Organizing First ever Artificial Intelligence meetup in Nepal
Everything starts with an idea. A year back I was a web developer and a designer. I am a curious fellow but I was uncertain whats next for me. Then I stumbled upon Artificial Intelligence, mostly through my facebook and twitter feeds. I had to know what it was all about, so I did. I took some courses on Machine Learning online, started practicing using python and it took me about a year or so to finally understand popular concepts and able to implement applications of deep learning using frameworks such as Keras and PyTorch. It has been an amazing learning experience.
But that is not all of the story. While I was learning through materials online, I realized this huge gap of knowledge. About things that are being taught on these courses and the things I already knew. Topics, they look very familiar, linear algebra, matrices, calculus and all the basic stuffs which I think are already covered in high school maths. But the way they are taught is totally different. I was never taught these topics from application point of view and I think that is mostly the case for anyone in Nepal. So in a way while learning Machine Learning I was re-learning the math itself.
I remember while taking one of those courses, I had to go back to my old basic mathematics book and re-read some of the chapters from it and practice examples to fully understand what the lecturer was talking about. I also realized its not entirely my fault. If I had paid more attention during my classes may be I could have understood them better but who knows.
So I thought may be after basically knowing what its all about and actually learning the concepts behind it, I could explain them in a better and more easier way to the students and enthusiasts who are facing similar problems that I faced while learning AI.
To tackle this problem and to make AI/Deep Learning education more accessible in context of Nepal, I started this facebook group called Developer Sessions.
We held a meetup on July targeted mostly to IT students and developers. Decent number of attendees were there and there I talked mostly about Deep Neural Networks in an assumption that they have certain level of idea about AI and Deep Learning. I found that most of them have heard about these technologies but haven’t completed any online courses because they could not get through first few lectures due to similar problems that I faced while learning myself.
The problem was real. They were interested but they didn’t know how to get started and mostly scared of all these math terms, concepts and terminologies.
We made a simple plan, we organized a 2-day workshop on Deep Learning prerequisites, where I would go through all those stuffs that are very essential on deep learning and the stuffs that they were scared of initially, in such a manner that they could easily understand them, like when a friend explain to you something before the examination begins and you quickly get this mental picture of what that thing is about.
The plan was to make the participants of that workshop familiar with just enough theory of deep learning and give them implementation knowledge and hands on experience using popular frameworks, like Keras and PyTorch. So that when they take actual courses on deep learning they don’t get scared and things start to make sense to them.
It worked, some of them even took one or two courses after that. Some began following blogs and tutorials online and started implementing model using those frameworks. Overall it was good and people appreciated it.
But in that workshop there were not enough people and lot of people were facing the problem. And further more that workshop was on one particular topic, deep learning. If I truly want to explain to them what this AI is, I needed to show them the ecosystem of AI.
After that workshop I got this opportunity from Intel to become its AI student Ambassador. I shared my ideas with Intel about the workshops and meetups in future and they really liked it and agreed to support them.
That assurance boosted my energy and we a team of AI enthusiasts from Developer Sessions began formulating plans for our next meetup. The idea was to introduce attendees about AI, Machine Learning and its ecosystem, about usage of data, how companies are implementing it, how they are related to big data and future of education in Nepal with AI in focus.
Various speakers from diverse fields such as Open Knowledge/Data Initiative, STEM Education, professionals and researchers who are already working on machine learning in their work were introduced. This showed the crowd about how they can get started in Machine Learning, taught them importance of data and its availability and got them introduced to different technologies related to AI.
I was surprised and amazed by the support and interest that we got for this event. About 1K people were interested in this event. Within 12 hour of announcement on Facebook the event was already booked. We had to convert it to a 2-shift event to maximize the participation.
Around 140 people were there in actual event. This was something totally new to me and my friends who helped me organized this event. Especially in context of Nepal this is very unexpected.
In the past there were successful tech meetups but I don’t think that they stirred up this much conversation among people. May be its due to the fact that the whole event was centered around AI and not just one or two particular talks about it. We never would have guessed this level of interest and participation.
This event taught me few things. Without this event I would have never came across people who share similar interest in this field like me. I would have never known there are people in Nepal practicing AI and Machine Learning for more than 3 or 4 years now. Which is totally amazing. This event enabled me to connect with these guys and share our vision for the future of AI and education in Nepal.
Event like this has profound importance in our community. Nepal and especially Kathmandu is a very small community, but with event like this, it makes us believe that there are many people like us, who share similar vision, goal and interest and together we can actually shape our community for common good.
This event also made me realize that I have this obligation to the new comers who wants to learn AI and Deep Learning in Nepal and If I can teach them or guide in a more simpler way then may be this is what I should do.
But not only that I have obligations to myself as well. I am obliged to improve myself over time, sharpen my skills, broaden my knowledge and education, in this field of AI. Because without improving myself first, I cannot improve anyone who is around me. In reality I have just only started exploring this field myself. There are lots of projects, research and practice that needs to be done from my side. And things like this, they take time and patience.
These two tasks, teaching others and educating myself, I think they must go hand in hand. So, in future I will continue to organize workshops and classes where I will share my knowledge and teach others who are interested and I will also take part in meetup events which will enable me to connect with individuals who share same passion and interest like me.
I must say, one of the great resource I came across while learning deep learning is Fast.ai course. I even wrote a blog series about it. This course is basically what you need if you are really new to deep learning and you know bit of programming. I came across this course a little late but, this course practically boosted my confidence and allowed me to try out new things in deep learning. I highly recommend anyone who is interested in deep learning to try this course.
Hopefully, by the support of companies like Intel and collaborating with experts in this field we will conduct events like this in future and continue to share the passion and knowledge in this field with anyone who is interested.
I think this is just a beginning of a beautiful journey. We need a lot more events, workshops, hackathons in Artificial Intelligence in future.
I would like to call all the Machine Learning practitioners and experts living in Nepal to connect with us and lets build this community together and I encourage all the enthusiasts to participate in events like this to share their views, suggestions, queries so that we can improve ourselves over time.
I am thankful to those who helped me through this event and I am thankful to everyone who participated in it and I hope we will continue to build this relationship in future as well.