centre for Computational Brain Research, IIT Madras. Edited excerpts of a talk with Raghu Krishnan:

What is happening with brain research through your funding?

Globally, this is the hottest area. Billions of dollars are being spent. There is a brain initiative in the US and Europe. In human genome sequencing, one of the last unknowns is the brain.  If there is better understanding of the brain, the benefits that will accrue to mankind are immense.  

If India collaborates with the rest of the world,  we can  jump-start research in the country. It is a sunrise sector for India. On the computational side, if we have to sustain our competitive advantage in information technology (IT), I strongly believe we need to look at modules of computing which arise out of research on the brain. If we go  back and look at what created the digital computer, the scientists thought this is the way the brain worked — binary and logic.  Understanding the brain is clearly needed for machine learning; also, look at information processing with incomplete data.

Do we have enough investments by scientific bodies in developing the human resource  for such research?

We are trying to do collaboration with people working on this area in the rest of the world. That is the model we are using to do the work at IISc and IIT-Madras. We are also looking at other centres and how  we can collaborate.

Is there a specific reason why you are interested in brain research?

The connection is computing. I am in IT. Connection with computing is one aspect but I also want to promote research and it requires focus. IT has shown we can bring significant benefit to the rest of the world by doing work in India. It is cheaper, faster and better, and reduces the cost for everybody. In research, if India participates, everybody will benefit because cost will come down and research will get done faster. The rest of the world sees this as an opportunity. One of our chairs says that in the US, with the money, he could hire three research associates. Here, he has six exceptional people.

Can we do cutting-edge brain research in India?

Look at Indian Space Research Organisation, a government organisation; they are a world-class space agency. There is no doubt in our capabilities. If we have to be one of the best in the world, we have to take it on mission mode. Set ambitious goals, focus on problems and collaborate with the rest of the world. The world is willing, as they also want to solve the same problems and at a lower cost.

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