WeAreDevelopers AI Congress Vienna 2018
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more than just a popular buzzword—it is already out there surrounding us everyday and almost everywhere. Since the company I work for is always trying to be up to date when it comes to new developments in the tech field, they of course sent me and my colleague Jochen Kleboth to this years WeAreDevelopers AI Congress in Vienna.
What Was It All About?
Set in the historic Hofburg, the former residence of Austrian Kings and Emperors, the conference was heavily focused on human-machine interactions and tried to answer questions such as: Can we trust decisions made by a computer program? How to deal with decision bias? And much more in this direction.
The Artificial Intelligence Congress revolves around the interaction between humans and machines. From trusting and rationalizing the black box, to improving the interface through which we communicate with the models.
More than 50 speakers from all around the globe spoke from December 4–5, 2018 about the joys of Artificial Intelligence and everything that is possible now and in the near future. The congress hosted speakers from companies such as Google, IBM, Spotify, and Microsoft who are definitely on top of their game when it comes to this particular topic.
There are a few examples where AI is in use already and I listed some of the most popular here to give you a better feeling of what this congress was dealing with in general.
- Apple’s Siri
The assistant that people fell in love with. Apple managed to create something that captured the user in a unique way, the friendly sounding voice-activated computer helps us to find information, gives us directions, calls our moms whenever we feel like it, and adds events to our calendars when we tell it to. Siri uses machine-learning to get better and be able to predict and understand our requests, questions, and orders better by the day.
The money making machine. Based on our online behavior, the Amazon algorithm has gotten better and better in predicting what we want to buy online just when we need it. The goal is to ship the products to a certain country even before the need for it actually arises there. They are not quite there yet, but it is just a matter of time.
It shows you what you want. Netflix managed to create a highly accurate predictive technology based on customer’s reactions to films. The more people are using Netflix, the smarter this algorithm gets.
The future is now! From a technological point of view, the Tesla car company is more than exciting. The predictive capabilities this machine has are simply great and better than anything else we see at the market today. Sure, there might be better solutions in the pipeline somewhere, but as of now, Tesla sets the pace for this technology.
You simply cannot have a list about AI without Google. The search engine itself, Google Home, Nest—which adjusts the temperature in the room you are in, based on what it has learned about you and your previous behavior. And there is a lot more.
Usually, at such congresses one hears a lot about the technical possibilities of AI, but one hardly hears anything about the ethical implications of these new technologies. This time, it was different. I’ve heard a lot about the ethical issues that can arise. What was really outstanding for me in this context was the lecture by Prof. Moshe Vardi from Rice University. He drew comparisons between the world of science-fiction and the here and now. To him, computing is not a game anymore, it brings with it not only societal benefits, but also significant societal costs such as labor polarization, disinformation, and smart-phone addiction. The issue is how to deal with technology’s impact on society. Technology is driving the future, but who is doing the steering?
Another thing that is unique to this conference, at least to my knowledge, is the possibility to do workshops. Usually workshops are after conferences or you have to pay extra money to join them. But at this event you have the opportunity to join great ones in the course of the congress. I attended a workshop on the second day of the AI Congress, which was hosted by Microsoft and had the title „Infuse your platforms with AI„. This gave me some new insights and motivated me even more to do more with AI in my daily field of work.
Actually, this is one of the key points I took away from this event—all the big tech companies, such as Oracle, Microsoft, or Amazon, are not just working on AI solutions, they are making it key elements of their businesses right now. They are all implementing it in their core systems and make it an integral part of what their software is. But of course, there is a downside to this as well. Making AI’s decisions comprehensible is a big issue and blind trust in AI could become a problem. If, for example, you handle a tax case and the machine says that it is an EU tax law problem, why should we trust it and not be sure that it only violates an Austrian tax law? The point is that AI still is far from perfect and we need to make sure the outcome is not flawed, or we might put our trust in the wrong person.
