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Communications of the ACM

India Region Special Section

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3-D shape composed of images from the India Region Special Section

Credit: Spooky Pooka / Debut Art

Computational sciences in the India region are going through an exciting time. While India has always had significant strength in theoretical computer science (CS), in recent years it has developed substantial presence and maturity in other, more applied areas of CS such as hardware and computer architecture, data science and artificial intelligence (AI), and cyber-security. Alongside pure research, there has been a significant push toward lab-to-field projects and technology transfer and deployment, creating broad impact to the region and beyond. Significant efforts have been made on the democratization of education through online courses, enabling the vast population to learn from a relatively limited number of available experts. All these activities have continued to bolster India's already strong IT industry and been a factor in the huge increase in the number of startups (under 1,000 in 2016 to over 60,000 in 2022a), with the number of unicorn startups reaching 100.b

This second regional special section from India represents this diversity and excitement through 15 articles, which span horizontal cross-cutting developments focusing on innovations in specific verticals at different levels of maturity from pure research to real-world deployments. These articles are co-written by authors from 15 institutions in the Indian subcontinent, highlighting a strong academic ecosystem in the region.

We publicized a call for articles in February 2022, and received nearly 80 abstracts from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. After reviewing all proposals, a virtual workshop was organized on March 23–24, 2022, where 32 shortlisted talks were presented over the course of two days. Several leading experts in the region attended the workshops and helped make the eventual selections.

Given the limited space available for the special issue, we picked four types of articles: The first category covers articles that summarize a major concerted activity in the subcontinent. Articles in this category include a large survey of data science and AI centers that have recently started in several top academic institutions, another major survey on cyber-security and hardware security ecosystem in India, an exposition of various attempts at modeling COVID-19 progression in the region by various researchers, and an elaboration of the major results in theoretical CS in the region in last few years. In addition, we also include several articles that have cross-cutting impact beyond a specific CS area: a report from the largest online education platform in India, another report on building a large digital library for broad access, and a discussion on recent policy changes to encourage more girl students in CS education.

The second category showcases deployed products that were developed based on long-running research projects in the region. An article in this category details the development of an intelligent stick for the visually impaired that senses objects around it and gives feedback to the user in real time to avoid any collisions. The stick is used by over 100,000 visually impaired users. Another article describes the design and development of a set of open source, indigenous, low-cost microprocessor chips ready for industry adoption. A third article on tools for program correctness highlights a successful industry research project now in production.

Our third category of articles describes research that rose out of the local problems in the subcontinent. This includes a report on how CS was used in agricultural fields to develop resilience against various climatic conditions, and a discussion of specific challenges faced in fake news detection due to multi-linguality, and specific user behavior in the region. Another article is about the design of a learning management system developed due to the challenge of training one of the largest youth populations in the world.

Finally, we selected a couple of articles on other interesting research being done by a specific research group in the India region—we present a rich body of work on explainability in machine learning systems, and an article on the impact of noise in neural networks. In this category, we received several other excellent abstracts, but we could not include them due to space limitation. Moreover, there are several important CS trends we were unable to adequately include in this edition, such as the booming startup industry in the region, the exciting work on quantum cryptography, recent progress in building machine translation systems over Indian languages, research in other CS subareas like databases, computer networks, and operating systems. We hope future special section from the India region will represent them and other works we may have missed.

We thank Communications' editorial staff for their timely and valuable support throughout this process. We also acknowledge the various experts who spent time with us in the workshop despite their busy schedules. We thank the various authors who submitted abstracts and presented talks at the workshop. Finally, we are grateful we were invited to curate this special section. We hope you enjoy the content!

Hemangee Kalpesh Kapoor, Mausam, and Venkatesh Raman

India Region Special Section Guest Coordinators

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James Larus

Morgan Denlow

Jakob Rehof
Haibo Chen
P J Narayanan

Hemangee Kalpesh Kapoor
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati

Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

Venkatesh Raman
The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai

Figure. Watch the co-organizers discuss this section in an exclusive Communications video.

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Hemangee Kalpesh Kapoor is a professor of computer science and engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, India.

Mausam is a professor of computer science at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India, where he is also founding head of the Yardi School of Artificial Intelligence.

Venkatesh Raman is a professor of theoretical computer science at The Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai, India. He also serves as the President of ACM's India Council.

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