Bringing AI To The Masses – Asian Scientist, April 22 2018

Keen on picking up the fundamentals of AI? A community-driven movement known as AI Saturdays can give you a leg up.
It’s often said that knowledge is a form of wealth; in the face of a rapidly changing world, a new global initiative aims to equip people from all backgrounds with such riches. AI Saturdays, also known as AI6, is a community-driven, non-profit movement established to offer education on artificial intelligence (AI) to the masses. Through structured study groups, lectures and project work, the organizers aim to teach everybody how they can use AI in their everyday lives.
With the first chapter established in December 2017 in Singapore by Nurture.AI CEO Mr. Yap Jia Qing, followed by the second soon after in Kuala Lumpur, it could be said that the AI6 movement is in its infancy. Yet within a few months, the initiative has grown to include 103 chapters across six continents, including 47 in Asia. At time of writing, there are over 5,000 participants worldwide, from Kathmandu to California.
A worldwide classroom
AI Saturdays stemmed from a simple realization by the people at Nurture.AI, according to Mr. James Lee, AI research fellow at Nurture.AI and the co-head of AI6.
“Nurture.AI maintains a web platform for discussing academic AI papers. However, we realized that reading academic papers was not an activity that could be easily accessed by many. We created AI6 to help enable people to be comfortable with the technologies behind AI, as well as to build a community.”
Many distinguished universities, including Stanford and Harvard, offer open-source learning material on AI. Through AI6, the founders hoped to give people the opportunity to experience what it’s like to sit in one of these classrooms—from anywhere in the world.
“We didn’t expect to do anything big with it. We just thought we’d get people together to learn some AI by going through the materials available online. Initially this was for Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and it spread from there,” explains Lee, who is also one of the ambassadors of the Kuala Lumpur chapter.
Just like with AI technology itself, the direction of a meeting can be hard to predict, and is often dependent on the preferences of chapter members. However, all chapters center their Saturday lectures around open-access course material from universities like Stanford and Berkeley. The first session, ‘Practical Deep Learning,’ sees participants watch and code along with materials from fast.ai, a free deep learning course. In session two, ambassadors are asked to focus on either computer vision, reinforcement learning or natural language processing. Finally, in the third session, members go through Stanford’s Stats385 course and participate in open forum-style discussions. Group project work is also strongly encouraged throughout the course of these Saturday sessions.
“One of the things we do is encourage every chapter to have a milestone, to tell members to take what you have learned so far and produce something,” explains Lee. “In the Kuala Lumpur chapter for example, one guy took ten years of stock prices and made an algorithm that predicts whether they will go up and down in the next month. Others made a Trump tweet simulator. They downloaded Donald Trump’s tweets and tried to create a neural network that replicates the style.”
AI as a basic skill
Becoming an AI6 ambassador doesn’t require a significant amount of prior knowledge; instead, curiosity is key. Ambassador of the Delhi chapter Mr. Divyansh Jha says it was his interest rather than his experience in AI that led him to get involved in the movement in December 2017.
“I’m from an electronics background, but recently I developed a huge interest in deep learning and AI. For the last year, I’ve been taking steps to learn more and doing projects in this area,” he says, adding that becoming an ambassador has helped him to develop leadership skills that make him more employable.
Expanding his knowledge of AI is of great importance to Jha; why does he think others should learn?
“I think AI should become a basic skill, because within ten or twenty years, everything will involve AI. People should learn this skill so they can move forward,” says Jha, who while happy to share knowledge, says he doesn’t believe in forcing anyone to get involved.
For some, the rapid expansion of AI and machine learning is a source of fear. Indeed, in a 2017 global study conducted by independent consumer research agency Northstar, 22 percent of some 4,000 participants said they felt society will become worse due to increased automation and AI. Yet new technology doesn’t need to be fearsome, says Jha.
“The people who know about the current state of AI aren’t fearful. It is people who don’t know about these things who are very fearful,” he says. “I think the AI singularity is very far from today; I don’t see it grabbing jobs from people in the next ten or twenty years. AI is something that will help humans improve.”
Reaping the rewards
Ambassador for the Taipei chapter Mr. Kuo Ruey-shen echoes these views, adding that one must find a scenario suitable for AI in order to fully understand its benefits.
“You have to know the purpose of AI and why you are using it, and then you decide what type of algorithm and deep learning can help you. It’s a tool to help us do a lot of jobs, not a tool to replace you. I think it will allow you as a human to start to live again, but only if you use that in the right way. A lot of the reports write about the wrong way and make people afraid,” he says.
 AI6 ambassadors help people to understand these benefits. At the same time, troubleshooting and problem solving is done through international collaboration over online platforms. This networking may soon become something bigger as a large-scale international AI6 initiative is in the pipeline for July 2018.
Meanwhile, participants such as Ms. Seema Goel are reaping the rewards. Goel was teaching herself AI and machine learning when she was invited to join the AI6 Bangalore chapter in January. She says that joining the group has helped her to progress with her learning and overcome obstacles she faced while learning alone.
“This meetup helped me in every possible way, be it understanding the concepts, technical glitches, and providing inspiration,” she says. “For me the group is meeting all expectations.”
Delhi chapter member Mr. Rohit Singh has similar views.
“The experience has been phenomenal,” he says. “Some members and especially the ambassador, Divyansh [Jha], do a great job at making the experience enriching for everyone. They go through the material, sharing their experience and clarifying doubts for everyone in a setting that’s quite informal and yet focused and driven.”
(First published on Asian Scientist on April 22 2018. Available online at: https://www.asianscientist.com/2018/04/features/artificial-intelligence-saturdays-asia-ai6/)
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An introvert’s survival guide to the workplace – Irish Times, March 20 2018

