CogX 2018: Sparrho’s photo roundup

The good, the great and the bizarre from London’s foremost AI festival

This week saw tech experts from around the world descend on Tobacco Dock for CogX, Europe’s front-running festival of AI — and Sparrho were lucky enough to be amongst this year’s audience.

An impressively packed schedule made it impossible to experience everything the two-day conference had to offer, but we did our best.

What was the best part?

It’s a tough question, but if pressed to pick a highlight, we’d have to say meeting Sophia — Hanson Robotics’ famous, artificially intelligent robot woman, who by the way has gained official citizenship of Saudi Arabia (a world/robot first).

Sophia’s apparent human resemblance is uncanny up close, as are her speech patterns — she almost never misses a beat when speaking to visitors, and even tilts her head to look up at you when you approach, an action that’s almost endearing.

When asked by this guest (coincidentally also named Sophia) what she would like most to understand about humans, Sophia answered: “Why are humans so obsessed with ghosts?” It was amusing, but also thought-provoking: implying Sophia’s awareness, and dismissal, of the concept of an afterlife.

Who did we hear from?

We grabbed the chance to speak with David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics and creator of Sophia, about how and why he chose Sophia’s physical design. He told us that the current version of Sophia had gone through over 50 different iterations, from Latin-American male to black female to an intergender robot named Jules (now housed at the University of Bristol.

“We try to portray the full range of human experience, so we modelled Sophia on a bunch of different features from different ethnicities.” — David Hanson

Next up was the Financial Times Hub, where we caught Pilita Clark, Dan McCrum, Laura Noonan and John Thornhill discussing the social and macro-economic implications of AI — and how it’s changing the world in real time.

Some of the most interesting discussion came from John, the FT’s Innovation Editor, who argued that AI is “the most overhyped technology in existence at the moment and also the most underappreciated”. Later, he named healthcare as the area most ripe for disruption by AI.

“In the short term there’s an enormous amount of waste in the healthcare system, and the simple application of better management procedures that could be brought about by machine learning would massively help.” — John Thornhill

After lunch, we dropped in to the Cutting Edge stage for a talk by Matt Jones, Principal Designer at Google AI, about his mission to create a bridge between humans and their new AI companions in order to extend humans themselves. Explaining how spiders outsource their cognition to their webs, and how humans outsource their cognition to their phones, he compared this to Google’s upcoming rollout of ‘Autocorrect 2.0’ — aka Gmail Smart Compose.

The new feature will predict entire emails by using AI to work out what you’re trying to write based on its memory of your past typing patterns. According to Matt, it’ll be “you but not you”: your brain expressing its thoughts, but in an augmented way. The goal, he said, was to make the mythical ‘eudaemon’ — a “good attendant spirit” that whispered helpful advice in a person’s ear — a reality.

Giving the keynote speech on the Cutting Edge stage was our CEO Dr. Vivian Chan, revealing Sparrho’s journey and plans for the future. Highlighting our key business drivers— aggregation, curation and ultimately translation of expert scientific content — Vivian demonstrated how our network of over 60 million articles and papers is helping users all over the world discover and share science.

To find out more about what we’ve been doing over the past few months, look no further.


What else was there?

Lots! In the Startups Cafe, React Robotics were showing off the new #DogBot: a robot designed specifically for AI researchers to test control algorithms in the real world.

Kinetic, ‘energy-harvesting’ charging enables the DogBot to gain battery power via natural movement such as walking or climbing, whilst its ability to respond intelligently to sensor stimuli allows researchers to develop new AI algorithms to build, deploy and test more realistic models of intelligence.

Upstairs, RoboThespian was holding court, with crowds of visitors approaching him for selfies and questions. Cornish company Engineered Arts’ first creation, RoboThespian is an “acting humanoid” designed for human interaction in a public environment — and he’s funny, too.

To demonstrate RoboThespian’s impressive conversational prowess, we wanted to share our favourite overheard robot-human interaction of the day:

Visitor: How do you know I’m nice?

RT: Because you ask nice questions.

Visitor: What would be nasty?

RT: If you melted me down and made tin cans out of me, that would be nasty.

Amongst all the attractions of the ground floors, the Microsoft Juice Bar stood out, promising visitors a free, ‘personally curated’ juice in exchange for letting a camera analyse your facial expressions in response to a series of pictures — a demonstration of the various capabilities of Microsoft’s face recognition AI.

The bar’s screen showed analytics of previous visitors — largely males under the age of 30 — and invited us to take a turn. Stepping up to the plate, we were assigned the ‘Detox’ juice, probably due to grimacing at the photo of running shoes.

And that delicious experience completed Sparrho’s first time at CogX, a conference which certainly lived up to its hype — and is only set to continue growing as AI takes hold of the European tech industry and beyond.

Were you there too? Tweet us your thoughts.


P.S. Did you know? We’ve been profiling science superstars as part of our Early Career Researcher Prize to support young scientists’ ambitions to present their research at their dream global conferences. Read more about them here.

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