‘I would like to see the private sector spend more money on research’

‘India is a global hub for research but the interaction with academia should grow. Philanthropic investment in research must increase’

Updated - May 16, 2024 05:27 pm IST

Published - May 16, 2024 09:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Kris Gopalakrishnan

Kris Gopalakrishnan | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys and president of Infosys Science Foundation (ISF), spoke to The Hindu after the foundation announced certain changes to the Infosys Prize which includes lowering the upper age limit to 40 years.

Infosys co-founders N.R. Narayana Murthy, S. Gopalakrishnan, and Pratima Murthy speaking on the changes in the Infosys Prize, at Infosys Science Foundation (ISF), Jayanagar.

Infosys co-founders N.R. Narayana Murthy, S. Gopalakrishnan, and Pratima Murthy speaking on the changes in the Infosys Prize, at Infosys Science Foundation (ISF), Jayanagar. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

On Wednesday, ISF explained that it is steering the Infosys Prize in a new direction by transitioning from a mid-career prize to an early-career prize, with the objective of rewarding potential and recognising the promise of future achievement. 

What is the rationale behind reviewing the Infosys Prize?

We have completed 15 years and we have had some successes. Our laureates have gone on to win bigger awards including the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize etc. Still, we felt that it is important that we kind of look at the purpose for which the award is set up which is to promote world-class research in India and whether we can do anything more in that review we decided that we will look at the early career of researchers and give them a longer runway after the recognition to contribute to science. Hopefully, these people are closer to the youth and can also be important icons because they are closer in age for our youth and will encourage more youth to take on careers in science. Ultimately the goal is to make sure India continues to contribute even more to science and research in the world.

What are changes that are being incorporated?

The main change is we have changed the age limit to 40 years so it is really an early career prize. There was a body of work which was being recognised. Now it is a particular innovation or invention that is being recognised because it is an early career prize. They may not have a body of work yet so it is a recognition for an invention or innovation.

The Infosys prize for Economics is now a separate category. What is the reason behind this?

We recognised that economics requires a separate look just like mathematics or engineering, computer science till now was clubbed with humanities and social sciences. We have left humanities and social sciences as a category and now economics has become a stand-alone category. It is a kind of restructuring of the categories. Plus previously Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee have won in economics and social sciences so we decided there is a need for a separate category.

How do you think these changes will impact Science in general in India?

We already believe that in the 15 years, we have created icons, and encouraged students, and youth to take on careers in science. Our laureates have gone to raise India’s flag in the global arena. So we are continuing on that journey with a tweak, with a change to the prize. The purpose of the prize continues to be the same to make sure that a lot more people take on careers in science and research and do world class research from India on India.

Are you satisfied with the way Science is progressing in the country?

If you ask me if I am satisfied, the plain answer is no because when you are satisfied you may say nothing more to be done. I strongly believe that we have a much larger role to play in science and research not just in India but around the world. Every single day we are finding that there are new tools, techniques, technologies, new scientific discoveries that are happening and we want to make sure that if more people take science as a career they will contribute more. So we do need to work on problems that are specific to India and problems that are specific to developing countries and to the world. In all of these things India can uniquely contribute.

For example, in health care incidents of diabetes, and cancer are increasing in India now. Can we look at prevention, better cure, can we look at affordable cure? This is something that India can uniquely contribute to because we come from a developing country perspective. Similarly in computing itself, we need better computing architecture, processing architecture etc. With the introduction of GPT-4, ChatGPT etc more and more computing power is required but it is also clear that the costs are also going up, the impact on the environment is going up, and the computer centres are consuming a lot more power. So can we look at low-power computing, and different processing architectures, and invent better machine-learning algorithms that do not require so much data? So there are many problems which we can address. Last but not least we are also seeing the effects of climate change. The weather pattern has changed either it is too hot or there is too much rain. All of this requires us to have newer solutions.

Would you like to see any changes at the policy level?

The government has been increasing its funding for science and research. The National Research Foundation has been announced with the Prime Minister as the chairperson, there has been budget allocation for that hopefully after the election it will get solidified. In the interim budget before the election they have announced a ₹1 lakh crore allocation for a 50 year long term debt product which will be available for the private sector for R&D at practically no interest. Again more details will come after the election.

So, the Government I believe is starting to spend more money. I would like to see the private sector spend more money on research. I would like to see the private sector work closely with academic institutions and the research community. Already India is a global hub for research but the interaction with academia should grow. Philanthropic investment in research must increase. I am personally supporting philanthropic investment in research. I would like to see more of that. I would also like to see more deep tech start-ups come out of the research that are happening at our academic institutions. Out of the hundred thousand plus startups in India only 3,000 are estimated to be deep tech that is a very small percentage. There are many things that still need to be done.

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