Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Current Landscape, and implications for India

Posted in Information Technology by Amit Paranjape on October 5, 2016

Few days back, I did a ‘tweet storm’ (twitter term for a series of tweets on a particular topic) on Artificial Intelligence (AI). I discussed the overall landscape and what AI means for India. This thread consists of 23 tweets (these tweets appear as a single thread on twitter…I have also numbered them as 1/n, 2/n, etc.). I have reproduced these tweets below in a single document. I guess, this is one way to convey a series of ‘micro-blogs’ into a ‘blog’! (Note: If you want to access the entire tweets thread on twitter, click this link:


Please let me know your thoughts, comments on the points below.


My ‘tweet storm’ (series of tweets) on ‘Artificial Intelligence’ … see thread below. #AI


Highly recommended primer (see video below) for anyone interested in Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning and Machine Learning. (1/n)

See this link:

In 2030, when personal digital assistants, driverless cars, intelligent robots are common, we will look back at 2016 as: ‘Year of AI’ (2/n)

#AI Many path-breaking developments in hardware, software are happening right now..important milestones are being achieved every month.(3/n)

#AI Google’s #AphaGo computer winning against the ‘Go’ world champion Lee Sedol .. IBM’s #Watson’s breakthroughs in cancer diagnostics (4/n)

#AI 2016 breakthroughs (cont.) Uber launching the first fleet of driver-less cabs in Pittsburgh… Automated script writing, etc. (5/n).

A key thing to note is how the top tech leaders: Google, FB, IBM, Amazon, MSFT are all prioritizing #AI as their top priority in 2016 (6/n)

These tech leaders are making big investments in their R&D, partnering with universities, buying startups related to #AI (7/n)

Here is an example: ‘Microsoft merges Bing, Cortana, and Research to make 5,000-strong #AI division’ … (8/n)

The tech leaders are also collaborating together in #AI, with respect to processes, data access (key driver) … (9/n)

Some SV billionaires and VCs (including @elonmusk, @peterthiel…) have created a non-profit #AI research co:  (10/n)

Chinese tech leaders like Baidu are also making big investments in #AI (in China and in their SV labs) … (11/n)

Over the past many decades, DARPA has been a leader in strategic tech investments. #AI is a key priority: … (12/n)

Many European companies are also prioritizing #AI investments (automotive, aerospace, healthcare, etc.). (13/n).

So, where is India in all this? The #AI wave is both a big threat (if we don’t do anything!) and an opportunity for India. (14/n).

Like in many tech races of the past, India is already well behind in the #AI race… but we can (and we should!) try to catch up. (15/n).

#AI can present a big threat to the traditional Indian IT Service Outsourcing model … A model that worked well for past 2 decades. (16/n)

Manufacturing and traditional services sector job growth is also at risk, with #AI driven automation. (17/n).

Like with any new tech disruption, #AI also brings in new opportunities… but in order to leverage these, we to have to move fast. (18/n)

India needs to set up a multi-year strategic program focused on #AI and robotics, which involves the govt and the private sector. (19/n).

This is a ‘moon-shot’ opportunity and needs a @ISRO like long-term program (look at @ISRO’s long term goals set in 60s/70s). #AI (20/n)

We need to invest in setting up world class #AI R&D labs (in our research institutions like the IITs, IISERs…or create new ones). (21/n).

We also need to create good long term incentive structures for the private sector to invest in their own #AI R&D initiatives. (22/n).

Such government and private labs can attract/retain top Indian talent in #AI (that today, we are losing to U.S., Europe). (23/n)

Okay…I think I am going to pause here on this #AI tweet storm :)… Sorry for flooding your timeline! May continue again later though 🙂

#AI Was planning to write a blog-post about this …. but realized that I prefer @twitter and the tweet-storm method a lot more!


We need more ISROs, and more government led strategic R&D investments

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on September 26, 2016

Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, the former Chairman of ISRO, spoke at the 5th Foundation Day of Pune International Center in Pune this Saturday. It was an excellent lecture, covering many details around ISRO’s great progress and achievements, and future plans. ISRO has made tremendous strides over the past four decades in R&D led innovation and has succeeded in developing key technologies such as the cryogenic propulsion system. One thing that stood out in my mind during the lecture was the extent of private industry participation in R&D and manufacturing, and the manufacturing ecosystem.


PSLV (image credit: ISRO)

Dr. Radhakrishnan mentioned that 80% of the value addition of ISRO’s workhorse launcher, the ‘Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle’ (PSLV) comes from private industry. (Note – the PSLV is one of the most reliable space launch platforms in the world, with 34 successful launches in a row – at one of the lowest launch cost per payload weight).

