CENTAIC’s Transformation Under PAF NASTP

A Beacon of Progress in AI & Big Data Analytics

In the realm of Artificial Intelilgence and Big Data Analytics, CENTAIC stands as a pioneering force, evolving under PAF NASTP’s umbrella. Established in 2020, it grew into a hub for innovation, bridging academia, industry and government. This narrative unravels its transformative journey, marked by growth, collaboration and a commitment to shaping Pakistan’s AI future.

In a rapidly evolving world driven by technology, the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC) has emerged as a pioneering force in the realm of AI and Big Data Analytics. Established on August 26, 2020, CENTAIC has steadily grown into a dynamic hub for research and development, fostering innovation and contributing to the synergy between academia, industry, and government. This story unravels CENTAIC’s journey, its pivotal shift under the PAF NATIONAL AEROSPACE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Park (PAF NASTP), in order to shape the future of emerging technologies including AI in Pakistan.

Formal Shifting of CENTAIC under the Ambit of PAF NASTP

CENTAIC’s journey took a significant leap forward when it found a new home under the wings of the aspired Tech Division for Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics (AIBDA). This pivotal shift was formalized on July 14, 2021, following a directive from the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu NI(M). The move was necessitated by the institution’s need for a substantial pool of trained personnel in the niche field of AI, a requirement that extended beyond the capabilities of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) alone. Additionally, the financing needed for hiring accomplished AI developers was not feasible solely through the PAF’s resources.

The solution was found in the triple-helix model, a framework that fostered strong collaboration between academia, industry, and government. PAF NASTP’s emergence provided the ideal platform for this model to thrive, ensuring that CENTAIC had the resources and support required for its growth and development.

Growth as a Technical Division under PAF NASTP

Following its incorporation into PAF NASTP, CENTAIC not only became a gateway for hosting migrating PAF units but also expanded its role under the technical development roadmap (TDR). This roadmap included becoming an integral part of an Aerospace Science and Technology Park, positioning CENTAIC as a hub for collective growth and an enthusiastic host for PAF NASTP activities. As CENTAIC continued to serve as an organic unit of the PAF for operational projects, it evolved into a thriving institution with state-of-the-art facilities, including an auditorium, conference room, labs, classrooms, and a library. A notable addition was the Expo that showcased the journey of AI from its inception in 1957, to its recent global breakthrough, known as the AI spring.

Operational Commitments and Dividends for Key Capabilities of PAF

CENTAIC’s primary focus was on projects that optimized PAF operations, enhancing the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop. All projects underwent a rigorous approval process, ensuring that best practices were maintained. The institution had delivered prototypes and was expanding its research areas to explore algorithms from corporate and open source environments. The goal was to contribute not only to national defense but also to the broader national economy and humanitarian efforts.

Import Substitution in Defense Sector Projects Vs Revenue via Corporate Products

CENTAIC’s AI projects designed for PAF operations will play a crucial role in import substitution, reducing reliance on foreign technology. Simultaneously, AI and Big Data Analytics as a Technical Division of PAF NASTP had the potential to develop marketable products in collaboration with companies in the Alpha Techno-Square. The institution had established a robust training programme and offered internships to fresh graduates, fostering the development of AI talent in Pakistan.

Composition of CENTAIC

Before joining PAF NASTP, CENTAIC faced challenges in obtaining a formal establishment order. However, with the support of PAF NASTP, the institution now operated with a streamlined structure. CENTAIC comprised a dedicated team from various branches of the PAF, headed by an Air Commodore fighter pilot (GDP branch). The institution groomed top graduates from renowned institutions in Pakistan, providing them with mentors who were subject matter experts (SMEs) in the field of AI. CENTAIC had three key directorates such as the Directorate of AI Ops & Analytics, which was headed by Air Commodore Dr Salman Aslam, who was a PAF Engg Officer and a distinguished graduate from the USAFA and Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. This directorate focused on projects that optimized PAF operations and reduced cognitive workload.

The Directorate of Computer Vision & Natural Language Processing (NLP), was steered by PAF Engg Officer, Air Commodore Dr.  Syed Irteza, who was also a graduate from Georgia Institute of Technology. This directorate focused on projects related to object recognition in satellite imagery and natural language processing for speech transcription. Similarly, two Directorates of IT Support and Compute for Big Data were responsible for supporting high-performance computing requirements.

International Academic Footprint CENTAIC’s expertise extended beyond national borders, with its subject matter experts participated in international events and conferences. These collaborations had attracted expressions of interest from various national institutes, highlighting the institution’s growing international influence. Under the mandate of AIBDA, its SMEs had international representation at Bahrain in November, 2022 to attend conference for artificial intelligence (AI) usage in VR for flying training, active participation in IDEAS, 2022, seminar under the HEC council of NCAI.

Industrial Collaboration – Potential for Joint Ventures Collaboration with Turkish delegations during the 6th Joint Working Group meeting opened new doors for CENTAIC. Potential joint ventures were discussed, including the establishment of a Joint TAI AI Lab (JTAL) at CENTAIC, focusing on reinforcement learning in AI for autonomous operations of aerial platforms. These collaborations held immense potential for rapid mutual development in the field of AI. In continued on-line collaboration, specific interest was expressed in Reinforcement Learning in AI that could aid in Autonomous Operations of aerial platforms in emerging warfare involving highly contested future battlespace posing risk to human lives.

Futuristic Foray

CENTAIC, under PAF NASTP-AIBDA, was poised for significant growth and innovation. Detailed plans for year-wise expansion and investment areas were in place. Today, the institution is well-positioned to generate a wide array of AI-related products in collaboration with emerging PAF NASTP chapters across Pakistan such as at Kamra, Karachi, Lahore and Kharian. International collaborations through Joint AI Lab (JTAL) along with growth of NGFA framework can provide a platform for continued evolution of AI products according to emerging challenges. A robust AI governance framework ensures ethical and responsible AI usage, contributing to national security and various sectors of the economy. CENTAIC is committed to harnessing the full potential of artificial intelligence in shaping a brighter future for Pakistan and beyond.

CENTAIC’s journey from its provisional establishment to becoming a powerhouse in AI and Big Data Analytics is a testament to its dedication, innovation, and its role in advancing Pakistan’s technological landscape. Its partnership with PAF NASTP has not only fueled its growth but has also opened up new avenues for international collaboration and joint ventures. As the institution continues to evolve, it remains dedicated to the responsible and ethical use of AI, contributing to national security and the betterment of society as a whole.

The transformational technology can justify its usage by contribution to improve processes in industry for poverty alleviation, food security and advance forecasting for disaster management. It can provide relief to humanity in the form of healthcare imaging diagnostics, combinatorial algorithms for prevention of common diseases / pandemic spread. Research platforms provided by PAF NASTP can join hands with national Govt and Academia to aspire effective Helix model to harness the true potential of Artificial Intelligence.