Another view from Jochen Kleboth
I was accompanied by my valued colleague Jochen Kleboth, who is the mastermind behind Intact Analytics, an AI driven business intelligence solution for the TIC market (Testing, Inspection, Certification). He was kind enough to share his thoughts about this event with us for this article. You can find them below in his very own words.
The Reason to Be There
There is no field that grows as fast as the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI summarizes buzzwords like self-driving cars, intelligent machines, machine learning, and data science. It is a new and exiting field—human mankind faces a revolution and this is as big as the invention of the steam machine. But as exiting and promising this field may be, it also raises ethical and societal questions such as will machines take over the work of millions of people? What happens with my personal data? Will a social credit system decide if I am allowed to buy a house or even leave the country?
Since I am developing AI myself, I need to stay on top of the developments in AI and also want to discuss the impact of this technology with peers. Conferences like the AI congress of the WeAreDevelopers group in Vienna last week are a great place to do exactly that.
The conference covered topics from ethics and open source in AI, deep dives in technical developments and case studies from a variety of fields. It was fascinating to see how people from all disciplines—from food production to health care, from neuroscience to finance, and many more—were talking about what they have already achieved in their fields with intelligent systems.
We are surrounded by AI in our everyday life already. There are intelligent chatting partners, commonly known as bots, who help you when you want to order something on a website. We use music recommendation systems like Spotify, which analyze customer patterns and predict the best fitting next song or artist for a certain moment. But there are also systems used by telecommunication providers to optimize their resources when the demand is foreseeable higher than usual, for example at Christmas.
There are still many topics and questions we need to find answers for. Having a tool like AI doesn’t necessarily mean that we completely understand it. One example is that AI has become very good at face recognition and image classification. The questions is how? Scientists are still trying to wrap their heads around this. But it all comes back to the basic question: why does an Artificial Intelligence what it does? There is much research going on in this field and I can’t wait to see the results.
Another topic that was controversially discussed was the possibility of democratizing tools and data. Who owns data and algorithms anyway? The Ocean Protocol for example is implementing a decentralized data marketplace, trying to take away some power from the big players a.k.a. Alphabet (Google), Facebook, and Amazon.
Ocean Protocol is a non-profit foundation designing and implementing a decentralised data marketplace. In this talk, I will demo the features available to Data Engineers, how you can partake in the decentralised data and AI ecosystem, and the roadmap until our ethereum mainnet release. Ocean Protocol aims to break down data silos through equitable, universal, and secure access. The problem: Large companies have a data advantage in the ongoing artificial intelligence revolution. With huge amounts data feeding AI models, there is an incentive to keep this data in-house and gain a competitive advantage. Given that more data often yields better AI, there are solutions which smaller companies and innovators can unlock if they had access to more data. The solution: Ocean Protocol tackles this challenge with a decentralized marketplace for data and AI services. Data providers are incentivized to open their data, and data consumers will gain seamless access to a new world of data, be it big data from a large corporation, or an aggregate of small datasets.
The discussion on these topics at the congress were inspiring. However, there is no real answer to any of them. On the one hand we need drivers and inventors in the field of AI with a huge budget. On the other hand it should be open to the public to a certain extent as well. Politics have to find regulations that benefit both: people and business.
As for the understanding of AI we will need two things: more research and development, and a new culture with the way we use and trust technology. From my own experience, I can say that new applications, especially predictive applications, were not very well received. It might be because it is a new approach, it sometimes might even be a bit creepy to predict the future. But it will be a part of our lives and we need to not blindly trust machines but make them partners in our daily decision making. Artificial Intelligence does not mean that we can stop thinking—they are made so that we as humans can start to think on a new, advanced level.
The Reason to Go Again
The conference definitely supported my daily work as a data and analytics manager. A conference visit is always worthwhile if it broadens your horizon and is a great enrichment for your daily work. The conference definitely did both. I look forward to the challenges ahead!