He could well pass off as yet another US-based Indian success story or perhaps, even as a Venture Capitalist. But his mile-long credentials are the give-away. For, Dr. Raj Reddy is, shall we say, on the other side of the fence. Not an IT entrepreneur, but an academician. He's currently the Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and the Herbert A. Simon University of Computer Science and Robotics as also a distinguished member of the technology community. It's now over 5 decades since he left Indian shores after completing his BE in Civil Engineering from the Guindy Engineering College, Madras and later in 1960, his MTech from the University of New South Wales, Australia. He received his PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1966 and in the same year he began his academic career as an Assistant Professor at Stanford.
He believes that there's greater acceptance of diversity in the US, than in most other countries. "It's kind of a land of immigrants where everybody's come from somewhere. So there's always been this acceptance of new people and so on. Acceptance is not completely open obviously. There's some amount of discrimination. There's probably discrimination against Indians also. But that's human nature," he says and mentions that there's discrimination in India amongst Indians too. The fact remains that there is abundance of opportunities in the US as compared to in India.
"IC" in the US now stands for "Indian Chinese". Indian IT professional are constantly up against competition from China. The Chinese are equally competent and hardworking, their only drawback being fluency in the English language. It's not to think of the Chinese as some kind of competition, but Dr. Raj Reddy does agree that future generations of Chinese will be not be faced with this problem of language with the present change in the Chinese education system where English has been made a compulsory language. "When I look at what's happening in our country where we get bogged down with all kinds of political issues, everybody's fighting with everybody else and not making progressing at the pace we could, I keep saying that maybe that's the price we pay for democracy," opines Dr. Reddy and reflects his optimism by adding that ultimately India's strengths will come through.
He's currently the co-Chair to the US President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC). Explaining the objective and his role in this committee Dr. Reddy says, "The United States government has recognized that Information Technology is affecting every aspect of society. No matter what you do it's being impacted. All kinds of information are today available on the Internet." Information Technology helps do things ten times faster than in the past and at a low cost. All this will impact across society in years to come and improve the living standards of people. "This ubiquitous impact across all aspects of society is what made Information Technology unique in the history of Mankind. Therefore there was a need to understand it, plan for it for which there was a need for experts in this area, to tell what to do and what not to do. To identify the opportunities and possibilities," he adds.
Dr. Raj Reddy was quoted by the Indian Press as being the person who influenced Bill Clinton to visit Hyderabad and not Bangalore when the US President visited India recently. Dr. Reddy's proximity to AP the Chief Minister is well known, but he clarifies, " I didn't have anything to do with this. It was the ambassador and the right people, but if he would have asked me I would have recommended the same," he replies with a smile, apparently this is not the first time this question has been popped up at him. He says, "Chandrababu Naidu deserves the credit of being the first politician in India to understand the impact of Information Technology and trying to make something about it". He also compliments Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna's initiatives to build a better Bangalore as a genuine effort.
Dr, Raj Reddy's academic achievements are many. However, presently he's focused on research projects, which include speech recognition and universal digital libraries, where all creative works of the human race are available to anyone anywhere. "Books will be digitized and you can read it anywhere. It's sort of an alternative access for information," explains Dr, Reddy. His other research interests include the study of human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence,
Dr, Reddy's academic achievements are many. He joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty as an Associate Professor of Computer Science in 1969. He became a Full Professor in 1973, a University Professor in 1984, and named as the Simon University Professor in 1992. He served as the Founding Director of the Robotics Institute from 1979 to 1991. His professional honors include: Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, Fellow of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence (he served as President from 1987 to 89), Member of the National Academy of Engineering and Member of the American Arts & Sciences. He is a recipient of the IBM Research Ralph Gomory Fellow Award in 1991. Perhaps the biggest achievement was the awarded the Legion of Honor by President Mitterand of France in 1984. He is a recipient of the of the ACM Turing Award in 1995, the Doctor Honoris Causa from SV University in India and Universite Henri-Poincare in France. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Perez Institute for Peace.
Dr. Raj Reddy lives in Pittsburgh with his family and having settled there for years, unlikely if he will ever move to India permanently.
India's loss is America's gain.