Behind the scenes of AI Expo Africa with Chris Currin

Christopher Currin
May 8, 2018 · 5 min read

I am glad to see much-needed growth in AI within South Africa and across Africa over the past few years; with accelerating potential.

Judging from organising and speaking at the recent Deep Learning IndabaX Western Cape and attending the Deep Learning Indaba (2nd edition upcoming in Stellenbosch, Cape Town — including wine tasting!), I already directly see such talent and growth.

I have been privileged to talk at and/or organise a number of awesome events with the support of MIIA, Executive ML, Meetups, UCT, AIMS, and others.

The topics range from chatbots to general AI’s limits & impact to a computational neuroscience introduction.

In each topic I try to bring across both a technological and psychological perspective.

Part of the reason for the diversity is I have majored in Biochemistry, Psychology, and Computer Science, with advanced backgrounds in Neuroscience and Machine Learning…

Which is a pretty weird background…

But makes sense when I say I’m a PhD candidate in Computational Neuroscience at the University of Cape Town.
And founder of an AI/data science consultancy company, With Intelligence.
Plus a mentor for the School of AI at Udacity.
Representing Cape Town as part of City.AI
etc.

Computational neuroscience

It’s not important to know exactly what computational neuroscience is, but rather that it inspires and is inspired by AI.

That is, many neural network breakthroughs have come through ‘biological inspiration’. Further, the large heterogeneous data collected from the brain sciences have required development and application of advanced analytical techniques, including machine learning. Finally, there are biological ‘analogues’ of deep learning architectures that are used to study the brain from multiple scales.

AI: Implications and Impact

Note that the link above is to a past meetup.

It’s relatively easy to discuss an AI system that does X better than humans, but we should not ignore questions around how changes will come about, how AI and humans will interact, and what it means for many people who will be working with more and more ‘real’ AI.

We need more discussions on the human aspect of artificial intelligence

There’s a lot of, well, crap, sensationalist pieces that are ill-informed, secondhand translations, or grossly wrong.

In contrast to the sentence above, and to keep spirits up, an incredibly relevant piece from BusinessTech hints at how to proactively prepare for inevitable changes that AI brings: The jobs in South Africa most at risk of total digital automation — and the skills you need to learn to remain relevant.

As Ryan Falkenberg, CEO of Clevva and fellow speaker at AI Expo Africa, eloquotently says:

If we are to deliver on the exciting growth ambitions of President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team of lions, we need to invest more heavily in the development of solutions that augment, rather than simply replace humans.

We need to find ways to unlock jobs while dramatically improving productivity levels. This will require brave leadership from business and labour, as well as those within our education system capable of re-imaging the future of learning within the digital economy.

Augmented Intelligence: challenges and opportunities for AI in the workplace

AI Expo Africa is taking place in Cape Town from 9–11 Sept 2018

With the exponential growth of artificial intelligence, it seems it is touching almost every part of our lives. Where it will impact us the most is what we do for 8+ hours each day (and it’s not sleeping).

AI has the potential to replace most jobs, empower some, and create others. It is clear with state of the art narrow AI that it performs better than human. However, it is also known that an AI working with a human is better than just the AI. How will this relationship practically manifest in our day-to-day lives?

How will we shift job types, where will AI affect us the most, and what will it be like to work for an AI system?

With the large unemployment rate already present in South Africa, there are clear challenges to replacing people with algorithms; so how can we create productive replacement and enablement of jobs? Shall we heed Bill Gates’ warnings of rapid job loss as a catalyst for the destruction of humanity? Is there a ‘right’ way forward?

With the massive opportunities AI poses to the workplace, how can we realise its potential for changing our lives without changing our humanity

There are many inefficiencies in the workplace itself AI is starting to disrupt: from scheduling meetings to automatically sending a generated summary to all attendees afterwards. What’s the next disruption? And will you be prepared for it?

Looking to the future, how will we integrate with AI in the workplace? Will AI systems be slaves, the boss, or will Elon Musk’s vision for an integrated biological-AI system (‘NeuralLink’) be practical, realised, and useful?

These questions and related themes will be explored from a technological-psychological perspective that will be relevant for both employers and employees.

About Chris

Chris is applying data science techniques and AI algorithms to his PhD in Computational Neuroscience in the efforts of building a theoretical framework for understanding the brain. Passionate towards both AI and neuroscience research, Chris has found the perfect blend in computational neuroscience at the University of Cape Town. Chris hopes the greatest mystery of our time — the brain — can be ‘solved’ through the application of AI algorithms and theory to how we think, while at the time developing new AI algorithms inspired by neurobiological intelligence. As part of ongoing efforts to expand computational neuroscience in South Africa, he has been trained by and collaborated with researchers from establishments such as Oxford University, University College London, University of Cape Town, and Google DeepMind. When not applying AI to his PhD, Chris is mentoring AI Nanodegree students at Udacity, building scientific capacity in South Africa, and consulting as a machine learning specialist through With Intelligence, Q Division, and NumberBoost.

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