In Conversation With Ram Bilas Pachori

DoJMA: You specialize in signal processing and brain computer interface. How did you get interested in the field and what made you choose research? 

Dr. Pachori: I did my PhD from IIT Kanpur and most of my work was in signal processing. I developed signal decomposition methods based on Bessel functions. People used to use sinusoidal functions and Fourier analysis. So, this signal analysis technique was a general technique and based on that work I got post-doctorate opportunities in France. Over there, I saw many people working on biomedical applications of signal processing. This is how I got the idea and the interest to use signal processing in the biomedical field. 


DoJMA: What advice would you like to give to students who want to pursue more than one field like you have done? 

Dr. Pachori: Back when I was doing my PhD, people used to work in different areas like signal processing, mathematics, communication, artificial intelligence, etc. These were separate fields back then, but now, these fields are merging with each other and are becoming interdisciplinary. It is not sufficient to study only electronics, signal processing or other narrow fields. These days, a lot of automation, nanotechnology, etc is used and students need to study these upcoming topics as well for their research. Research is not straightforward. For example, recently in the US, a group of students made a snake robot. For this, they studied snakes, artificial intelligence, mechanical engineering, image processing, control systems, etc, and not just robotics. Today we have separate engineering fields. Maybe, later on, we’ll have just Engineering, maybe it wouldn’t be branch specific. Take the example of a car. Initially, you would say that a car is a mechanical system but many computer systems are there and a lot of electronics and automation is involved. For example, to play music in the car, syncing takes place with the machine. These days, people are developing mood detection systems that would detect your mood, emotion and based on that, songs would be played. Therefore, one must seek expertise in a variety of fields, not just one. 


DoJMA: What advancements do you think will take place in your field in the next 10-15 years? 

Dr. Pachori: After a few years, many different fields will merge. I believe that all technology will converge to health because health is the main issue. These days, people experience a lot of problems such as stress, bad food quality, etc; quality of life is not good. In the future, what people are predicting is that all fields of technology – even mechanical systems, electrical sciences, computer science, chemistry, physics – will be working towards health. Health will be the main issue in the future. If you are not healthy but have a lot of money, what is the use of that money? Health is very important in life and everything should be focused on health. These days, people are working on developing algorithms that can be used in mobile phones for detecting or predicting heart attack and predicting epileptic seizures. That is what I see in the future.


DoJMA: Today most students in India want to choose computer science over the other branches. What are your opinions about that? 

Dr. Pachori: Nowadays, computer science is everywhere. I’ve visited many universities where most of the people are working in computational science and computational aspects like machine learning, data mining and artificial intelligence. Indirectly, other people are also using it. Electrical engineering students are also using computer science, mechanical engineering students are also using computer science. After some time, I feel that we will not have computer science alone; it will automatically be in all branches. Even the people studying chemistry these days are using computer science for their research. Without computers, it is very difficult to do research nowadays.


DoJMA: What are your opinions on the ethical issues surrounding Brain Computer Interfacing (BCI) applications? 

Dr. Pachori: Sometimes, many people work on physiological aspects, like recording brain signals and heart signals, just for studying emotions, psychological behavior, mood and stress. In these situations, ethical aspects are not very strong. But when you want to use BCI for clinical aspects, universities like IITs etc have ethical committees who go through the proposal and decide on whether to allow you to go ahead with the application. In clinical BCI like studying Focal Epilepsy, people are connected to BCI machines, so that with the help of computers, we can assess the effect of medicines etc. It is essential to take permission from ethical committees before conducting research or experiments involving operations and surgical procedures, especially on humans. When we do research on BCI, we take the help of hospitals and doctors guide us accordingly. 


DoJMA: Which of your upcoming projects do you look forward to the most? 

Dr. Pachori: We are planning a project which can help people learn Vedas and the holy scriptures. In the past, there were dedicated ashrams that taught people the Vedas. But today, this facility is not very accessible. We are planning to make a robotic system: even a cell phone could work for this purpose. We would record mantras from scholars or gurus, who know the correct enunciation, as enunciation of mantras are very important. Now, the people who want to learn these mantras, and essentially the correct pitch, pronunciation etc, would chant the mantra to the robotic system which, using machine learning algorithms, would suggest to the learner where they need to change their pitch or pronunciation, by comparing what the learner spoke and the stored recording of the guru. One of my B.Tech students is currently working on this project. Another one of my upcoming projects is studying the effect on the brain due to chanting mantras. We have observed that chanting mantras can change the brain waves and this project aims to scientifically (using signal processing and resonance) prove the fact that chanting mantras can reduce stress. There are various rhythms in brain wave signals. We would try to find out which rhythm is dominant while chanting mantras. We are also working on signal processing techniques and applications in biological sciences and biotechnology, such as detecting brain disorders, heart attacks, etc, in advance. So, treatment can be done before the condition becomes serious and life threatening. We are also developing image processing algorithms to detect glaucoma in advance. Once detected, it can be controlled and treated correctly. Another application we are working on is detecting epilepsy. For example, suppose someone is driving a car and gets an epilepsy attack. Using brain signals, signal processing and some algorithms, we can beforehand inform the person of a suspected epilepsy attack. This happens because the amplitude of brain signals would become very high in such a situation. Hence, such an attack can be predicted five minutes before onset and the time can be used to take the person to a hospital or give them medicines.