These private industry contributions for building the PSLV come from over 120 large, medium and small companies. ISRO acts as the designer and system integrator, and assembles the final rocket at Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota. I had known about the industry participation, but the 80% number was indeed surprising. It was great to note the private sector’s role in India’s space program. ISRO is thus not only delivering great rockets and satellites technology, but also helping build an aerospace R&D and manufacturing ecosystem in India. This is critical. Over the past 50 years, NASA has played a key role in driving the development of a similar ecosystem in U.S. The advances made in space tech around materials, propulsion, guidance, navigation and other areas have many direct and indirect technology benefits in other sectors. ISRO should follow a similar example.

For the ‘Make in India’ initiative to succeed, we need high quality R&D investments in the public and private sector. R&D investments as a percent of GDP is an important metric and has a good correlation with the overall strength of the economy. South Korea (highest R&D/GDP in the world) is a great example. It invests 4.3% of its GDP in R&D. U.S. invests 2.7% (highest in absolute terms, given their GDP). China invests 2.1%. India invests only 0.85%.

Government led R&D is an important component of the total R&D spending in a country. Let’s look at the U.S. example. Here is a recent tweet by Bill Gates.


The tweet references a link from U.S. Department of Energy (, where Bill Gates is drawing attention to this:

“Research and development (R&D) is the unsung hero of American innovation. Government-funded R&D spurs new industries, creates jobs and helps us tackle our greatest challenges. Decades ago, that challenge was the space race; today, it is climate change.”

While we regularly talk about the R&D in private sector U.S. companies such as Google, Apple, etc., what is often ignored is the huge investments made by the U.S. government in this area. NASA and U.S. Department of Defense are excellent examples. Another one is the agency that funds important research in U.S. Universities – NSF (National Science Foundation). Many of today’s great technologies and innovations were built on this R&D Foundation laid by the U.S. government R&D investments. Perhaps the best example of such an innovation is the ‘internet’. Just like U.S., France too has made many strategic R&D investments in areas related to aerospace & defense, energy and computing technologies.

Often government led R&D is also driven by a country’s strategic interests. This is very much applicable to India as well. This is one more important driver for government led R&D investments (and a topic of a separate article).

As discussed earlier, private R&D and manufacturing can build on top of the government led R&D initiatives. Yes, there are examples of wasteful expenditures, especially in the public sector. For one successful ISRO, there are counter examples as well. However, this should not deter the policy makers from allocating more R&D investments in strategic areas. It is important to study what has worked at ISRO, and then to institutionalize these processes in other R&D organizations. (This was one process related question, I wanted to ask Dr. Radhakrishnan yesterday, but we were short on time at the lecture).

ISRO represents one of the best examples (not just in India, but in the world) of effective and efficient R&D. The Mars Orbiter Mission ‘Mangalyaan’ is a great example. ISRO was able to deliver this incredible project for a fraction of the cost (around 10%) of what NASA spent on a similar project.

India’s goal should be create more ISRO like organizations in other areas – R&D driven organizations that develop important strategic and commercial products – and also help build a private R&D and manufacturing ecosystems around them. As a product/technology matures, the role of the private sector can grow. Where possible (in terms of tech capabilities), the private sector can also play an upfront role in collaborating on new technology development.


Improving ISRO’s Outreach Programs – What can be learned from NASA

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on October 11, 2011

I recently wrote an article on The Broad Mind blog: “Improving ISRO’s Outreach Programs” . This article discusses various steps that ISRO could learn from NASA in terms of its outreach programs. To access the article, click on the above link or click here:


The Broad Mind blog covers opinions from the Takshashila community. For details about the Takshashila Foundation, click here:


ISRO’s GSLV D3 Mission – A Failure? Or A Stepping Stone?

Posted in Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on April 15, 2010


Lift-Off of GSLV-F04 (image credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a sad coincidence that today’s failure of ISRO’s GSLV D3 Mission happened virtually on the exact day, 40 years on, since Apollo 13! Post the safe splash-down return of Jim Lovell and crew in the Pacific Ocean, many dubbed Apollo 13 as NASA’s most successful failure. How will this first test flight of the ISRO’s indigenously developed cryogenic engine be viewed? Only time will tell.

Space missions are fraught with risks and failures. ISRO has had a reasonably good track record, especially if you compare it with the early days of the USA and USSR Space Programs. And ISRO has been able to achieve success on a literal shoe-string budget as compared to what the other space leaders have spent.

