IITians – the Pride of India & Super-achievers in America

Speaker Abhay Bhushan
Abhay Bhushan web
Speaker Abhay Bhushan

SANTA CLARA: The name, IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), has been synonymous with the cream of the crop as far as India’s technical and engineering talent is concerned.

The 2ndannual IIT Bay Area conference was held at the Santa Clara Convention Center on Saturday, June 17.

The inaugural speaker was Arjun Malhotra, founder of Hindustan Computers Limited (HCL) and Headstrong. Peppered with lots of wry humor, Malhotra gave an insightful and entertaining summary of his journey.

He had to wade through the protectionist, socialist bureaucracy of India in the 1970s and 80s to set up HCL. What is admirable is that he and his team were able to creatively work around the constraints of the existing system and yet build a company that immensely helped India’s entry into the software world.He repeatedly said that he was “having fun” during all those times.

Fun, joy, and passion, giving back to society…these terms cropped up many times in speeches and interviews.

Next followed a series of lightning talks.

In the first talk, speaker Dileep George explained that the state of artificial intelligence as of now is similar to the state of animal intelligence before the development of the primate brain with its neo-cortex.

Shail Kumar’s talk was about the huge gaps in higher education in India. Shail is the author of “Building Golden India: How to unleash India’s vast potential and transform its higher education. Now.”
He is also the founder of Nalanda 2.0 – whose name is inspired by the famous Nalanda University in medieval India – an organization dedicated to improving higher education in India.

He spoke eloquently about the need to create more world-class institutions including multidisciplinary research institutes, to meet the needs of India’s young populace.

Dr. Parag Havaldar spoke on creating digital actors in animated films. Dr. Havaldar is the recipient of an Oscar for Technical achievement. He demonstrated some clips on how facial expressions are captured from real life actors, using multiple sensors across their faces and these are then translated into their digital avatar’s expressions.

The last lightning talk was by Manish Kothari of SRI International and showcased advanced robotics and wearable technology for the handicapped.

The morning session included tracks on:
• Autonomous Vehicles (Speakers: Ashutosh Saxena, Vijay Nadkarni, Shilpa Gulati and Anupam Rastogi)

• Clean Energy (Speakers: Ram Narayanmurthy, Kumar Dhuvur, Deep Chakraborty and Sudeshna Pabi)
• Artificial Intelligence (Speakers: Rajat Monga, Anima Anandkumar, Shubho Sengupta and Shashi Thakur)

• Investing in Frontier Technologies (Speakers: Naren Gupta, Aparna Chennapragada, Anand Rajaraman, Kittu Kollari and Sudip Chakrabarti)

Many speakers also had their books on display and did book signings in the lobby.
After a lunch break that featured a buffet of delicious Indian fare with some startup pitches running on the side, the much-awaited keynote address began with the distinguished Deepak Chopra and Rajat Gupta.

Rajat Gupta delivered an apology for letting down his fellow IIT alumni and shared his deeply personal experience of his recent imprisonment and how it had helped in his spiritual growth. He thanked his friend of 25 years, Dr. Deepak Chopra, for standing by him.

Deepak Chopra shared his insights on the coming together of science and spirituality. Dr. Chopra pioneered integrative medicine in an era when the concept of mind-body connection was not that widely accepted.

He said that the two most important questions that are facing scientists today are:
“What is the Universe made of?” and
“What is the basis of human consciousness?”
The other tracks during the post-lunch session were:
• Career Inflection Points (Speakers: Prith Banerjee, Maneesh Joshi, Mangesh Pimpalkhare, Abeer Dubey and Rohini Chakravarthy)
• Four Founders Share Their Journey (Speakers: Dheeraj Pandey, Jyoti Bansal, Bipul Sinha and Amit Gupta)

• Success off the Beaten Track (Speakers: Devesh Khatu, Abhay Bhushan and Prasad Jogalekar)
• Fin Tech (Speakers: Soups Ranjan, Anju Patwardhan, Arvind Purushotham and Abhishek Agarwal)
The track “Success off the Beaten Track”, had a mix of really interesting people. Devesh Khatu is an avid marathoner who has completed 82 marathons and raised funds for organizations such as the “Hamsafar” trust in his hometown of Mumbai, which provides counseling and aid to HIV infected people.

Abhay Bhushan is a well-known social contributor who has been volunteering and organizing events such as the Gandhi camp in India.

Prasad Jogalekar, besides being a top engineer and executive, is a veteran sitar player, trained in Hindustani classical music. He encouraged everyone to “spread the joy”, especially to people who need it the most.

The last series of lightning talks were equally fascinating. Anurag Mairal spoke on trends in global health and the need of the developed and developing world to converge with their ideas to tackle the latest challenges.

Ashwin Ram of Amazon’s Alexa, delivered an insightful talk on Conversation AI and the incredible intelligence that goes into natural language processing.

The conference wound up with a fireside chat with venture capitalist, Ravi Mhatre, Partner at Lightspeed Ventures. Mhatre, an alumnus of Stanford whose Indian scientist father had immigrated to the United States and started his own company besides being one of the founding members of TiE, spoke at length about the field of venture capitalism, the constraints faced in hiring by Indian immigrant entrepreneurs and the deeply individual choices that influence funding.

The event ended with an entertainment segment featuring singers and dancers from the Bay Area Indian community.

Lakshmi Iyer
India Post News Service

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