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


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, 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!


A tribute to few Hambayas we met on poya day

We were actually not lucky enough to reach our destination yesterday. But we could because of few Hambayas who helped us out.

Until we passed Mawanella on our way to hill country, everything was according to plan. And then the car broke down. First we thought it was trivial, and it could be unless yesterday was Vesak poya day. Things were not that easy on a public holiday which is celebrated by most in this country in one way or another. After asking from few, we were directed to a home garage managed by Irshad & Sons (who supported their dad with random hugs and screams). He could easily say “no” to us on such day but he said “yes” in the first place. Moreover it was not just “yes”, it was “we’ll find it and do it”.  We, or more precisely he, needed to find a belt to fix our ride. Again the fixing part was easy, finding that damned belt was the thing of the day! After a quick look and few calls, he hopped into his tuk-tuk with me for a ride which we hoped, would be the first and last of the belt rush. Sadly we were mistaken, a lot! It took a second time, third time, fourth time, fifth time and might be a sixth time, I can’t even remember how many times to Mawanella town and all around, to Motor shops, their owners houses and some random cousins’ houses looking for the belt! Each of these quick but long enough rides was followed by a time that Irshad was under my car checking whether the new one matches. All together it took good five hours and finally he was done! Meanwhile the only lady stayed at home was busy making everything home-like for my fiancée with what they got. Other ladies (Irshad’s brothers’ living nearby) were off to help dansala happening in the evening. According to Irshad’s words with pride, this time they are trying something new, Pol Roti with Katta Sambol. Last time it was manioc with Sambol.

In early hours I was bit worried about how much this long fixing would cost. But later on I was ready to give any amount he would ask. Shockingly when I asked for it his reply was “ganak balala denna” (you decide some fair amount)! I had to urge several times to get some amount out of his mouth and more shockingly it barely covered the cost of all our tuk-tuk rides! After handing some amount which I felt fair enough, we were literally out of words to thank him and his family. When we somehow put our thoughts into words, Irshad apologized for taking time to fix our ride. Well that was embarrassing! I’m so glad that I at least took some chocolate bars (she also really needed this) for those kids when I’m returning from our first tuk-tuk ride to town. Sadly we had to refuse their request to stay for lunch since we were already too late for our destination. Those godlike human beings just made our pilgrimage to Sri Dalada Maligawa possible. I wish I had a selfie or something with them to attach this post.

That’s one type of hambayas we meet in our everyday life. No matter whether you believe in Allah or Buddha, when you are only bounded by humanity, your beliefs won’t keep you away from doing good.

PS: If your car breaks down near Hingula, Mawanella ask for Irshad’s garage. He is at your service 24/7/365.