From 18-year-old Sneha Revanaur- Founder of Encode Justice working towards AI regulation in the US to veteran business leaders like Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani- co founders of non-profit Wadhwani AI– ten stellar Indian and Indian American men and women, social and business entrepreneurs, researchers and academics are in Time’s AI (artificial intelligence) 2023 list.
From running an ethical business using AI to uplift underserved communities to use of AI in medicine and bioscience and from the need for involvement of the younger demographics in AI regulation to an AI non-profit working towards solving persistent global developmental challenges-the spectrum of initiatives being run by these men and women are vast and varied in impact and scale.
Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani
Indiaspora members and billionaire brother duo Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani joined hands to channel AI towards solving global development challenges, especially in nations where people live on less than $5 a day.
They have set up Wadhwani AI- an independent nonprofit institute developing AI-based solutions for underserved communities in developing countries. A total sum of $60 million has been committed to date towards the varied initiatives of the Mumbai-based non-profit.
Wadhwani AI devotes its AI development efforts to pioneering an ecosystem of scalable solutions in health care, education, and agriculture sectors for underserved communities by partnering with governments and nonprofits across Asia, Africa and Latin America. The initiative also includes a new $5 million program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We thought that in the U.S., China, and Europe, AI is being leveraged to help people who are already well-off,” says Sunil Wadhwani in the Time interview, “but maybe we can make India the global leader in applying AI for social good.”
The institute partners with Indian State and Central governments to identify use cases, collect data, conduct pilots and deploy solutions. Some of the strategic programs of the institute include enabling frontline healthcare workers to feel digitally confident to engage with AI-based technology solutions, irrespective of their education, skills, and environment and developing multiple interventions across the TB care cascade and helping India’s National TB Elimination Programme (NTEP) become AI-ready.
The Wadhwani brothers said in the Time interview that India, with a diverse population of 1.4 billion, perfectly suits the Wadhwani Institute’s mission of altruistic research. “Other countries simply don’t have the combination of capabilities or opportunities that India has,” says Romesh Wadhwani.
Encode Justice is a youth-led, AI-focused civil-society group. It was founded by Revanaur (from San Jose, California) in 2020 to mobilize younger generations in the golden state against Proposition 25, a ballot measure that aimed to replace cash bail with a risk-based algorithm.
After the initiative was defeated, the group focused on educating and galvanizing peers around AI policy advocacy. The group now has 800 young members in 30 countries around the world and is compared to the preceding youth-led climate and gun-control movements.
At the urging of many in the AI industry, Washington appears to be moving fast on AI regulation.
This summer, Revanur helped organize an open letter urging congressional leaders and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to include more young people on AI oversight and advisory boards. Soon after, she was invited to attend a roundtable discussion on AI hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris.
Friend of Indiaspora, Manu Chopra, co-founded Karya with Vivek Seshadri with an ambitious vision of setting up a network of ethical data usage where data can both financially and technologically empower traditionally underserved communities.
The USD $100 billion data generation industry offers the opportunity to create this ecosystem and impact the lives of millions of people.
Currently, most dataset generation work goes to urban communities or are outsourced to Kenya or the Philippines- where workers are often exploited; offered sub-minimum wages and are often overworked. Median hourly wages are estimated at $0.1-0.5 per hour, while datasets sell for over 200x this price. “With AI, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move millions of rural Indians out of poverty, sustainably. At Karya, we are reimagining how AI models are trained. In an industry where for-profit companies pay data workers an average of 10 – 20 cents per hour, we pay our workers 50 times the industry standard, a minimum wage of USD 5/ hour,” tells Chopra.
Karya strives to be an ethical and high-quality AI/ML data company in the world, creating a win-win solution for both technology companies and data workers. Their ambitious goal is to use digital work to economically impact 100 million rural Indians by 2030. Currently Karya employs 30,000 workers.
“We work with over 200 of India’s top non-profits, self help groups and FPOs (farmer collectives) across 22 states in India to identify worker communities who would benefit the most from Karya’s work opportunities, tells Chopra. Karya has multiple on-going and up-coming projects across several states in rural India.
Tushita Gupta co-founded Refiberd with Sarika Bajaj in 2020 with the goal of bringing the cutting-edge of AI research to the fashion industry to help solve the global textile waste crisis.
From their deep research backgrounds in artificial intelligence and textile engineering, the founders believe in the power of technology to unlock a 100% circular economy.
Gupta is the CTO at Refibred and is a patent-pending AI scientist. She previously worked on drug discovery. She has a Bachelors and Masters from Carnegie Mellon.
The amount of textiles trashed in the U.S. has almost doubled in recent years, going from nearly 9,500 tons in 2000 to just over 17,000 tons in 2018, according to the latest government data. And the vast majority of this—about 85%—goes to landfill or is incinerated rather than being recycled or donated.
