The Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz has appointed Adwait Ratnaparkhi, former director of voice and natural language understanding R&D at Roku, as executive director of the new master’s degree program in Natural Language Processing.
Ratnaparkhi has over 20 years of experience as a researcher and manager at companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Nuance, and at startups such as 33Across, where he served as chief scientist. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.S.E. in computer science from Princeton University. At Roku, Ratnaparkhi developed natural language understanding and conversational AI technologies.
“I’ve spent a long time in Silicon Valley hiring natural language processing engineers,” he said. “I think I can turn that experience around, designing a curriculum that will prepare students to get those jobs.”
Natural language processing (NLP) involves creating computer programs that can understand, generate, or learn from human language. Chatbots and voice assistants created with NLP technology mimic the way humans communicate with one another, allowing people to more quickly and comfortably adapt to new devices or software.
Ratnaparkhi predicts demand for NLP tools will increase rapidly as new industries embrace the technology. He said he foresees a proliferation of smaller, customized voice assistants that will require NLP engineers and programmers.
“My other goal for the program is to prepare students for the unknown,” Ratnaparkhi said. “I want our students to be able to enter a new realm and create an artificial intelligence from scratch.”
UC Santa Cruz is becoming an important center of NLP expertise. “There’s a lot of great NLP work being done here,” Ratnaparkhi said. “I’m excited to join Professors Marilyn Walker and Jeffrey Flannigan. With the existing NLP research happening in the Ph.D. program, there’s a critical mass of interesting synergies that can happen.”
The M.S. degree program in natural language processing is a one-year program, beginning in the fall quarter. The program includes a three-quarter capstone project in which students will receive real-world experience working in small groups on an industry-relevant, challenging NLP problem.
Ratnaparkhi will direct the capstone project, reach out to industry and establish partnerships, lead marketing and student outreach efforts, and teach courses as a lecturer.
Classes will be located at the UCSC Silicon Valley Campus once the county’s shelter-in-place order is lifted.
“We’re really in the heart of the action here, within arm’s reach of the major AI companies, so it’s easy for students to reach out for internships or to make industrial collaborations,” Ratnaparkhi said.
The program is aimed towards recent graduates interested in developing technical skills in NLP as well as mid-career professionals hoping to acquire skills or transition to a new industry.
Applications for the 2019-2020 M.S. program are being accepted until July 15, 2020. More information about the M.S. in Natural Language Processing at UC Santa Cruz is available online at grad.soe.ucsc.edu/nlp.