INFOTECH icons Infosys Technologies chairman N R Narayanamurthy, Wipro chairman Azim Premji and TCS deputy chairman F C Kohli have all joined Media Lab Asia’s board of directors.
Kohli said, “I think MLA is a great opportunity for the industry to learn to do research. For long, lack of research in the Indian IT industry has been lamented. MLA has a long history of R&D of innovative products. We have no history of products at all. So, I think the industry should look at it as a serious opportunity.”
The presence of industry leaders is expected to give the right impus to the Rs 5,000-crore 10-year-long mega project, which aims at reducing the digital divide.
MLA has also roped in star NRIs, Dr Ranjit Makkuni of the Xerox PARC’s Crossings Lab and Dr Ramesh Jain, former head of the University of Michigan’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, to collaborate research activities. Both are acclaimed names in multimedia research.
It may be recalled that the MLA board was set up in September with minister for information technology Pramod Mahajan as chairman, US’ MIT Media Lab chairman Nicholas Negroponte as the vice-chairman, and three directors: secretary of information technology Rajeeva Ratna Shah, chief secretary of Maharashtra V Ranganathan and Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Science, MIT Media Lab, US, Alex Pentland.
Pentland spoke on the sidelines of a conference on GIS last week. He said the search for a CEO was fast reaching a decisive phase and the MLA had identified three core areas for research.
The first is World Computer, which envisages the creation of an interface for very low-cost devices with tiny operating systems that can be used by the illiterate.
“We are investigating how to create a truly multi-language user interface, based on an internal inter-lingual representation, that allows multi-language authoring, Web access and database search,” Pentland said.
The second is Bits For All, which would look into delivering broadband services to rural villagers at a nominal cost. “We are investigating unlicensed spectrum networks that charge for services instead of spectrum, so the poor and rural have basic connectivity for a minimal monthly charge,” he said.
The third area, Tomorrow’s Tools, would investigate low-cost design tools for small manufacturers, new types of products for the mass market, and new modular reference designs.
Pentland said “in a couple of months, we anticipate forming broad-based, pre-competitive industrial consortia organised around these three problems. We are now consulting industry leaders to set fee schedules, IP policy, and precise problem focus.”
Four research labs are being set up in the campuses of the IITs in Mumbai, Kanpur, Chennai and Delhi. To run these laboratories, known faculty including Prof Sanjay Dhande (director, IIT-K) and Prof Ashok Jhunjhunwala (IIT-Chennai, recent recipient of the Padma Shri) have been identified.
In addition, MLA had appointed Dr Brian Rosborough, founder of EarthWatch Institute. He is likely to oversee a fourth theme, called the Digital Village, to realise Gandhi’s vision of a sustainable village through culturally appropriate use of new technologies.
Rosborough, who made a presentation to GIS experts in Delhi last week, came in as the UN-ICT envoy. Recently, the UN’s ICT for Development Task Force, appointed by secretary-general Kofi Annan, named MLA as its academic and industrial body for the Asian region.