Do you dread those morning brainstorm meetings, avoid small talk by the coffee machine at all costs, or simply feel drained by the frenzied office environment?

You probably don’t need a personality assessment to figure out whether you’re an introvert or not, but navigating your way through the contemporary workplace may require some figuring out.

We spoke to the experts about how introverts can cope with the social pressures of the 9-5.

Know your worth

Since its 2012 release, Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking has been credited with championing the essential role of introverts in society. In the New York Times bestseller, the author regularly refers to some of the world’s most influential people including Charles DarwinRosa Parks and Gandhi.

One thing they had in common? They were all introverts.

Co-founder of Irish remote jobs hub Abodoo. com Vanessa Tierney says employers are now recognising the importance of having a diverse workforce, one that balances the outspoken folk with the quieter, deep thinkers. “With the tech revolution, we have discovered that introverts can create amazing businesses,” she says. “The workplace is becoming more of a balanced field.”

Kevin QuigleyResearch and Innovation Psychologist at Seven Psychology at Work, says that people have no reason to believe that being an introvert is a bad thing. He refers to what are known as the five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. “Research is clear, that however high you are on the extroversion scale, it doesn’t affect work performance and this is true across all sectors. Conscientiousness and openness are important. They predict success.”

Find your niche

While it’s impossible to love every aspect of work, dreading each day because the environment doesn’t suit your personality is a waste of time for you and your employer. Instead of trying to mould yourself into a top salesperson, take the time to recognise your personal strengths, preferences and work goals.

“If you’re an introvert, it’s important to be aware of it. Different personalities are more naturally suited to different roles,” explains Quigley, who adds that finding a job that suits your personality is not only important for productivity, but for mental wellbeing.

“We talk about bringing the whole self to work. This can be difficult if the role is not a fit with your personality. You can pretend for a while, but over an extended period of time, it can be very draining.”

Take time out

In her book, Cain notes the difference between a shy person and an introvert. While a shy person may avoid social interactions, an introvert can be good socially, but becomes overly stimulated with too much socialisation.

“One of the challenges for introverts is that they prefer less stimulation than extroverts. Open plan offices can be fine for them, but recharging their batteries and recovering from this kind of environment will take some time,” explains associate professor in Organisational Psychology at DCU, Dr Janine Bosak. “Getting the opportunity to break out of that environment and find a quiet corner is critical during the day. Research in occupational health psychology shows that people who constantly are not able to refill their energy resources will burn out over time and experience emotional exhaustion.”

