Colombo Machine Intelligence Meetup: Let’s get together and talk!

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I have been talking a lot about machine learning lately. It’s no coincidence things happened that way. Machine learning is what I am getting paid for and it is something that I really look forward.

As I wrote somewhere else, machine learning is taking over the world. Luckily it’s not machines taking over. One thing might lead to another. But we can discuss it later, hopefully we have some time. Machine intelligence (I prefer the term machine intelligence over artificial intelligence or machine learning for the mere reason; it sounds like both) is becoming a part of our lives day by day. It was inevitable and finally it is happening. From research to business, fiction to news. But as a country our readiness for this new wave of technology is quite questionable. Do we have a dedicated community or a place to meet and discuss about this prevailing topic anywhere in Sri Lanka? We have few closed spaces. But not an open space to talk about, share or learn machine intelligence.

When I was an intern at my current workplace one year ago, this idea hit me with a sudden awe; why don’t we have a meetup for machine intelligence yet!? For those who are not familiar with meetup.com, this is how Wikipedia introduces it.

“Meetup is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. Meetup allows members to find and join groups unified by a common interest, such as politics, books, games, movies, health, pets, careers or hobbies.”

This might not be the most innovative idea you have ever heard. But it works surprisingly well despite of its not-for-free model. We already have over 50 meetups in Sri Lanka on different topics. Naturally, most of them are related to technology. Tech folks catch up sooner than others. Personally I want to see meetups on other topics as well, preferably on science and literature. One year back in time we had meetups for almost every hyped-up technology: big data, cloud computing and IoT. Now we have meetups for lesser known topics too, such as Go language and Bitcoin. Yet no shadow of anything related to machine learning, artificial intelligence or data science. I shared this idea with few other machine intelligence enthusiasts I personally knew back then. They showed a huge interest in both initiating and contributing. And I became part of the WSO2 Machine Learner team. Still it took almost a year to materialize. Finally, we have a meetup on machine intelligence and this is how we introduce it to everyone.

“This meetup is for all researchers, industry experts, academics, students and enthusiasts who are passionate about this astounding field, MACHINE INTELLIGENCE. Want to learn more about machine intelligence theory and applications? Looking for your next research idea in AI? Looking for colleagues for your machine learning start up? Want to share your AI/ML knowledge and experience with wannabe experts? Trying to figure out best tools and and technologies for your analytics task? You think machine intelligence will be the next big thing? This is the place for you! Let’s get together and talk!”

Within few days the group has attracted few dozens of members even without spreading the word around. We can safely say that what we are trying to do was missing in the picture. We hope to achieve several goals/objectives through this meetup.

  • Create a collaborative platform for machine intelligence industry and researchers.
  • Encourage and support ongoing and new research in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • Share knowledge and recent advancements of machine intelligence.
  • Introducing opportunities and resources to the followers of this field.
  • Create a common platform to network with experts and enthusiasts.

These might sound bit serious, but what we are going to do is simply talk, share and learn. We already have people working on machine learning, artificial intelligence and data science in different ways. Most of the leading IT companies in Sri Lanka have started shipping machine learning components in their products, others following with R&D. Academics and researchers have been working in the field of AI for sometime. Students from both state and private universities have been showing a huge interest in learning basics and getting involved. But all these entities seem to be working in there own spaces, in isolation. Missing part here was the common ground to collaborate. A meetup fits into this gap perfectly, at least for now. It provides a space, most importantly offline, to meet and collaborate with peers who are involved and interested in a particular area. We are planning to focus on all the aspects of machine intelligence including theoretical background, research, tools, applications and opportunities. We will be having our first meetup very soon. And we will have no boundaries only the genuine interest in learning and popularizing this next big wave of technology. I’ll just drop an interview with Elon Musk a.k.a. real life Iron Man below and you will know what I’m talking.

All machine intelligence enthusiasts, unite!

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Transcendence of Nineteen Eighty-Four

My type of movie after quite some time, Transcendence. I hardly get movies of my type out of them most being very predictable which I consider a waste of my time. Post examination freedom at its best as it was just yesterday I faced the last paper of my university life. Unlike for most of them, big yay!, for me it’s a mixed feeling. Life is or was simple as a student. Anyway, Transcendence seemed to be very familiar even in its trailer with dialogues on AIs, singularity, quantum computing and neuroscience. But the affection began to fade when it started to sound like another typical action thriller half way through making a clear separation between blacks and whites. Yet the end made it back to the place where it deserve with a question to myself, “what do we really need?”. It could have been that majority type of movie if it ended with the AI not being Dr. Will Caster. But it is Dr. Will Caster and that raised the question. Well, now you need to watch to totally understand. It’s not something new to me that we are ignoring most of the fundamental questions of existence in our everyday life. We are provided with answers (?) for these by religions most of the time. Or we have selected to ignore them by our own choice because it is much easier. Once again, what do we need? In a plain view we all need perfection in everything. Think of it, we need governments to be perfect, economy to be perfect, our lives to be perfect. Yet what do you mean by perfect? Are we satisfied with perfection? Why utopianism and totalitarianism sound so terrible? Will we ever be able not to attain but even to define the perfection we are looking for? These questions just fascinated me for few hours outpacing thoughts on machine intelligence which I am ought to be fascinated. Acquisition of true intelligence by machines is not so far away as I see, at least they will soon imitate us in a precision that we cannot notice as Turing said. Nevertheless will it be enough? Anyone is interested in giving some heart to machines? No? Well, that’s rude don’t you think?

Ending a long wait, started reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. You think it is coincidence? Not really!

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