Published March 15, 2023
Sargur “Hari” Srihari was, in many ways, a visionary.
The professor of computer science taught machines to read handwriting, laying the groundwork for even more significant advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
So it’s fitting, says Kemper Lewis, dean of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), that Srihari’s name will be memorialized in, of all places, a conference room.
“Think about what happens in conference rooms. … These are where big problems are tackled, and transformational solutions are envisioned,” Lewis said. “Hari was a visionary, and I’m forever grateful that he was also a colleague.”
113Y Davis Hall will now be known as the Sargur Srihari Conference Room and feature a plaque and other items that commemorate Srihari’s legacy.
Located in SEAS’ signature building, the space was formally dedicated with a ceremony last week attended by Lewis and other university leadership, as well as Srihari’s colleagues, students and family.
“With this dedication, we recognize Hari’s outstanding contributions to our university, and in particular, our School of Engineering and Applied Sciences,” said UB President Satish Tripathi, also a professor of computer science. “This installation shows that Hari’s name will always have a place of prominence in our engineering school, just as his memory will always stay in our hearts.”
The ceremony came two days after the one-year anniversary of Srihari’s death. He died of complications from a glioblastoma at the age of 72.
For Jinhui Xu, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), it’s hard to believe that Srihair has already been gone for one year.
“His wisdom and kindness are dearly missed,” Xu said.
Born in Bangalore, India, Srihari devoted 45 years of service to UB and helped establish the university as a leading center for pattern recognition and machine learning. He founded the Center of Excellence for Document Analysis and Research (CEDAR), which received more than $60 million in funding over 25 years.
CEDAR conducted groundbreaking research for the U.S. Postal Service in the 1990s that led to machines reading handwriting on envelopes and paved the way for the handwriting-recognition technology used today in tablets and scanners.
The conference room that now bears Srihari’s name is shared by CEDAR and the Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors (CUBS).
Srihari would later help machines not only read handwriting, but determine who wrote it. His pioneering computational forensics research led to the first automated system, CEDAR-FOX, for determining whether two handwritten samples came from the same or different writers. This work, which eventually expanded to comparing fingerprints and footwear prints, had wide-ranging implications on criminal justice.
“His work was used everywhere,” Lewis said. “People leveraged it to solve even more complex problems.”
Despite his extensive research, Srihari remained dedicated to teaching, said his wife, Dr. Rohini Srihari, professor and associate chair of CSE.
“I watched him spend hours working on new lecture slides,” Rohini Srihari said. “He loved creating these and it was sometimes difficult to get him away from his desk.”
Srihari was equally dedicated to UB. His wife recalled that he had several opportunities to go elsewhere over the years, but enjoyed his work and the company of his colleagues too much to leave.
“He often commented that his professional success may not have been achievable had he been distracted by career moves and chasing new personal opportunities,” Rohini Srihari said.
To honor his dedication, the Sargur N. Srihari Graduate Fellowship in Computer Science and Engineering will be awarded to a student in CSE pursuing a doctorate in machine learning. Donations can be made to the Professor Sargur “Hari” Srihari Memorial Fund.
“We would like to thank all the people who have donated to the endowment fund, including many of Hari’s former students and friends,” Rohini Srihari said. “We hope that students who receive this fellowship demonstrate Hari’s thirst for advancing science.”
UB honored Srihari posthumously with the President’s Medal at the SEAS graduate commencement ceremony last May. A symposium was held on campus in his honor that same month.
Rohini Srihari said she’s glad that this latest honor will ensure her husband is permanently remembered in Davis Hall, but hopes “the real legacy of that room will be that students and faculty will be meeting there long into the future to discuss cutting-edge technologies, building on the work that he accomplished.”