What is the big deal with the Cryogenic Engine? A Cryogenic Engine uses a liquid propellant (typically liquid hydrogen) that is stored at a very low temperature (below –200 C). The other engines that have been used in ISRO’s rockets (including the first two stages of today’s mission) are solid fuel propellant based. Cryogenic Engines deliver a longer duration and more powerful thrust, per unit weight of propellant. They can also be controlled more effectively as compared to solid fuel propellant engines. Hence Cryogenic Engines are critical, as the range and weight capabilities of space missions increase. GSLV rocket has been designed to put heavy payloads (communication satellites, etc.) into a ‘Geo-Synchronous’ orbit (36,000 km orbit around the from earth). It will also provide a basis for future ISRO Missions to the Moon and beyond.

A little after 4:30pm, Indian Standard Time, a huge cloud of gloom descended upon ISRO. The first two stages had performed per expectations. However the 3rd stage powered by the cryogenic engine failed and the flight deviated from its desired path. One look at the scientists faces on TV, said it all. The emotions were there to be seen. It is these emotions that highlight the passion of these scientists, in their quest for building a great space program. In the present age of every-hyped entertainment and sports heroes, it it these real heroes that we all need to be proud of.

I am confident that ISRO will bounce back successfully from today’s failure, with the 2nd test flight due later this year. The data and results will be analyzed and corrective actions taken. Let’s not forget the spectacular success of the recent Chandrayaan Mission!


GSLV Mission / ISRO – Some Useful Links

ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization)


Official Press Release from ISRO about the GSLV D3 Mission

Cryogenic  Rocket Engine

ISRO Wikipedia Entry

ISRO Chandrayaan Mission


November 14 2008 and July 21 1969 – The Journey To The Moon

Posted in Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on November 15, 2008


The NASA Apollo program still fascinates me tremendously. I consider it as one of the foremost technological achievements of the human race. From Kennedy’s great speech in 1962 to Neil Armstrong’s famous words at the Sea of Tranquility, this program achieved the near impossible in less than 8 years! Just goes onto show that if mankind puts its focus and priorities in the right place, nothing is impossible.


But, I am digressing a little bit from the primary topic of this brief article. Let’s take a step back and see where India was in 1969. It was a country that was still struggling to achieve the most basic needs of its people. The Green Revolution was in progress, but the ultimate objectives were still not realized. Economic isolation and certain other policies had put a dent in the progress towards a vision that many saw on 15th August 1947. India’s share of global trade which was near 8% just after the Second World War had fallen to less than 4%.  The outlook didn’t look that great for the future. And around this exact same period, on August 15, 1969 Dr. Vikram Sarabhai established ISRO – Indian Space Research Organization. Dr. Sarabhai had actually started work on the Indian space program much earlier, in 1962 under the leadership of Dr. Homi Bhaba.


Dr. Sarabhai’s dream has definitely come a long way. From the sounding rockets of the 1970s, to the SLV and ASLV program in 1980s, and further to the PSLV and the GSLV programs, the program moved forward at a steady pace, certain setbacks notwithstanding. And then in 2008, the Chandrayaan mission finally moved to the ‘launching pad’. During the past 4 weeks, various critical intermediate steps were successfully completed. From the launch on the cloudy morning of Oct 22 to the various orbit altering maneuvers that finally inserted Chandrayaan into a close circular orbit around the moon, the mission progressed like clockwork precision. And finally on Nov 14th around 8pm IST, the ‘MIP’ (Moon Impact Probe) separated from the orbiting module and started a controlled decent towards the moon. At 8:30pm IST, the MIP landed on the surface of the moon near it’s south pole and elevated India into that select special list of countries that have achieved this feat earlier.


I would like remember November 14th 2008 as India’s July 21 1969. Yes, we just landed an unmanned probe and not an astronaut. Still from where we have come, it is still an achievement worth cherishing for a long time! And the fact that this mission progressed so smoothly, is further testament to the glorious efforts of the ISRO scientists. Let’s wish for even greater success for the future Chandrayaan and other ISRO space missions.



Useful References


Here is a list of useful references if you are interested in learning more about the Chandrayaan mission.


1 The ISRO website has a lot of good information about the overall Indian space program


2 The Wikipedia article on the Chandrayaan mission provides excellent technical details on the mission.


3 ‘Destination Moon’ is a nice short book about the Chandrayaan mission, written by Pallava Bagla and Subhadra Menon (Published by Harper Collins in 2008). It describes India’s quest for the moon and beyond, and also provides a brief history of the Indian space program.



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