IIT Kanpur’s new Department of Cognitive Science will further scientific study of the human mind, prepare students for careers of the future

Kanpur: IIT Kanpur (IIT-K) announced the launch of a new Department of Cognitive Science which would be in the forefront of devising futuristic technology by understanding mirroring and adapting the complexity of the human minds perception and processes. The complexity involved in the human mind processes triggered by a simple task like the fluttering of one’s eyelids or a simple gesture of lifting a hand is humungous. IIT Kanpur will be the first among the IIT’s to explore this through transdisciplinary scientific research of the human mind and brain towards a futuristic technology enabled and empowered society. This will go a long way in mapping traditional Indian knowledge and understanding of the human mind with futuristic technology. The Department of Cognitive Science will prepare students for careers by bringing together the knowledge repositories in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence, business, data analysis, government intelligence, healthcare, human performance, information processing, law, marketing, product design, and software design. The launch of the new department comes in the wake of a visit of the Cognitive Science Experts team last year as a part of the National Advisory Committee. The team had strongly recommended the formation of a cognitive science department at IIT Kanpur given its strengths in teaching and research in the area over the last couple of decades, and the proposal was approved at the meeting of the Board of Governors held on December 7, 2020.

With this new endeavour, IIT Kanpur will be the first to have a full-fledged Department of Cognitive Science in the IIT system. Prof. Abhay Karandikar, Director, IIT Kanpur, said, “The pioneering step of establishing a separate department for Cognitive Science is expected to provide impetus to the research and teaching programs in Cognitive Science at IIT Kanpur. The new department will address this lacuna and help India to become a pioneer in the field of cognitive science. The department will study the working of the human mind and mechanisms in the brain involved in mental processes and interface with departments like BSBE on neuroscience related areas. The new department will also work in collaboration with the Computer Sciences and Engineering department to develop new artificially intelligent and machine-learning interfaces.”

The study of Cognitive Sciences traverses multiple disciplines such as anthropology, engineering, computer science, linguistics, medicine, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and others to offer multi-faceted explanations of individual and social behaviour. Applications of cognitive science include understanding and developing methods for effective learning, remediation for mental-disorders, and development of better user interfaces to be utilised by software companies. Contributions from Cognitive Sciences are also valuable for the development of artificial intelligence, multimodal communication, cognitive-robots, etc. The COVID pandemic has also seen inputs from cognitive science to understand the virus and its effects, such as signals in speech and vocal system coordination that can indicate the presence of COVID-19, behavioural studies to help stop spread of COVID misinformation, effect of COVID on the brain, and the social impact of COVID-19.

Dr. K Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the Board of Governors said, “Given that India has a treasure trove of classical knowledge about mind and consciousness, it is surprising that
we are lagging behind other countries in the study of human mind. The new Department of Cognitive Science at IIT-K will give our students an opportunity to explore everything related to the architecture of the brain and functioning of the mind.”

Areas of research that the new department will focus on include Consciousness Studies, Perception and Action, Decision Making and Reasoning, Language Processing, Social Cognition, Applied Cognitive Sciences (HMI/HCI, Education, Mental health) and Robotics.

IIT Kanpur first ventured into Cognitive Science, formally, by establishing an Inter-Disciplinary Program (IDP) in Cognitive Science on June 1, 2017. The IDP sees transdisciplinary participation of faculty members from various departments like Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Biosciences and Biological Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Electrical Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, and Department of Maths and Statistics.

Prof. Bishakh Bhattacharya, the current head of the IDP in Cognitive Science informed, “We have been running PhD and MS programs in Cognitive Science with a number of students pursuing research and training in Cognitive Science. Our students have gained national and international recognition for their efforts. For example, Ms. Anjali Sifar won the prestigious 2020 Marr Prize at the International Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society held in Canada. Our students also won the best oral and best poster presentation prizes at the Annual Conference for Association of Cognitive Science India -2019”.

 

The new Department of Cognitive Science at IIT Kanpur will seek to make its mark as one of the leading Cognitive Science programs in the country and internationally as well. It is hoped that the formation of this new department will not only attract the brightest of minds from across the country and abroad, it will also provide a boost to the image of IIT Kanpur as the frontrunner in innovation and a place for cutting edge research and teaching in the country, in consonance with the vision of National Education Policy 2020.

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