READING BRAINS!

Despite losing his father to conflict at a very young age, Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, overcame odds to become first Kashmiri to work on humanoid robots in Italy.  Riyaz Ul Khaliq talks to the geek to map his journey so far.

Aijaz Ahmad Bhat at Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
Aijaz Ahmad Bhat at Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

With the boost in information technology, different avenues in education have cropped in. The knowledge sector has spread vast and different career options have opened. Kashmiris do feel the change and are responding to it positively.

The inventions and discoveries which were alien to Kashmir and its people are now their own creations. As robotics is being studied minutely and research is being carried to make robots more close to behavior to humans. Recently, for the first time, a competition on robots was held in Kashmir that aimed at helping students to take this as their field. But robots are not unknown to them.

Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, who is the first student from Computer Applications department at Kashmir University to qualify GATE, is doing research on robots thousands of miles away from his homeland in Italy. In 2015, he will be earning his PhD focusing, ‘developing a cognitive architecture for humanoid robots’.

Aijaz has been researching on robots since August 2012. After he got his master degree in computer applications from university of Kashmir in 2010, he applied for two years Junior Research Fellowship from S N Bose National Culture for Basic Sciences.

Coming from computer science background, Aijaz’s journey to research in cognitive sciences wherein he is focusing on human behavior with environment is as excited as his present day dealings with robots.

He has been a victim of two decades long Kashmir conflict. The counter militancy operations have snatched him his father and with that fatherly care too. “BSF used my father as human shield when they were engaged in a gun battle with Hizbul Mujahideen in 1992 in our village Wadoora, Sopore,” says Aijaz sadly.

Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, his father was a business man who also looked after his apple orchard. After his death, Aijaz and his elder sister were brought up by their mother.

“Our mother worked hard to give me education. She had to do what my father was to,” he says.

Completing his matriculation from Islamia High School from nearby Tujjer village, his mother sent him to Srinagar to get quality education. “She sent me to Tyndale Biscoe School Srinagar to get modern education but I left the school after passing my 11th standard from there,” Aijaz informs. The academics at this school did not satisfy his thirst for sciences though, he continues, the co-curriculum and extra co-curriculum activities of school are very strong.

“I joined Boys higher secondary school Sopore and passed 12th in science in 2003 from there,” Aijaz says.

After successfully completing his higher secondary school examination, Aijaz joined degree college Sopore and completed his graduation in Non-Medical in 2006. “My eyes were set on computers as it would fascinate me a lot and I got selected in three years course in computer applications in Kashmir University and completed it in 2009,” he continues.

The continuous success encouraged Aijaz and he is the first from computer application department to qualify GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering).

After receiving his degree in June 2010, Aijaz applied for a two year research programme on Generativity in Cognitive Network from S N Bose National Culture for Basic Sciences that is based in Kolkata. “I was selected as Junior Research Fellow after I successfully passed interview,” he says as he takes sips of Nun Chai.

His research focused on human, chemical and psychological, behavior. “I worked on cognitive science that is a latest research on the development of robots,” he informs. Here he got his two international publications published.

According to him, Cognitive work includes research on intelligence and behavior, especially focusing on how information is represented, processed, and transformed (in faculties such as perception, language, memory, reasoning, and emotion) within nervous systems (human or other animal) and machines (e.g. computers).

As he completed his two year research programme in 2012, he applied for PhD programme in Cognitive sciences offered by Italian Institute of Technology (Instituto Italiano Di Tecnologia) supported by European Union.

“My two years research helped me and I got selected for the three years PhD programme,” he says proudly.

The Institution houses five departments and his department Robotics Brain and Cognitive sciences focus to understand human brain. “Cognitive science consists of multiple research disciplines, including psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, and anthropology,” he informs.

The project has been named DARWIN.

“We aim to make such robots that are very close to humans in chemical and psychological behavior,” he says.

His smile is very apt to his achievements. Aijaz credits his success to his mother. “I am thankful to Almighty for what I am today and then to my mother,” Aijaz ends.

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