Professor Dabbala Rajagopal “Raj” Reddy received the 2021 Computer History Museum Fellow Award at a virtual event on June 24 for his life’s work on artificial intelligence, robotics, and computer science education.
The event hosted by the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley was attended by over 1,000 people — inventors, entrepreneurs, professors, computer scientists, luminaries — from across the world.
“Raj is the father of speech understanding,” said AI pioneer Ed Feigenbaum, who founded the Heuristic Programming Project and Knowledge Systems Laboratory at Stanford University.
Feigenbaum recalled his first meeting with Reddy, in January 1965, at Stanford when he saw “a thin Indian graduate student” displaying and analyzing speech on the Programmed Data Processor (PDP) computer.
That thin graduate student would go on to win the Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of Computer Science, in 1994 for his work in the field of artificial intelligence.
In India, Professor Reddy helped launch the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies and International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, to help support the underprivileged.
India honored Reddy with the Padma Bhushan, the country’s third-highest civilian award, in 2001.
In his acceptance speech at the Computer History Museum event, Reddy thanked his family for their support and for tolerating his seven-days-a-week work.
He reminisced about growing up in a village of 500 people in Andhra Pradesh without water or electricity or doctors. The village had just a one-room primary school. There was no paper or pencil to write so they used to write on the sand.
The first time Reddy wore shoes, he recalled, was when he joined college and would open the footwear often since he was not used to wearing it.
Reddy, founding director of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and a former dean of the School of Computer Science, developed the first system capable of recognizing continuous speech, and his research team developed many of the concepts underlying modern commercial speech recognition technology.
He joined Carnegie Mellon in 1969, because his offer letter from University of California Berkeley was three days late.
“Unfortunately, half the world does not yet benefit from the technologies we are helping to create,’ Reddy said. “It is my hope that the spoken language technology pioneer CMU can empower people who cannot read or write.”
He said he hoped that speech recognition technology would help those at the bottom of the pyramid, and that they would be able to use spoken dialogue systems in their native languages to access services such as banking, e-commerce, and telemedicine even if they cannot read.
“Looking further in the future I see the emergence of personalized guardian angels that will get the right information to the right people at the right time in the right language with the right level of detail,” Reddy said.
Referring to the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 300,000 people, Reddy said: “With personalized guardian angel technology we could have warned people in the impacted zone that there is imminent danger in their language and that could have averted and alerted the fishermen…. We need to create an all-knowing and seeing guardian angel platform,”
When John Hennessy, computer scientist and chairman of Alphabet Inc, asked him what applications he saw opportunities for AI, Reddy spoke of self-driving cars.
“I know there are still problems with them and software issues, however, even now their caliber is such that they would eliminate 80 percent of the accidents that human beings get into,” Reddy said.
Thomas Kailath, emeritus professor at Stanford, told indica News that he had known Reddy “since he was a student here in 1963, the year I joined the Stanford faculty.”
Professor Kailath said: “Since then, I have followed him with admiration, his remarkable career at CMU after he graduated from Stanford in 1969.”
“It is interesting to note that he started out as a civil engineer. I believe that Raj got the first computer science degree awarded by Stanford University,” Kailath said.
Another emeritus professor at Stanford, Arogyaswami Joseph Paulraj, called Reddy “an incredible visionary who could see far into the future.”
Professor Paulraj said Reddy “had the unique ability to sell this vision to his colleagues and, also importantly, to the funding agencies. He is greatly admired.”