A few days ago I attended a Meet-Up that meets monthly at PeopleSpace in Irvine, CA called “Applied Artificial Intelligence and Analytics”. The leaders of the group are working to gather people working and interested in AI (artificial intelligence), and form a community. Below is a description of my experience:
PeopleSpace is a cool maker-space! As you walk in, there are rows of 3D printers, tools, a nerf-gun wall, plenty of open space, and even some houseplants (kept alive with an automated system including a pH monitor, of course). I grabbed a seat and immediately launched into conversation with others attending the meeting. Some attendees were entrepreneurs, some were data scientists, and others were graduating students looking for work. The demographics of the attendees were as I had expected; I was one of two women who were attending out of about 30 people. (Where are all the women on a Thursday night?!)
After a round of introductions, the first presenter discussed his project: Donkey Car. Donkey Cars are autonomous RC cars! Visit the link for more details.
There are communities who build these cars and race them! It seems like such a neat project to learn AI, and, specifically reinforcement learning (RL). RL means the car teaches itself, so you don’t have to train the car for up to 30 minutes!
The presenter also showed a similar league to the Donkey Cars: AWS Deepracer League. Hosted by Amazon, this league has tournaments too that seem to be like Nascar for programmers.
(Also, where are all the women in this league? Maybe I need to sign up.)
These autonomous RC cars are just so awesome! And, on that note, Tesla does have little cars. This may be the only Tesla I can afford, but I am not sure its range cannot get me to work and back. Maybe I can make that mini-Tesla autonomous as a side project! (haha)
Back to the event:
The second speaker gave the Graves-Ransato presentation from NeurIPS2018. The presentation was an introduction to self-supervised learning (which means that the computer teaches itself). While this technique is incredibly powerful and saves a lot of time, it is difficult to assess why a computer outputs a certain answer. There’s a push for self-supervised learning, but we need to know why AI made the decisions it did. For instance, if your AI outputs that you need to make X business decision, how would you know the associated level of risk? Why X and not Y? Currently, there’s a big need for a language so that AI can tell us why it decided X, and not Y or Z.
The presentation also discussed Neural Network models. An example of a neural network model is the auto-text we have in our messaging app on our phones. Based on previous words, and the data the computer has on what people typically type in a sentence, the computer suggests what your next word may be!
What really caught my attention was WAVENET!!! WaveNet is a deep neural network for generating raw audio waveforms (so, it’s sound and tech, of course I’m interested!). This technology covers anything from speech to music!
PixelRNN is another technology that generates pixels using deep neural networks. It’s crazy how close the computer comes to guessing the original image (completions) from the occluded image!
After the presentation, my main question was: how to get started learning more!
After choosing one, start with artificial neural network or start with a decision forest.
After the talks, I got to speak more with the presenters and attendees! Everyone was so welcoming and friendly! It was a great intro to AI, and I look forward to attending more events like these in the future.
After gathering Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) data all day at work, I drove over to University of California, Irvine (UCI) Applied Innovation (The Cove) for a talk. I stumbled upon this event while reading through my emails; it was advertised as a combination of ART and SCIENCE and ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) and TECH and INTELLIGENCE. I had to attend! I even invited a few friends!
I grabbed some cookies, a cup of water, entered the room, grabbed a seat with a friend, and as I sat proceeded to spill the cup of water on me. The room was cold, and I knew this talk was either going to be the beginning of a frigid 2-hour nightmare, or the best decision of 2019.
Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneu started off the talk discussion their work as Professors at the University of Art and Design in Linz, Austria, where they also head the Department for Interface Culture at the Institute for Media. I immediately knew I wanted to be their best friend when they starting showing their work:
Interactive PLANTS that grow when you touch them?!? (or, at least the projection grows) They literally connected electrodes to plants, transforming the plants into sensors. SO FREAKING COOL.
They also had made this interactive exhibit where this screen that looked like it had flies buzzing all around. When you stood in front, the flies would take on your image.
Their work is truly inspiring and thought provoking to me. I’m typing frantically late at night to get my thoughts out, so I may not be eloquent in my descriptions, but perhaps my word-vomit may convey my initial reaction.
At first I felt like I had seen these types of interactive exhibits before, and I was less enthused, but then I realized if I ever saw a fly after having seen my image in the above exhibit, the fly would remind me of my own image.
I also realized that the exhibit with the plants displays a natural reaction humans have to plants, but humans have forgotten in modern-times: curiously touching plants. I remember sitting in my drive-way in Houston, Texas as a 5, 6, 7 year-old, and touching the plants that grew up through the cracks in the pavement. They were the types of plants that would close their leaves, like a book closing, when touched. I would be frustrated that the plant wouldn’t open back up immediately; I had to wait for it to open again before I could close it.
I don’t touch plants too often anymore, although I do literally stop and smell roses whenever I can. It’s my ongoing goal to be more present and mindful, so smelling flowers is a little way I reach that goal daily.
Anyway, Christa and Laurent’s talk really threw me back to when I created my own interactive sound-designed spaces in a sound design course I took in college at California State University, Long Beach. I loved the idea of making a space respond to those in it in a way that was spontaneous and educational or thought-provoking. Their work is fascinating; I must learn more!
