Professor Anil Kumar JAIN Professor Anil Kumar JAIN
Professor Anil Kumar Jain

Doctor of Science, honoris causa (2022)

In Shenzhen, a mother shaved the heads of her quadruplet sons so that their hair showed the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively. But can a computer tell the boys apart if their heads weren’t numbered?

If you show a computer a photo of the Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, followed by a caricature and a painting of Gandhi, can a computer tell that those are different representations of the same person?

Such pattern recognition problems in biometrics are just part of Professor Anil Jain’s expertise. His interest in artificial intelligence though started way before we installed lamp posts that can identify us, or e-channels where your fingerprints are all you need to go through immigration.

Born in Uttar Pradesh in India, Anil K Jain was only two years old when the father of computer science Alan Turing posed this question in 1950: can machines think? Can computers pretend to be humans via a keyboard or a screen? Professor Jain has spent a lifetime exploring that question.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in 1969, Anil Jain went on to write a thesis titled “Some Aspects of Dimensionality and Sample Size Problems in Statistical Pattern Recognition” for his doctorate degree at Ohio State University in 1973. After a brief period at Wayne State University in Detroit, he became a professor in the Department of Computer Science at Michigan State University, and today, as a Distinguished Professor there.

Over the years, Professor Jain has received a long list of international awards including the W. Wallace McDowell Award, the highest honour awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Humboldt Research Award, and the IAPR King-Sun Fu Prize. He was also a member of the US National Academies panels on Information Technology, Whither Biometrics and Improvised Explosive Devices. He also served on the US Defense Science Board, the Forensic Science Standards Board, and the AAAS Latent Fingerprint Working Group. Professor Jain is a member of the United States National Academy of Engineering, Foreign Member of the Indian National Academy of Engineering and The World Academy of Sciences. In 2019, Professor Jain was elected a Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

His publications include the Encyclopaedia of Biometrics, the Handbook of Face Recognition and the Handbook of Fingerprint Recognition, all of which are widely used by students and academics in computer science worldwide. Professor Jain has also received multiple best paper awards, including one titled “Face Spoof Detection With Image Distortion Analysis” from the IEEE Signal Processing Society in 2015. That was not long after using Meitu became common practice for those who wish to make their faces more appealing on the internet.

Professor Jain has published over 280 papers and his citation impact is the highest among computer scientists worldwide. He has supervised some 50 doctorate students, many of whom are from overseas, including China. The majority of his students specialise in face and fingerprint recognition, in videos, in touchless imaging, and more recently, in defence against physical and digital attacks.

Professor Jain also holds several patents, most of which dealing with apparatus and methods for recognising fingerprints. All of his patents have been licensed to various companies. This is highly relevant in Professor Jain’s home country of India where the government has, over the past decade, been utilising their large biometric database of over 1.4 billion residents to ensure that social services are delivered to eligible residents in a timely fashion. The development of artificial intelligence, for Professor Jain, goes way beyond coming up with increasingly complex deep networks and recognition algorithms that can handle ever bigger databases. The future of AI, he said in one lecture, lies in combining human knowledge with data driven approaches. Machines, he believes will be able to combine their own hypotheses with verified hypotheses. That means a machine should be able to tell that a caricature of a bald man with gold rim glasses, in the right context, is indeed Gandhi, India’s non-violent independence leader. It is about access to labelled data so that a machine can tell the quadruplets apart just from their biometrics at birth. But more importantly, as Professor Jain pointed out, artificial intelligence should improve human lives. Machines should be able to protect us from adversarial attacks and safeguard our privacy. They should be able to explain their decisions. In a court of law, for example, if biometrics are used in coming up with a verdict, that computer decision should be transparent. And most of all, Professor Jain hopes that AI can be used for global good, to improve the lives of the poorest one billion people in our world who are making less than two US dollars a day.

We have come a long way since Turing’s Imitation Game. The internet has amassed data, created a connected world and given voice to the voiceless worldwide. Then there are those who worry that artificial intelligence will take away jobs and deprive us of purpose. But being at the top of a scientific discipline is about having vision beyond the obvious. In computer science, it is about knowing that computers, like humans, will have a future that we cannot even begin to imagine, a partnership between man and machine. That is Professor Anil Jain. Over the past 25 years, he has given numerous talks around the world with titles such as “Infant ID: Fingerprints for Global Good”, “Biometrics: Past, Present and Future” and “Why, What and How We Democratise Data Science”.

Here at Hong Kong Baptist University, Professor Jain first visited us in 2007 for a talk on pattern recognition. He returned between 2014 and 2019 to share his research findings and to collaborate with our students and faculty. Between 2015 and 2018, Professor Jain served as a Departmental Academic Advisor in the strategic development of our Computer Science Department. In 2021, Professor Jain received an honorary doctorate from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. That was in addition to at least 19 awards and fellowships he already received around the world. Today, we have the honour here at Hong Kong Baptist University to add to that list. We honour Professor Anil Jain as a Doctor of Science, honoris causa.