News: Interactive session with Padma Bhushan Kris Gopalakrishnan (Opening of the Third i)

 

At 10:15 am, faculty and staff assembled at the A13 hall to attend the exclusive address by Chief Guest, Padma Bhushan Kris Gopalakrishnan. In his short, but impactful address, Kris Gopalakrishnan spoke about various developments in the field of technology ranging from self-driving cars to nanotechnology.

He spoke about how the Generation Z is progressing and how advancements in the fields of science, technology and innovation are making the world a smaller place but drawing us away from each other. Speaking about how Big Data, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, IoT and blockchains are opening up new vistas for exploration, Mr. Kris, who was one of the co-founders of Infosys, spoke about how many companies are trying to integrate these concepts into their daily working style. 

His short, yet impactful lecture was followed by a Q and A session with the faculty. Answers have been paraphrased. 

Q. Given the existence of a stringent legal system, how will the advancements in technology be affected?

A. In the example of self-driving cars, the legal framework is a vital factor affecting it. Safety is the key priority. However, such developments in technology will have a positive effect on how a lot of people, who are otherwise unable to avail such opportunities, like the differently abled. Legal issues are pertinent to any state-of-the-art revolution.  

The speaker caused quite a stir, and made everybody question their true purposes and ambitions by posing an open question to the audience:

“Who among the teachers here is a crorepati?” 

In the afternoon session, open to all students, Mr. Kris elaborated on the aspects of entrepreneurship, the means needed to achieve one’s goals and the importance of dreams. 

After the prayer, the host explained to the bustling crowd that entrepreneurship will always be filled with obstacles, and that in this session  they could learn something about what it takes to remove these obstacles. He also shared that in the book “A Better India, a Better World”, author N. R. Narayana Murthy, had much to say about “compassionate capitalism” and “inclusive innovation” that he was eager to learn about from the entrepreneurial icon in front of him. In fact, that morning, Mr. Kris had shared on Twitter an article on the “Essentials of Leadership” that described how “leadership” is a word that should spur us on, keep us active and on our toes. He also highlighted that the man about to step on to the dais had done great work in developing the IT industry that set in motion the transformation of India’s reputation around the world, referring to the Honorable Chief Guest.

As Padma Bhushan Kris Gopalakrishnan stood in front of the masses that had gathered in the Barn Hall to listen to him, he congratulated the institution for having secured one of the top ranks in the NIRF ranking system, rivalling IITs in their stature. He also stated that the students in the campus had very wisely chosen to invest in one of the best educational institutions in India.

As he talked about his IIT Madras days, Kris highlighted that he had been introduced to computing accidentally, because there was such limited access to the computer center in his day. He said that he felt lucky to be a part of the creation and growth of the industry that had raised him, and that he was glad that today the presence of a computer is almost inevitable in the daily lives of the general population. 

He claimed that at least half the people in the audience had intentions of becoming a billionaire by the time they were 23; after all, they had the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg to look up to. He also conceded that many such personalities had to drop out of their educational system in order to become successful entrepreneurs, but explained that it was possible to take such risks only because they had had supportive parents and didn’t have a family or kids that were dependent on them. He advised the crowd of young minds to develop the ability to take ‘calculated risks’, and invest in new things that are developing provided they can build a career out of it.

Since the computing revolution began, Kris had watched several industries transform before him, including but not limited to retail and online shopping, mobiles and cloud computing. He stressed that every single industry was susceptible to change, and that it was profitable, albeit risky to predict which one would be the next to undergo rapid changes.

Every algorithm, every piece of program code is predictable. The class of problems that can be solved is only limited by our ability to write the code accordingly. This is why machine learning has arisen in the stead of programming culture as programs that can recognize problems like a human can, would lead to the ability to solve a significant class of problems. Humans are now living in a world filled with data, a world where we are physically challenged, incapable, of processing and collecting the scores of data that we generate. Kris explains that we are at that point in time where we can play God: when we can transfer new human capabilities to the machine, and allow them to evolve, and that this might just be our purpose on Earth. Humans have always been bent on inventing things that are better than nature: the supersonic jets that are faster than anything Nature could make and the machines that are stronger than any animal could possibly become. The only way to create new life forms was evolution, but this could render it unnecessary. The only question left for us to answer is, “What role do you want to play?”.

