TEDxTohokuUniversity Salon: What is Artificial Intelligence?

TEDxTohokuUniversity continued its 2018-19 calendar of dynamic talk events with a salon on artificial intelligence (AI), held on January 19 at the TOKYO ELECTRON House of Creativity.

The event - which attracted some 50 people of different backgrounds and varying degrees of familiarity with AI - addressed what artificial intelligence really is, how it is achieved and the impact it has on our way of life.

Pelonomi Moiloa, a biomedical engineering student who organised the event, said that she wanted to help AI oriented people find each other. "My masters research is on neural networks and I have found it quite difficult to find the AI community in Sendai. So this event was a way to bring people together to discuss and share their ideas."

Five live lectures were given by Tohoku University students in a casual environment.

Moiloa kicked things off with an overview of AI, describing it as "a plageriser of the brain." She introduced current applications as well as the three branches of machine learning, the means by which AI is achieved.

Subsequent lectures gave more details about supervised machine learning (training machines to assign labels to data for prediction), reinforcement machine learning (through feedback from the environment) and unsupervised machine learning (training machines with unlabelled data for analysis).

Joshua Owoyemi, who is working on his PhD in system information sciences, then spoke about the various software (operating systems, programming language, machine learning tools) and hardware (CPU, hard disk memory, GPU) that are commonly used in AI.

"I tried to make my presentation easy to understand for people who are interested but don't know how to get started," he said. "I hope that with my talk, some in the audience were able to realise how easy it would be for them to get something started. All they need is a little extra effort."

Organisers used the Backchannel Chat to encourage audience engagement. The online app is a classroom tool that allows students and audience members to ask questions anonymously.

In the second half of the salon, participants watched a screening of two TED Talks exploring ethical dilemmas and other social themes surrounding AI. Filmmaker Robin Hauser spoke about bias, specifically asking the question "How do we keep our biases out of the algorithms we create?"

MIT physicist and AI researcher Max Tegmark took a more optimistic approach, suggesting that the future is about being empowered, not overpowered, by AI.

Both talks were followed by lively discussions and quizzes that had participants reflecting on their own biases and attitudes towards AI. "The crowd was very interactive, asked a lot of questions and really engaged in the discussions with enthusiasm," said Samar Hashemi, an exchange student from the Netherlands, who was also a speaker.

"AI is getting more popular in all fields and professions, so we're going to see and hear about it more and more. I hope that everyone who attended the event enjoyed themselves and went home having learnt something that made them excited about AI."



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