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Top 10 AI events of 2016

This could a little late given that we have already embarked upon a new year. But it could be worthwhile looking back for a moment…

2016 was definitely the year of AI in the recent technology timeline. If that’s a little far fetched, considering the wide use of drones, advances in VR/AR and blockchain, that’s because of the ‘bias’ (read enthusiasm) in my neurons. I haven’t been for long in this field but after Deepmind’s paper a few years back, this year was among the first to show commercial viability of AI and showed how well poised it is for a few established problems. I have tried here to distil some major events that happened earlier in 2016 but, you know, like all networks, my brain might have missed out on some signals. Feel free to add your own events in the comments.

Events that made news:


  1. AlphaGo beats Lee.: “That had to happen”, is what I thought initially. I thought that beating in Go is same as beating in chess, so what’s the big deal now if Deep Blue vs Kasparov happened decades ago. But delving in a little revealed if Chess==Go: MarsMission=MoonLanding. The feat, even accounting for the marketing that Google did, is remarkable.
  2. Tesla autopilot first fatality: A lesson learnt the hardest possible way. But I hope Joshua’s family is doing better since the incident. This should have echoed in the minds of all technologists and raised the bar of social and political responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with science.
  3. The buzz around chatbots and how everyone sent Tay back home: Well this one was funny. When twitter feed, tech columns: Recode/Techcrunch/Wired/Mashable, FB messenger were all stuffed with chatbot news, Tay came out to steal the show. ‘Oh no he didn’t’. A good piece of engineering but a bad medium: “Internet”. Really Microsoft? That’s where you leave an untrained Bot? Even seasoned media people find trolls too much to handle.
  4. The ‘AI taking over humans’ phenomena: This thrill is still on and will be till the ring-master takes his head out of the Lion’s mouth or till the Lion nomnoms. Anyone questioning technology (be it cell-phones/internet/social networking) was labelled old school. But when your role models raise a question, you run your brain’s machinery. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, the biggest names in science/tech came out to steer the Mad Max Tech vehicle, if not put a little bit of handbrakes on it.

Engineers’ top picks:

5. OpenAI gym launched: Democratizing AI became the pillar of Musk’s effort to make AI safe. Result: An environment that’s as much a gym, as a playground. Learn from peers at gitter, try some new algo or laugh at Humanoid’s gait. I was pleasantly surprised to see Infosys as one of the lead investors in this venture.

6. Google releases ML APIs (cloud vision and others): Again, releasing the power of ML to the developers and not-so-equation-friendly geeks. You just call the APIs as you are used to being a developer. A great relief for projects that need a small ML functionality but can’t invest in the infra.

7. AMD Instinct: This is my personal observation. Little do we realise how we get tightly bound to a certain brand, technology or a device over a period of time. I felt the same with nvidia. A standard deep neural net setup process was: Launch AWS GPU instance, install CUDA, CuDNN, then theano/tf or libraries of your choice. nvidia GPUs became the standard (which is because nvidia GPUs are good). But stability also brings stagnation and complacency. Enter AMD to give nvidia a run for their money. AI community is benefiting anyway.

8. AWS now houses P-type instances: Speaking of AWS GPU instances, Engineers and Hacker/Makers have a tough time ahead. Here’s why: 16 core GPUs with 192GB GPU memory and 732GB RAM?  Now you can’t run training and say to your boss “will get back to you in a week ;)”.

From Academia: (I will not dabble too much into this section but here’s a couple of mentions)

9. I noticed Generative models did seem to be the theme for a lot of papers (resurfacing of autoencoders).

And finally, 10. ICML conference this year was great: seeing all companies Microsoft/fb/Google vying for researchers’ attention. All the talks/workshops discussed there can be found at http://techtalks.tv/events/

That’s all folks. Thanks for reading. What do you think about this list? Are there events that I missed out (esp. in academia)? Comment now and let other readers know as well.