John Thangarajah is fascinated by the fast paced evolution of technology and how we can use Artificial Intelligence technology to improve our everyday lives.
John has worn many hats in his time at RMIT. Starting off as a PhD student, he's been President of the RMIT cricket club, and is now Professor in Artificial Intelligence and Associate Dean of Computer Science and Software Engineering.
“What drew me to computers as a kid was the ability to make machines do things. I liked being able to talk to a machine in a programming language and code it, I thought that was superhero stuff.
“Growing up in Sri Lanka I always loved maths, science and computation. I moved to Melbourne to study at RMIT in 1997 and I’ve been with the university almost ever since. Looking back now I think I’m very fortunate to have chosen RMIT because of the opportunities I’ve had here.
"I truly believe I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities if I’d gone elsewhere. The opportunities and the people I’ve worked with are two of the main things that have kept me here. I started as a student and I’m now the head of the department, so I have to pinch myself sometimes."
In the Masters of Artificial Intelligence John has a strong focus on teaching students how AI can benefit society.
“AI is not about replacing humans. We want to build AI that extends and enhances our human abilities and lifestyle. In the new Masters of AI the first subject students take will train them to understand what it means to be an AI professional in society today and about the ethics of AI."
John is hoping to enter his team of 13 humanoid robots to the RoboCup international soccer competition next year.
“If we qualify we’ll be only the third Australian university to take part and the final will be in Bordeaux, France. Another very cool robot I've got is a robot dog, he’s a social robot so he interacts with humans. That’s really good in environments with kids with spectrum disorders or autism where they might struggle to interact with others as studies have shown that pets are useful in helping kids socialise.”
John started the RMIT cricket club in 2002 and credits it with some of his happiest times at the university.
“Cricket played a part in my decision to move to Melbourne from Sri Lanka. I started the RMIT cricket club with a mate of mine because we saw so much talent in the student and staff here. I've been president, coach and captain of the team and it's been one of my highlights here.
"I've made lifelong friends and it was great during my PhD to have work life balance with my Saturdays purely for playing cricket to take my mind off everything.
"One of my major achievements was when RMIT became the education partner with the Melbourne Renegades. I’m the RMIT spokesperson for the partnership and we’re doing some interesting projects together using AI technology.”
John uses the RMIT Ready for Life and Work Strategy as a framework for embedding his courses with strong industry connections, in line with the mission of RMIT University to prepare students for workplaces that are rapidly evolving and to play a part in shaping a changing world.
“We really take the RMIT Strategy to heart and that’s what makes our programs unique. We form industry partnerships that matter to our students by not just using those industry tools and technologies but actually embedding them in our subjects. We have a world-first collaboration with Microsoft to co-deliver the Mixed Reality course, and we're partnering with Amazon to use their online platform in the AI Innovation Lab for a Programming Autonomous Robot course.
“The technology sector changes every day so we have to ensure we’re keeping up with the technology and education sectors to deliver a cutting edge student experience.
"What’s next for me is launching the AI Innovation Lab and continuing to explore opportunities for how we can use AI to better help society.”
Acknowledgement of country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer