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Gadgets that do the thinking for you
- BRAIN CELLS FOR MODERN MACHINES

From targets of defence interest in Karachi to the automatic volume leveller in a colour television; from fingerprint identification tools to washing machine determining the need for detergent and hot water according to the degree of dirt in clothes… Making machines more intelligent is what matters, and the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta, is busy injecting ‘brain cells’ into the modern machines.

Having served the country’s defence establishment diligently, ISI’s machine intelligence unit is now ready to offer the best of soft computing tools to India Inc. A national centre for soft computing research will be set up on the B. T. Road campus.

The state-of-the-art centre — the first of its kind in eastern India — will come up with an initial grant of Rs 5 crore from the Union department of science and technology.

Soft computing techniques — embedded features in latest gadgets — enable machines to recognise specific situations and take decisions along predictable patterns of human behaviour. So, in a modern colour television, the automatic volume leveller adjusts volume while skipping channels, and the intelligent washing machine uses more detergent to get rid of higher dirt.

“But given the poor state of industry-academia cooperation, most of the companies still import these techniques from abroad. So, before submitting the project proposal to the government, we tried to gauge whether the corporate sector would be interested in using our expertise. The response has been encouraging and companies like Tisco, Telco and Bhel have already expressed willingness to source their various soft computing requirements from the centre. We will be offering our knowhow by integrating tools like fuzzy logic, neural network, genetic algorithm, rough set and probabilistic reasoning to make machines more intelligent,” says S. K. Pal, head of the 10-year-old machine intelligence unit.

Recently, the unit used these tools to draw up details of Karachi’s topography. The project was conducted by using remote sensing of data and images provided by the Indian Army and then transposing characteristics of various Indian cities to map the Pakistani port city.

Besides serving the needs of the industry, the centre will work as an advanced training institution on soft computing and various short-duration courses will be offered to researchers working on these technologies.

The institute is also toying with the idea of kicking off some distance education programmes. It will operate in close coordination with other academic institutions, like the IITs and the universities in the region. France-based International Centre for Pure and Applied Mathematics has also confirmed joining hands with the centre to spread the benefits of soft computing to a bigger cross-section of society.

“We have formed a seven-member core team and we will also invite teachers of international repute from universities abroad to the centre. We want to benchmark it with international standards,” sums up Pal.

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