Meet Dr. Arun Rajkumar

Aditi Jain || 16 Sep 2021

Biasness and discrimination are known to be human attributes but time and again AI has been in news for its biased behaviour too. Be it in shortlisting candidates for jobs at a reputed firm Amazon or predicting criminals, AI algorithms have failed on the fairness index. While experts understand that the problem lies with the data fed to AI algorithms, the public fears if this technology is used as such it will increase the existing divide in society. Dr Arun Rajkumar, an Assistant Professor at IIT Madras and a member of Robert Bosch Centre (RBCDSAI) aims to make AI bias-free and is working out ways for the same.

A young and passionate computer scientist, Arun stayed and studied in Neyveli-a small industrial town near Chennai- before he shifted to Coimbatore to study engineering in the prestigious PSG College of Engineering. A maths lover from early on, Arun took up computer science which has maths as its basis. Though he took up a job in Cisco company after his under graduation, he soon realized that his tryst with studies wasn’t over yet and so he started applying for a master’s degree. He was fortunate to get admission in an eminent Indian research institute, the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), which became his home for the next couple of years while he did his master’s degree in computer science and then a PhD degree in machine learning. The research-based environment at IISc ignited the spirit of curiosity and free-thinking and pushed him to take the long path of inquiry. Post his PhD, he worked as a research scientist with Xerox research before he landed a full-time tenure position at IIT Madras.

Arun’s newly established lab at IIT Madras is working on both the fundamental and application problems in the AI domain. The lab focuses on problems in theoretical machine learning including sequential decision-making problems. His fundamental research on the statistical and theoretical aspects of machine learning will enable to find out circumstances when AI algorithms may fail and what can be done to make them more reliable. His laboratory is also involved in an exciting project with AmEx labs where they are trying to develop bias-free AI algorithms for credit risk assessment. 

While artificial intelligence looks like a magic wand to many as it can solve problems of almost all business sectors, Arun believes that various ethical, legal, explainability and privacy issues need to be sought before AI can be used full throttle for various applications. Towards this, he is working as a project investigator at Centre for Deployable AI, a centre of excellence initiative at IIT madras by RBCDSAI, on issues surrounding fairness, biasness, explainability, ethics and privacy of AI.

His research inspiration comes from his heart’s desire for an equitable and bias-free world. Dr Arun feels that though we as a nation are digitally empowered this digital empowerment hasn’t reached every door. The young scientist worries about the environment too and believes that sustainability is the only way for the survival of the planet. In his free time, he loves to dabble with scriptwriting and has written the script for various theatre plays. While theatre and computer science may seem like two fag ends of a rope, he believes that his inclination towards art has acted as fuel for his research ideas.

To know more about his research visit his webpage.