From Department of Space to Sony – How this Principal Data Scientist thinks of innovation

AI is definitely going to enrich our experience, how we interact or how we do our day-to-day work, or be how do we interact with other human or objects.
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Dr Sachin Agrawal is the Principal Data Scientist at Sony R&D, Bangalore. He is the Head of Artificial Intelligence at Delhi Technological University. He holds PhDs in Artificial Intelligence and has contributed to several patented technologies. Dr Agrawal was the recipient of the 2021 RISE Innovation Award.

A versatile individual, Sachin has worked across multiple domains like telecom, healthcare and audio-video in diverse roles as an engineer, researcher and data scientist. 

In an exclusive interview with Analytics India Magazine, Dr Agrawal spoke about his journey in data science, his domain expertise in building consumer-oriented products, incorporating innovation with artificial intelligence AI and ML in commercial products, safeguarding innovative products features through patents and his thoughts on the progress of AI and innovation.

AIM: You have worked across several domains. Did you not find it challenging to switch? What were the key challenges you faced?

Sachin: Changing domains definitely brings challenges. But, it is equally helpful. For instance, when I switched from mobile to healthcare, I could see the beauty of the other domain, and the challenges the people faced in that domain. Then, I could use my expertise in it. I don’t want to limit myself to one particular domain, like only audio or only video. I wish to apply my skills across various sectors, so that something meaningful could be made in the process.

AIM:  What does your current role as the Principle Data Scientist at Sony R&D  entail?

Sachin: We’re working on various kinds of healthcare solutions with the objective to come up with really innovative solutions that can be used by common people and make their lives better. The broader aim is that if somebody has some disease, he should get rid of it as soon as possible or maybe get the right treatment at the right point of time.AI can identify the context and who is the patient and recommend the right treatment at the right department.

AIM: Your LinkedIn headline reads ‘Intelligent innovation for monetisation’. How do you interpret that idea? 

Sachin: Considering the three keywords, I feel that intelligent innovation for monetisation is relevant to everybody, from an official to a layperson. My perception revolves around having innovations or adding creative features to a particular product or services such that it benefits all—whether it’s a business that may make money out of it, or an end user whose efforts may get reduced in using the product or service, or it might just be about saving time. For instance, in my case, I have been working on digital devices like wearables, mobile phones and healthcare devices. Phones have been in the market for several years now but each time, innovation should be incorporated in a very intelligent manner such that it gives more advantages to the front end user. As far as monetisation is concerned, it is not merely about making money, it is also about saving time and effort. 

AIM: Academia is also engaged in innovation. How can they contribute to the idea of  ‘Intelligent innovation for monetisation’?

Sachin: Well, I have worked for some university projects and I would say some students are quite bright and can really come up with a good, connected business problem. But yes, academic talent needs to be nurtured and trained so that whatever a business or industry demands can be taken into consideration. The combination can create really meaningful monetisation opportunities for the industry as well as for the larger society. Industry and academia could come together for collaboration, like a hackathon or regular sync-up events where both entities with disparate potential and expertise could meet, ideate and innovate. 

AIM: You began your career as an engineer. For a period of time, you were associated with Department of Space and then gradually moved into the domain of data science. What has your journey been like?

Sachin: While I was at Department of Space, India, I learnt how to come up with really creative innovations or products from scratch while working on our basic concepts like physics or electronics. I also learnt how to tackle a problem—consumer-centric or market-centric—while developing it as a technical solution. Another key thing which I learned in my career ahead is how to make products commercially acceptable by the end user in the market. The approach is two-pronged—whenever we look at a particular problem, how the problem can be solved using digital technologies, i.e., AI and the second part, in which part do I carry the expertise and experience and if something has been developed, the know-how to make it more effective, more cost effective, more economical or more consumer centric. As for the journey of learning, I have never stopped learning. Even today, I routinely consult research papers  and try to incorporate learnings from such works into my own projects. 

AIM: Your expertise lies in making a product more consumer oriented. Could you share your thoughts on how to best achieve that?

Sachin: The clear answer is identifying the pain point of the end user . So, I think, if we know as much as possible about the pain points of the consumer, as soon as possible​​—that’s pretty good. When I start a project, I try to grab those pain points as soon as possible too. We have to take care of the users’ expectations. A user incurs the cost of purchasing the product, and puts effort into learning how to use it. Considering all these things, if we don’t provide an exact solution, I think, it would be difficult to find success. 

AIM: Speaking about products, some of the products you have worked on have been granted patents. Why do you think some of the products have been patented?

Sachin: One of  the patents is about saving the battery power of the 5G phone. When I started this concept, the 5G phone had a battery issue as well as the issue of excessive radiation. Since it communicates with higher frequencies, it drains out too. So, I came up with an AI-based beamforming concept—a radiation that enables my phone to remain connected with the base station in a very effective manner. It has been deemed as a novel concept. We can apply this concept for the base station antenna which could save significant battery power in these phones. Another significant patented work that I contributed to was for ‘Bixby’, an intelligent voice assistant that recognises selected languages and certain accents and dialects. 

Bixby is different from other voice assistants like ‘Alexa’. In that, they process the voice commands sequentially. However, in the case of Bixby, even if four people are giving voice commands, it will intelligently combine all those and execute the command. The third patent revolves around an AI algorithm. It is called the ‘Secure Data AI Algorithm’. Data security is a global problem. I proposed the idea that AI can not only be used to train data, it can also be used for processing the data in a more secure manner.

AIM: AI is often hailed as the next big technology. What is your take on that?

Sachin: AI is definitely going to be a helping hand for all of us. It is like a support for us to take a new step on earth or be out in the universe. We keep on doing traditional things on our own. This takes time and effort. But, with the help of AI, we can transfer those things to them. Humans can then work on a new concept or new technology, or maybe a new advancement in the business or in building newer AL models. 

In the next decade or so, we would have more new things in front of us for the next generation to advance upon. AI is also going to enrich our experience, how we interact or how we do our day-to-day work, or how we interact with other humans or objects in the world like our homes, natural environment or public spaces. AI is definitely going to help us get rid of traditional processes we execute in our day-to-day lives. For instance, turning on a switch—AI is going to help improve the standard of living.

AIM: At Sony, one of the areas you work in is the Metaverse. What potential does AI hold in Metaverse?

Sachin: Currently, people from different industries such as entertainment and fashion, are working on Metaverse. AI can add more value to that. Metaverse is like a different plane and whenever a character enters the Metaverse, it’s a strange world for them too. AI can help make his experience more effective. More research needs to be done. I see a lot of scope where AI can play a role. Considering the Metaverse applications, the combination of the two could be hugely innovative.

AIM: Innovation is now the buzzword of every industry. What message do you have for those engaged in innovation?Sachin: There is a concept called ‘topical thinking’. So, for example, if there is a jar of water and I have to add ‘innovation’ in terms of the water quantity. Now, I can add water into the jar but only till the brim. Likewise, we have to strike a balance of innovation and intelligence, so that it survives well in the current ecosystem. For example, there’s robotics, which can lead the people or which can be like a simulated human or soul. But, that’s not the need of today’s world. So, in that context, I think ‘topical thinking’ may be the need of the hour.

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Zinnia Banerjee
Zinnia loves writing and it is this love that has brought her to the field of tech journalism.

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