Natural Intelligence

Creating a specialised talent pool in Nepal on Artificial Intelligence and drone making

CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF: Artificial intelligence programmers take their drone on a test flight in Khokana last week.

Nepali software engineers have been migrating for jobs abroad in droves, but one company is trying to reverse that trend by creating a specialised talent pool here on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and drone making.

Many people still think AI is science fiction, and that it doesn’t have too many applications in Nepal. But AI is already ubiquitous in everyday life: sorting emails in order of importance, or in the Internet of everything.

That is where Sameer Maskey, founder and CEO of Fusemachines Inc, sees an opening. “With the talent shortage for AI engineers around the world, Nepal has the potential to become a leader in the space and help fulfill the growing demand,” says the computer science professor who teaches Artificial Intelligence at New York’s Columbia University.

Maskey felt Nepali engineers could be just as bright as his students in the US, given the right resources and training. However, despite the worldwide demand for AI engineers, specialised courses were not yet available in Nepali colleges and students had to go abroad.

All that is changing with the fellowship program that Fusemachines has launched in Nepal, on completion of which students receive a degree certified by Columbia. The one-year course gives students the opportunity to get world-class education in Artificial Intelligence. Says Maskey: “The aim is to help develop Nepal’s software workforce and enable companies to benefit from the power of machine learning. Our mission is to democratise AI.”

Fusemachine’s first batch in 2017 had more than 400 applicants for 27 seats. The 2018 course is currently in session in Kathmandu. Selected students get a $1,200 scholarship and are provided with in-house mentors previously trained under Maskey himself. Students work on online courses and get involved in research projects in the company.

Rupak Shrestha of Fusemachines Nepal says: “We want to be a platform where students can learn and implement their ideas.”

Pic: FusemachinesSameer Maskey of Fusemachines with his fellowship students during an orientation on research projects.

One of the 2017 fellowship students is 22-year-old Sushil Shakya who says that if it hadn’t been for Fusemachines he would have to switch to another subject, or go abroad.

Indeed, Fusemachine’s Situ Shrestha says one of the goals for the project is to reduce Nepal’s brain drainand build the country’s human resource capacity: “We want youngsters to learn, work and stay in Nepal, and by doing so, we also reduce the outflow of our young talent.”

Rojesh Shikhrakar, 25, is another fellowship student who completed his bachelor in Mechanical Engineering and is currently working on a drone-making project.

“Nepal has huge scope for drone application to overcome a lot of limitations that we have,” he says, “we can use drones to control and monitor traffic and crowds, deliver medicines to remote areas, or protect wildlife from poachers.”

Both Shakya and Shikhrakar want to stay on in Nepal after their fellowship to help other Nepali students. And Maskey is around to encourage them: “With proper training and guidance Nepal can someday produce AI and Machine Learning specialists who are as good, or even better, than elsewhere. We can give them the opportunity to work with global companies or build advanced AI systems for Nepali right here in Nepal.”