New Delhi: With an eye on developing its research base in the nascent field of cognition science, in which scientists study the mechanisms by which the brain recognizes and processes information, the ministry of science and technology (S&T) has launched the Cognitive Science Research Initiative.
The aim is to get top scientists in Indian universities interested in cognition science, a field of fundamental research, and get them to train doctoral level students in the study of neural networks, as the mechanisms are known.
Cognition research is an umbrella field and has vital applications in several areas such as mental health, social engineering, education and computer technology.
Of late, cognitive scientists have begun to develop smarter security systems, ones that can better screen terror suspects, and robots that have moved from being mere assemblers in car manufacturing facilities to more complex ones, such as the Japanese robot ASIMO that can recognize and differentiate human faces.
Officials at S&T ministry say that over time the research output from the cognition initiative could tie into the Security Technology Initiative, coordinated by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
“We should be able to develop better crime-pattern recognition systems. We have tonnes of data coming out of villages and cities, but limited efforts at analyzing them and trying to predict, and prevent, further crime,” said an S&T ministry official, who didn’t want to be identified as he’s not authorized to speak to the media. “These must go beyond the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing.”
A variety of civilian applications such as improved predictive texting (in SMS) in regional languages as well as more interactive websites could spring out improved cognitive science research, said T. Ramasami, secretary, department of science and technology.
“Over the years, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that cognitive science is one of the four pillars of the 21st century, along with nano, bio and information technology, and of the four, cognitive science is the least represented in the Indian scientific scenario,” Ramasami said. “We need to step up on this.” Although a budget for the initiative is still being finalized, a tentative Rs10 crore has been earmarked for the next fiscal. The key thrust areas are—foundations of cognition, language and cognition, computational intelligence, cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience.
In addition to basic research and infrastructure, human resource development has been identified as key to the success of this initiative. Existing research facilities such as the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore; National Brain Research Centre, Gurgaon and the Centre for Neuroscience, at the Indian Institute of Science will be big beneficiaries of the project, people familiar with the issue say.
“The key is to get more students. Currently, we’re going to offer a monthly scholarship of Rs20,000 and a research grant of Rs1 lakh. That’s separate from existing grants and funding they already have,” the same official added.
Experts say the initiative needs private sector backing. “Cognition research blooms in the laboratory, but lives in the companies,” said Salil Kapoor, a security systems researcher at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. “Several smart applications are being developed in Indian labs even today. But private participation is lacking.”