Last February 19, a local Artificial Intelligence / Data Science conference was organized by Thinking Machines. It’s Human + Machines, a conference on how artificial intelligence and data science is revolutionizing every industry out there. And no it’s not all about robots.
As far as I know, this is the first Data Science-oriented event which is hosted by a local startup here in Manila. That’s huge. Excited, I went expecting great talks and networking with data scientists. I wasn’t disappointed.
I went on the second day, the talks series, which was stacked with interesting speakers. The first was Pia Faustino, a journalist with a keen sense of the capabilities of data in storytelling. We can now not only interview the most compelling individual stories, but also ‘collect the stories of thousands of people’ and break a story from micro to macro. The big picture is in ‘rows of spreadsheets’. She then tells the story of ‘Dubious Digits’ in partnership with PCIJ. Key takeaways: 1.) There is irregularity in the voter turnout in some districts and 2.) There are nigh impossible upward shifts in the voter turnout across 3 election seasons in some districts (The opposite is also true — there were abnormal downward shifts, but I think it’s because of the violence especially in Mindanao).
The second talk is delivered by the CEO of Thinking Machines, Stephanie Sy. Well versed in business and the technical, she delivered a dizzying array of ways AI has already changed our lives. From automated translators, to self-parking cars, from natural language processing to computer vision, from the Internet of Things to our BPO sector, data has disrupted everything. So what does that hold for the Philippines? Huge! As a BPO hub, we should ride this wave and augment our workplaces with data-driven methodologies and technologies. “We can’t expect the next 5 to 10 years to stay the same”, Stephanie says. The Philippine business sectors should catch up, or risk losing a lot. And that’s where data science startups come in.
The third talk was delivered by Clare Corthell, author of the popular Open Source Data Science Masters, a website outlining a DIY approach to data science, with links and study guides to almost every data science topic out there, Linear Algebra, Databases, Distributed Computing, Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision, Machine Learning ,etc. Clare shares the Human + Computer paradigm, a kind of fourth industrial revolution, that enables businesses to engage more customers in a smart manner. Indeed, the way to think about this is to create an environment where human intuition and context is powered by computers, whose appetite for data is near inexhaustible.
The last talk was I think the most groundbreaking one. Delivered by Dr. Erika Legara, this talk explains the concept of Smart Cities and how we can leverage data in such a massive scale that we can model and predict the outcomes of every design decision in a city, specifically Singapore. I think all our heads just exploded. This is what we want in Metro Manila, delivered right in front of us! The demo showed little people as dots, boxes as cars, rectangles as trains, large circles as train stations and different markers for different kinds of establishments. All of these interacted in this simulated world, with near perfect precision — one that describes the lives of every Singaporean citizen. With a model this accurate, Dr. Legara shows how they can predict outcomes if a mall was placed near a train station, or an emergency train maintenance was done. The Singaporean government then gains a valuable tool in planning their city all the way up to 2030. Imagine that! Even though the city studied was Singapore, we remain optimistic that we can apply the same models and simulations here in the Philippines. Hopefully. (Please teach us Dr. Legara.)
Together at the panel interviews, all four looked like a girl band. Which was really funny since I asked the question, what’s next for Thinking Machines? “Watch out for our next album”, Steph says.
As for me, I got a chance to talk to Dr. Legara, Pia and Stephanie. that I hope there will be a regular workshop or conference for the community of data scientists in the Philippines. We have a lot of silos of skill — one that pops immediately is the Center for Language Technologies at De La Salle, the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, and all our smart startups like Kalibrr. We can work something out, yes? You already have your first attendee in me.