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April 19, 2018

Govt allocates Rs1.1 billion for artificial intelligence projects

National

April 19, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The world is making progress by leaps and bounds in the field of artificial intelligence (IA) and spending billions of dollars annually but Pakistan has just woken up to the reality with a meager allocation of around $3.3 million annually.

On the contrary, Pakistan’s immediate neighbor India has allocated $480 million to the fifth generation technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and internet of things. Similarly, China is spending billions of dollars annually in the field of research and development of IA.

The government has allocated seed money of Rs1.1 billion for the period of three years to initiate a project on IA. The project will be carried out under the supervision of Higher Education Commission (HEC). The HEC shortlisted six public sector universities to set up nine labs to carry out research in the field of IA.

Earlier, in 2017 a group of engineers proposed to the HEC that an expression of interest be sought from universities around the country having a CS program with at least a W-rating, accredited by National Computing Education Accreditation Council (NCEAC). According to this proposal, fifty best universities should be selected based on multiple KPIs e.g. quality of faculty engaged, quality of infrastructure and industry academia collaborations, etc.

As per the proposal, specialised streams of CS with focus on artificial intelligence can then be initialised. First two batches, each having an annual input of 200 students at all these selected institutions should be funded for the entire length of the program i.e. four years. Each student should get subsidy of Rs200,000 per annum. Students will be selected based on their merit in FSc or equivalent.

Other than funding the student body, faculty salaries should also be subsidised to encourage high quality human resource to engage in development of the program. It is proposed that each university receives a funding of Rs10 million in terms of subsidy for PhD qualified faculty and Rs5 million for MS qualified faculty.

In terms of ICT-related infrastructure support, each university should be funded a total of Rs10 million to set up a state of the art artificial intelligence lab to support the new program. This is a total financial layout of Rs3.25 billion for the first year. However, the Planning Commission approved Rs1.1 billion for this project for the next three fiscal years.

Dr Yasir Ayaz from National University of Science and Technology (NUST) who has been appointed as head of this project by the HEC while talking to The News said realising the importance of AI, the government has taken a good initiative.

“This is an era of fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) but Pakistan is still living in the second industrial revolution (Industry 2.0) era. We were lagging far behind the rest of the world as the developed countries have started using artificial intelligence to maximise the production of industrial sector. The use of robotics in the warfare is becoming a routine matter whereas artificial intelligence is being used by the modern world for surveillance purpose”, commented Dr Yasir.

After the HEC announced this project, total 19 universities from public and private sectors applied however, six public sector universities were selected on the basis of equipment and faculty. The six universities selected for this project include NUST, Islamabad, Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) University, NED UET Karachi, University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Peshawar, UET Lahore and University of Punjab Lahore, informed Dr Yasir.

He further informed that NUST has been declared the headquarters for this project and it will set up two laboratories i.e. Intelligent Robotics Lab and Deep Learning Lab. The CIIT University has been granted to set up Medical Imaging and Diagnostic Lab whereas NED UET Karachi has been given approval for two labs i.e. Smart City Lab, Neuro Computation Lab. UET Lahore has been given approval of setting up Intelligent Criminology Lab whereas Punjab University will establish Agent Based Computational Modeling Lab, he said.

According to Dr Yasir each university will offer Masters and PhD programs in these fields and every lab will be equipped with state of the art equipment. A total of 36 PhD doctors from the relevant fields will be working with these labs as it is compulsory for each lab to have one in charge and three sub-in charges. He further informed that each university will initially be given Rs70 to Rs75 million to set up the lab.

“If the government trust us we can provide this country with skilled human resource within a few years in the field of artificial intelligence. Pakistan has a great talent pool which can compete international scholars if the government financially supports them and gives scholarship to talented and deserving students”, commented Dr Yasir.

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