The California-based company aims to provide the most accurate summary of what types of materials are in any given textile item. Successful recycling depends on knowing what something is made of, so that items can be precisely sorted into like materials. This is particularly true for chemical recycling—which breaks down synthetic materials like nylon and polyester that were once impossible to recycle. Once the materials are recycled, they can be remade into fabric for new textiles—cutting waste and encouraging circularity in the fashion industry.
In January, Refiberd raised over $3.4 million in seed funding, and it’s now running a series of pilot projects in the U.S. and Europe. Four companies are sending Refiberd a couple hundred pounds of textile waste to sort.
Another Indian American with a checkered legacy working to utilize AI in the healthcare space is Neal Khosla-CEO and co-founder of Curai Health, the AI-assisted telehealth startup that the 30-year-old Khosla co-founded in 2017.
Curai is beyond your standard subscription-based virtual care service.
The company charges $15 a month (if the cost isn’t covered by their employer) for users to text 24/7 with health care professionals who can answer questions, create care plans, write prescriptions, and, if necessary, refer users to specialists.
Curai’s AI essentially functions as an assistant for doctors, handling straightforward tasks to free up their time for more complex work. For example, collecting the information patients provide during their intake questionnaires or sending a follow-up message after the conversation to see how a patient is doing.
Utilizing the power of AI in this way allows the clinicians working with Curai to see many more patients.
So far, the startup has received more than $50 million in funding from General Catalyst, Morningside Ventures, and Khosla Ventures, the firm founded by Khosla’s father, the billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.
Pushmeet Kohli is the Vice President of Research at Google DeepMind. He leads both Google DeepMind’s AI for Science project that uses AI to solve scientific grand challenges, and its Responsible and Reliable AI team, which monitors and regulates DeepMind’s AI systems.
Kohli joined DeepMind in 2017 and soon set up the Safe and Reliable AI team, which later changed its name. (DeepMind merged with a division of Google in April to become Google DeepMind.)
Some of the projects of the two teams he leads, includes AlphaFold, used by over 1 million researchers. It can predict the structures of proteins from their amino-acid structure in seconds- a previously time intensive task that took months or years. Better understanding of protein structures will accelerate drug discovery and may pave the way for further scientific breakthroughs.
Recently, Kohli’s AI for Science team also announced AlphaTensor, an AI system that builds on AlphaZero, which shows extraordinary performance across a range of games including Go, and can discover new algorithms.
He thinks that AI, by improving our understanding of the world, will ultimately solve more problems than it creates. He views the complex challenges he hopes AI will help address, such as climate change and pandemics.
Kalika Bali is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research in Bangalore working in the areas of Machine Learning, Natural Language Systems and Applications, and Technology for Emerging Markets. Her research interests are Speech and Language Technology especially in the use of linguistic models for building technology that offers a more natural Human-Computer and Computer-Mediated interactions.
She is currently working on Project Mélange to understand, process and generate Code-mixed language data for both text and speech. Code-mixing or use of multiple languages in a single conversation is a phenomenon that is observed in all multilingual societies. Though Code-mixing has been studied in the past as a feature of conversational speech, the rapid rise of social-media and other online forums has made it a common phenomenon for text as well. Conversational speech applications, like personal assistants and speech-to-speech translations, make it vital to model this in speech also.
“Recently, I have become interested in how social and pragmatic functions affect language use, in code-mixed as well as monolingual conversations, and how to build effective computational models of sociolinguistics and pragmatics that can lead to more aware Artificial Intelligence,” reads Bali’s bio on the Microsoft site.
“I am also very passionate about NLP and Speech technology for Indian Languages. I believe that local language technology, especially with speech interfaces, can help millions of people gain entry into a world that is till now almost inaccessible to them. I have served, and continue to serve, on several government and other committees that work on Indian Language Technologies and Linguistic Resources and Standards for NLP/Speech.”
Arvind Narayanan and Sayash Kapoor
Arvind Narayanan is a professor of computer science at Princeton University and the director of the Center for Information Technology Policy.
He co-authored a textbook on fairness and machine learning and is currently co-authoring a book on AI Snake Oil with Sayash Kapoor, one of his Ph.D. students.
The book that will be published next year was inspired after a talk that he gave in 2019 titled “How to recognize AI snake oil” went viral and the slides were downloaded tens of thousands of times and his tweets were viewed by millions.
Narayanan has led the Princeton Web Transparency and Accountability Project to uncover how companies collect and use our personal information. His work was among the first to show how machine learning reflects cultural stereotypes, and his doctoral research showed the fundamental limits of de-identification. Narayanan is a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), twice a recipient of the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Award, and thrice a recipient of the Privacy Papers for Policy Makers Award.
Narayanan and Kapoor have been sharing their ideas as they develop and comment on recent developments in AI on their Substack, AI Snake Oil. (Courtesy: Indiaspora.com)