"Excellent faculty encouraged practical learning, and never restricted us on how to learn. I remember spending more time in the library and labs than in the classroom.” says Malai
“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” – Marian Wright Edelman
When Malaikannan (Malai for short) was finishing up engineering, his father was graduating with a BA in Political Science through distance education. With such emphasis given to education at home, Malai grew up knowing that it was the key to opening up a world of opportunity– a world his father had been denied in his youth. From Class 4 till Class 11, he spent his summer vacations at the Connemara Library in Chennai, devouring books of all kinds, broadening his inquisitive and bright mind.
When he joined SSN, Malai had never touched a computer in his life. Students could avail a 50% discount on an HCL computer, so Malai jumped at the chance and unleashed his passion for writing code. The library, labs, unlimited high-speed broadband and more, were magical tools in his hands. He remembers, “Even though we were very young, we were treated as adults in SSN. It was not just bookish knowledge – we learned leadership and organization through planning technical symposiums, cultural festivals, and more. Excellent faculty encouraged practical learning, and never restricted us on how to learn. I remember spending more time in the library and labs than in the classroom.”
Now Malai lives in the US, doing cutting-edge work in Artificial Intelligence. In 2016, he raised 3 million dollars for his company Datalog.ai to build better Virtual Assistants using Deep Learning. At its peak, the platform had approximately 1500 developers, and 10% of Facebook Chatbots and 8% of Alexa skills were built using MyPolly, a Datalog.ai product. His entrepreneurial nature dates back to college where he helped the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission automate Panchayat billing and accounting systems. Malai’s current area of research is Natural Language Understanding (NLU), one of the hardest areas in AI Research. His team has published 5 papers in the past one year on Pharma and NLU.
He is inspired by entrepreneurs, whom he calls the New Age freedom fighters. “I have had the opportunity to interact with Shiv Nadar. I am amazed by his clarity of thought and approach to problems. He doesn’t need to run Shiv Nadar Foundation, but he is doing it as a way to give back to the community,” says Malai. Like all students that pass under the mantle of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, Malai too has a deep desire to give back.
“Deep Learning is applied in a lot of fields like astronomy, self-driving cars, facial identification, accelerating clinical trials, etc. I wanted to make sure that I give back to my roots in India. I, along with a few others, founded the Indian Deep Learning Initiative (IDLI) a Facebook group, to spread knowledge and awareness about AI in India. The group now has about 10,000 members.” Malai gives talks on research and applications of AI on different platforms and mentors youngsters. He is currently building a community around Natural Language Understanding tools for Indian languages. “Communities are beautiful things. I can’t solve all the problems in the world, but through communities, I can motivate others to take up the challenge.”
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