Aspiring Minds and AI

Aspiring Minds has been doing machine learning, aka artificial intelligence, for 8 years now, much before it became a vogue. We solved original questions using AI, not copycatting the West – doing a lot of firsts in the world. Here is a quick recap of Aspiring Minds’ tryst with AI, together with how AI evolved in India.

Phase I- “ML in a niche”- We had hired two engineers to work on Machine learning projects in 2010. After one year, they came to my room and inquired about their future, since all their friends were doing software development. Hardly anyone knew about ML.

- 2012: Launched SVAR: An AI based spoken English evaluation product

Today, SVAR is used across the world including India, Philippines, China and Latin America. It automatically generates scores on pronunciation and fluency based on speech samples of a person.

Was this the first AI-based product from India that reached scale?

- 2012: Made one of our data set public and organized a Machine Learning Competition

The competition had entries from India, Brazil, Belgium and Pakistan. See the leader-board and winners hereThis was probably the first by an Indian company and among the first few in the world.

- 2013: Launched AUTOMATA: World’s first machine learning based programming assessment

Automata is used by companies across the world – some examples include Wipro, Cognizant, Baidu, ZTE and one of the largest ecommerce giants in the USA. It is backed by three publications and several patents.

- 2014: Published our first ML paper on grading programming skills automatically at KDD

The paper has quickly garnered 28 citations. This was followed by several other papers on automatic grading of spoken English, motor skills, soft-skills, published at KDD, ACL, Ubicomp, IJSE and others. We also did a first workshop on AI+assessments at KDD with international collaborators.

Aspiring Minds remains one of the very few Indian companies that publish in ML conferences

 
Aspiring Minds and AI-03
 

Phase II- Big Data Science Fascination- Everyone by now had started talking about Big Data and Data Science – a new name for machine learning! Most work in India was around data engineering and not deriving intelligence from data. MOOCs on AI exploded –everyone who took the course didn’t really learn.

- 2015: Organized the world’s first Data Science Camp for Kids

We organized a very successful hands-on data science camp for kids of standard 5th-8th. Kids performed the full flow of supervised learning. Since then this open source project has been replicated at Illinois, Seattle, Pune and Bangalore. It also led to a paper on the pedagogy of teaching machine learning to kids.

- 2015: Launched ml-india.org, the first effort ever to audit India’s ML activity and a resource repository for all MLers

ML India brings all ML efforts in India under a single roof. Read more about how does India fare in ML – the main motivation behind setting up this forum. The group has 1800+ members, hosted 27 machine learning meetups, lists 146 ML professionals, 55 companies, 28 data sets and 11 groups.

We also launched a new data set AMEO, at iKDD. Attracted users from Harvard Kennedy School, Dublin Institute of Technology, New York University, TCS, Sapient and Flytxt.

- 2016: Launched the World’s first automated motor skills test

Aptitude tests have been automated for ages. But motor skills test, a way to measure skills of blue collar workers have not. We used the power of tablets and machine learning to do it and show that it is predictive of the job performance of blue collar workers. Read here.

- 2016: US Skill Map and India Skill Map- Big Data Analysis

Automatically crawled the web to aggregate jobs of USA and India, to create the world’s first interactive Skill Demand Map. Check it out here.

Phase III- National Interest in AI, but with nascent understanding –Data science had by now died a silent death, only to be replaced by Artificial Intelligence. From the PMO, Finance Minister to Niti Aayog, today everyone is interested in AI. Yet, we have little novel methods or application of AI from India. We have little local expertise in AI – our research contribution is 1/15th of US and 1/8th of China.

- 2017: Machines started understanding codes that do not compile!

Automata, our program skill grading platform started scoring uncompilable codes, a first in the world! Our algorithm could read meaning of programs, which a compiler couldn’t and generate feedback for so many more students.

And the journey continues!!!

This has been possible by efforts of many in Aspiring Minds’ research team, most notably, Shashank Srikant, Rohit Takhar, Vishal Venugopal, Gursimran Singh, Bhanu Pratap Singh, Vinay Shashidhar, and Milan Sachdeva.

Phase IV: How can India lead in Artificial Intelligence? From doing research, we started thinking about research policy. My recent book, ‘Leading Science and Technology: India Next’ focuses primarily on the research ecosystem in India and highlights several areas where we should improve. It is supported by a white paper on how India should invigorate its Artificial Intelligence ecosystem. This is where we need to go next…

- Varun Aggarwal