He admired that in front of Octagon, the phrase “Dare to Dream” was written in bold. He wished to amend the clause: it was imperative that we “Make it a reality” and the man himself standing in front of us that day was proof that it could be done. In today’s world where everything is possible, and you could fly anywhere in the country with Rs. 5000 in your pocket, Kris asserted that the audience present had the resources (and the intellect, he claimed) to turn their dreams into reality much sooner than he did.

Kris also quipped that Lady Luck had played an important role in his endeavors. He advised the audience to “Do everything you can do, and God will take care of the rest for you”. All he asked of the audience was that everyone must do their bit, and that tomorrow, if we were lucky, we’d have a similar stage to impart our wisdom on other growing young minds.

The floor was then opened for questions. The answers have been paraphrased.

Q. Even though the private sector has reportedly increased its investment in individual projects, there is no development seen from the students’ side, as they continue to deny funding our projects. What can we do, from our side, to fix this issue at the ground level?

A. Persist. There’s a saying in the IT industry that it takes about 14 meetings to get the first cheque, and there’s no use in giving up after the 13th proposal. I remember that in 1983, we wanted to import a computer. We tried everything to get a loan, but no bank would give us the money we needed to invest in the computer. Finally, the government of Karnataka agreed to lend us the money. You should understand that investing is also a risky business: investors may pick one in 400 projects that they come across.

Q. What steps do I take from where I am now to become an entrepreneur?

A. Having the right idea always helps. Learn to think economically, and build a team with complementary skill sets. There are always chances for up and coming entrepreneurs, this can be seen from the number of incubators across the country. Make use of the opportunities that these incubators can give to your ideas.

Q. Due to the slowdown of the economy, the automobile manufacturing industries have been affected by the government’s focus on the service sector. What can we do to solve this issue?

A. Forgive my generalization of company names, I am not claiming that one is better than the other, but the truth is, you can either travel in a Maruti 800 or a Mercedes Benz. The technology involved keeps getting faster, fancier, and more efficient. You can always improve the current automobile manufacturing methods to accommodate newer technology. Moreover, there is an increase in the supply chain, and as a consumer, if I find that the resale value of a car is decreasing rapidly after I buy it, I’d rather not buy the car.

Q. I invest in startups and I have a few projects of my own, but if I find that a startup is only temporarily viable for me, should I focus on sustaining the startup or make contingency plans for a smooth exit?

A. This is a question that is difficult to answer unless I sit across a table from you and learn about your investments and the risks you’re taking. But it’s always healthy to invest minimally and get a productive establishment. Figure out profitability before you invest in anything, and make sure that your success is not dependent on any external factors. That way, you can ensure profitability and make sure that this situation doesn’t arise.

Q. We follow trends that developed countries follow. But when we look at it from the ground level, the disparities are alarming. Some people have unlimited resources while others have none. What can we as students do to stop this?

A. For this I advise that you actively take part in the development and progress of your country’s economy. People like you, people from this audience or rather from this college, normally do well abroad. There is the trend of students moving abroad to finish their PG and such. But take a look around you. Use the brilliant facilities that your college has invested in for you, remove the notions that anyone has unlimited resources compared to you.

After Kris Gopalakrishnan stepped down from the dais, Mr. Balamurugan, an esteemed alumnus of our college assumed the stage. He went on to share interesting anecdotes about our college in the ‘80s: he explained that the Barn Hall, now filled with hi-tech sound systems and air conditioning, was once just a shed with a thatched roof, giving it its iconic name. He recalled that the first LAN connection in the college was installed in 1984, and that the CSG was started by a group of 5 people. He has since been working on developing the Internet of Things, and expressed his gratitude to the institution and the opportunities it presented him. He ended his short speech with an interesting piece of advice:

“Keep looking for Eureka moments!”

In his vote of thanks, the Student Council president, Snehith expressed his gratitude to the vast number of people that had played a pivotal role in making this event happen, working tirelessly to ensure the success of this event.

 

A report by Gokul Krishna K and Vaishnavi Murali.

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