The next talk was delivered by Leila Entezam (pictured above), who has a background in psychology and counseling, but focuses on teaching and mentoring in emotional intelligence. She also focuses on emotional intelligence as it relates to AI and other tech. She discussed the importance of brands triggering all of people’s senses to make their product memorable, relatable, and on people’s minds when they FEEL, SEE, HEAR, TOUCH, SMELL, TASTE something. She also discussed how you should know your audience intimately so that you understand how certain imaging or messaging will affect them. For instance, a picture of fire may be viewed as more negative by a Californian affected by a wildfire.
The way Leila delivered her message REALLY demonstrated how she puts her knowledge to practice. She was an excellent public speaker, and engaged the audience throughout her presentation. I felt like her eyes were peering into my soul when she called on me to answer a question. Her bio states that she coaches people to use emotions to increase engagement, and she certainly does. I was a little caught off guard! But that’s ok. I like being pushed out of my comfort zone. So, thank you, Leila.
Jeffery Krichmar spoke next. He’s a professor at UCI in the Department of Cognitive Sciences and the Department of Computer Science, and specializes in designing adaptive algorithms. He creates neurobiologically plausible network simulations, and constructs brain-based robots whose behavior is guided by neurobiologically inspired models. PRETTY COOL, right?
Jeff, I figure I can call him Jeff since we spoke after and I made him chuckle, so Jeff asked the audience “can you put empathy in an artificial system?” He discussed how he created robots that have anxiety and OCD by manipulating algorithms that act as a substitute for different chemicals in our system (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline…). (I just realized it’d be cool if my name was Sarah, and I could go by Sarah-tonin as a nick-name.) So, when the robots had “low dopamine”, they would be scared and cower in the corner, but when the robots had “high dopamine” they were brave and moved all around their habitat FEARLESSLY.
It’s really interesting to see people like Jeff creating tech inspired by discoveries like biology and psychology. Of course, today these technologies are in their infancies (as are our understanding of the biological and psychological processes they mimic)! He commented that there is a new field emerging: neuromorphic engineering. GOOGLE IT. He also discussed morphological computation: certain processes in the body free up space for brain processing (like smart designs of the robot body).
He concluded with “biology is the way to go to make truly cognitive systems.” Our current computers made of transistors and silicon ain’t going to be able to mimic how neural networks work. I did some research during my brief period in a PhD program on memristor technology. (I was going to embed a video on memristors, but from a 2 second search they were all BORING. Memristors are FREAKING AWESOME.). In my doctoral research I was developing the tools to investigate memristor materials on the nanoscale with a Kelvin Probe Force Microscope (KPFM)! Turns out, fun fact, memristor materials are also used as materials in batteries.
THIS IS WHY I NERDED OUT ALL OVER THIS TALK! INTERACTIVE DESIGN AND NEURAL NETWORK COMPUTING MATERIALS WHICH ARE BATTERY MATERIALS HELLO THESE GIVE ME LIFE.
I spoke with him after the talk to see if he knew about any advancements in memristor (and neural network computing) technology (materials), and the short answer was NO. I’m disappointed but not surprised because this research is new and difficult and only researchers at national labs really work on it. We don’t understand the physics of related phenomena. It’s crazy. If you know where I can actually find more information (like publications on this topic), please send them to me! THANK YOU.
Scott Sandland (woah that last name is amazing) spoke last, but not least at all! He’s CEO of Cyrano.ai, the company that will doom your next car-buying negotiation. His company uses neurolinguistic (woah that word) insights with machine learning to create artificial empathy systems. ARTIFICIAL EMPATHY SYSTEMS. WUT THE WUT. So, basically, his tech listens to you talk/write/breath and then KNOWS your feelings from what you say/write. So, if you go in to buy a car, his tech is able to tell whether you’re wanting to negotiate and buy the car, or just being polite and trying to leave. His tech measures 80 dimensions to the mental and emotional processes. (That’s 80! (factorial, but also excitement) possibilities).
Right now he is working on analyzing depositions (one I saw in his presentations had to do with a Catholic priest molestation trial). Wow, this took a dark turn.
The Q&A session was great! I’m tired of typing now, so I’ll wrap this up with bullet points:
prejudices come through with generative systems – it happened with parole.
Poorly written AI costs people’s jobs and LIVES. Bad AI for university admissions is a PROBLEM.
tech is affecting how people interact with each other (poor soft skills)
Afterward I stayed and talked to Jeff and Christa. Christa was excited about my enthusiasm, and gave me her business card and told me to come to this conference: http://aec.at/
HOLY MOLY I WANT TO GO TO ARS ELECTRONICA. AND DOES THAT MAKE CHRISTA AND I BFFs???
When I thanked David Familian for hosting the event, he mentioned that I looked familiar and if I had been to previous talks they’ve been hosting. I realized when writing his name just now that he may have been seeing if I knew his name because I could have TOTALLY made a pun about how I must seem familiar because his name is Familian – but I’m too tired to think of that pun. It would have been glorious, and he would have DEFINITELY heard it before. David told me I had just missed the creator of Jitter who came to talk at the previous event (*me sobbing because regret of missed opportunity*).
I was one of the last 3 people to leave the room. That’s how excited I was about this. It’s my New Years resolution to be more social, and I am KILLING IT.