AI For A Smart World: Discussions At the Colombo AI Meetup


The Colombo Artificial Intelligence Meetup is a meetup that occurs periodically each year. Organized by the Sri Lanka Association for Artificial Intelligence or SLAAI, its purpose is to discuss and broaden the knowledge we have with regard to AI. In addition, it is also to foster new ideas and create new solutions to existing problems with the help of AI. Held on the 15th of September 2017 at the Virtusa Auditorium located within the heart of Orion City, the theme of the meetup was Artificial Intelligence for A Smart World. The meetup consisted of presentations by 2 speakers, along with a panel discussion.

AI For A Smart World: Discussions At the Colombo AI Meetup 4The first speaker for the AI meetup was Sampath Jayasundara

Sampath, CEO at hSenid Business Solutions, spoke about how AI can be used to improve the business processes of a company to usher in a new era of technological advancements. He also spoke about robotics and AI are making an appearance in most scenarios at present, and soon, in the not too distant future, AI and robotics would be ubiquitous. A prime example of this is the Alpha 2. In case you were wondering, the Alpha 2 is the first humanoid robot for the family. The Alpha 2 can learn and mimic human movement, offer reminders and alerts and you can even converse with it.

AI Meetup
Sampath Jayasundara – CEO at hSenid Business Solutions addressing the audience

Sampath says that in the future, this robot and others similar to it would take over most of the tasks including tutoring, interpreting and even smart home management. They have a type of AI that will function to carry out normal human functions. He then spoke about machine learning and the steps taken by various countries with regard to these matters. An example of this was the advancements in prosthetic surgery where the prosthetic limbs are equipped with machine learning and they begin to learn from your movements. Sampath also spoke about how AI is used in a number of other areas today. For example, Ocado, a British online supermarket has replaced barcode scanning with AI vision to speed up the packing.

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Sampath Jayasundara explains Ocado

Fukoku mutual life insurance has replaced its 34 strong workforce with IBM’s Watson Explorer AI. Lastly, he gave an example of the Royal Bank of Scotland where thanks to their Luve AI customer assistant, the bank is a full 12 months ahead of their competition. He then explained about the business model transformation for 2020, where he noted that all our data is captured and stored somewhere. By linking the 4 Ps of Marketing (price, product, promotion, place), you can create new business models.

He then spoke about the hSenid HRIS Predictive Analytics tool. This is heavily dependent on AI. Using this tool, they could predict employee turnover. They could find details such as a list of unsatisfied employees, their leaving and retaining probabilities, opportunity loss of the employees to the organization etc. They can also predict the employee performance level. The tool helps them plan things better based on the characteristics of an employee and they can also try to understand the transaction of the employee such as work patterns, absenteeism etc. With that, Sampath’s presentation came to an end.

Next up was Dr. Charith Chitraranjan.

Dr. Charith, a Senior Lecturer at Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa certainly had a mind boggling topic. You could even say that it was a talk about mind over matter as his topic was on Intelligence and the Brain. We have observed nature and by doing so, these observations have helped us develop technology as we know it. So the, why not look at the brain and see how it does the same?

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Dr. Charith, Senior Lecturer at Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa addressing the audience

What is Intelligence? Dr. Charith asked. Well, the there’s no exact clear-cut answer to that. Rather, there are a number of definitions for it. It can be defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. It can also be a synonym for terms such as sensation, perception, association, memory, imagination, discrimination, judgement and reasoning. The third definition that Dr. Charith gave is that intelligence is the ability to solve problems or to create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings. In operational terms, intelligence can be defined as whatever the intelligence test measures.

He spoke about Garnder’s Eight Intelligences. The point is that people can be intelligent in various manners. He then spoke about AI and its approaches. These are cognitive sciences or systems that think like humans, systems that think rationally or laws of logic, systems that act like humans or Turing tests and systems that act rationally or rational agents. Dr. Charith explained that his love for Intelligence was from the popular TV series Knight Rider.

Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Image Credits: Emerging Ed Tech

He then spoke about learning from the brain. Why? Because our brain is a product of billions of years of evolution, and survival of the fittest. It would help us build intelligent systems. It would also help us understand and find cures for psychological disorders. Most of what you are is your Connectome. Think of a Connectome as a comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain.

The presentation then went onto more technical grounds with Dr. Charith speaking about neurons and how the electrical impulses in our brains work. He then spoke about the brain vs a traditional artificial neural network. The difference being that the latter only has connections in adjacent layers and no feedback connections. He then moved on to learning and memory. Learning takes place as memories are stored in the neural network of the brain. Formation of the memory is facilitated. Neurons, spike timing dependent plasticity and other terms were some of the technical terms being thrown to the crowd, who lapped it up with great interest.

Lastly, Dr. Charith spoke about the techniques to map the brain and predicting neuronal connections via calcium imaging. In summary, an attempt to build systems that think like humans would need a thorough understanding of the human brain.

It was then time for a Panel Discussion.

The panel consisted of the following members:

  • Sampath Jayasundara – Chief Executive Officer at hSenid Business Solutions
  • Charith Chitraranjan – Senior Lecturer at Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa
  • Anuradha Weeraman – Associate Director – Technology, Virtusa

The discussion addressed a number of questions regarding the technology and its implications. For example, if we look at the AI industry, what areas should be focused on in Sri Lanka? What are our strengths and weaknesses?

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The Panelists for the Colombo AI Meetup

To this, Anuradha’s view was that we should go back to our roots. AI is just an extension of computer science, he says. He also encouraged the participants to learn about machine learning and deep learning by doing online courses such as the ones on Coursera.

Sampath’s views were about getting the right skills and getting a good combination of said skills as well. For example, by combining Finance, Statistics and AI, you can become a data scientist. The problem, Sampath explained, is that Sri Lanka lacks the volume so its difficult to test the technologies for the problems that we identify. We have to look at the short term gain where there are jobs available and also inculcate a nature of data scientists. In short, the panelists agreed that what is needed is to get your basic foundations right. You would also need to get a grasp on what data science and data analytics is because these will be the things of the future. Analysis of data will be a key thing in the future.

AI Orion CityAnother interesting question asked was a method to solve the ethical dilemma and stay relevant in the current market? The answer? Adopt and evolve. Repetitive jobs will evolve to become more advanced jobs. We need to adapt with the times and everyone will have to play along. Another interesting note was about garbage data production. This occurs when too much data is produced. Thus, it becomes difficult to analyze patterns or make predictions. This leads to incorrect decisions. As there is no governing body with AI driven development, it becomes very important to use context when using AI.

AI Orion CityWith that, the Colombo AI Meetup drew to a close. Tokens of appreciation were handed out to all the speakers and panelists. Those attending didn’t go empty handed either. Now that their intellectual hunger was satisfied, they also had their fair share of refreshments to satisfy their physical hunger as well.

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