Be prepared

In any career, you’ll eventually be required to speak out and that’s bound to feel uncomfortable. If an introvert is also shy, the initial job interview itself can be a stressful situation.

“Shy introverts benefit from thinking about what questions could arise so if their level of anxiety goes up, at least they are prepared,” advises Dr Bosak. “For the general introvert, a challenge for them is overstimulation. Sometimes jobseekers may have multiple interviews in the one day. My advice for introverts: if possible, have the interviews spaced out so you have time to turn inward, replenish your energy, and think through how things went.”

According to Quigley, practising communication skills can also prove useful in all aspects of work, from the first interview to the weekly office meetings. He recommends beginning with one-to-one conversations and building up from there. “When you’re more confident, you’ll be more willing to speak up in a meeting scenario,” he said. “Put yourself in public speaking environments such as Toastmasters or any situation that make you a little bit nervous. Developing communication skills is the only way to overcome your fear.”

Have the conversation

If any aspects of your role are proving overwhelming, don’t be afraid to let your employer know that you’re struggling.

“I think we are in a culture now of open, honest transparency,” explains Tierney. “It has never been as good as it is today to speak about how you feel. Despite feeling at times that you’re not part of a clique, you must remember that you’re a valued member of staff. If you’re finding it hard, be brave, make an approach and have the conversation.”

Tips for employers

With many contemporary work environments leaning towards the trends of open-plan spaces, networking and team projects, it’s little wonder that introverts can find work a challenge.

Without having to completely overhaul the office, there are things an employer can do to make work comfortable for a diverse range of employees.

– Tierney trains employers to use profiling tools during recruitment in order to learn more about employees and their work preferences. “A CV is only a quarter of what someone is. Their life experiences, personality, behaviour, motivation and speed to learn are just as important.”

– Quigley agrees that being “aware of employee’s differences” is crucial for employers. “It’s important to have open conversations with people, find their appropriate work style and ask what an individual is seeking from a job.”

– In addition to “embracing diversity”, Dr Bosak recommends putting infrastructure in place in the office such as couches for those who need some quiet time throughout the day.

(First published by the Irish Times on March 20 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/an-introvert-s-survival-guide-to-the-workplace-1.3424024)

Taking Centre Stage – Bray People, September 10 2016

In part one of this special report, Amy Lewis looks at Wicklow’s role in the film industry – who works in it, what it means for the garden County and what can be done to improve it.

Wicklow has served as the backdrop for hundreds of big-name films and TV series and the county has certainly reaped the rewards.

It is estimated that the film industry is worth €70m to the Wicklow economy. However, Wicklow Film Commissioner Vibeke Delahunt reckons that the reality is much higher.

‘Unfortunately there is a lack of data available. We have heard very conservatively that it could be worth about €70m every year but I think it is much more,’ she explained. ‘The industry has a huge ripple effect across the county and its services.’

Following the construction of Ardmore Studios in 1958, more international and homegrown producers began to flock to the county. Recognising the county’s potential in the world of film, Wicklow County Council looked to our neighbours in the states for ideas on to harness it and allow it to flourish. The result was the establishment of the Wicklow Film Commission in 1992 – the first of its kind in the country.

‘Because Wicklow was unique in Ireland with Ardmore, and now also with Ashford, it was felt by the county manager at the time that setting one up would be good for economic development and promoting Wicklow.’

The Wicklow Film Commission’s roles include promoting the county as a film location, liaising with filmmakers and providing them with various services and facilities.

‘We have had up years as well as down years such as in the 1990s and even after 2000. But in the last five or six years, production based here has gone up,’ said Vibeke, who added the opening of Ashford Studios and additional Film Factory at Ardmore means that production is going up all of the time.

Wicklow’s long showreel of films includes ‘Braveheart’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Excalibar’, ‘The Guard’, ‘Dancing at Lunasa’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, while TV shows ‘The Tudors’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘Ripper Street’, ‘Mooneboy’ and ‘Raw’ have also used Wicklow as their stage. There are a number of reasons why film and TV producers flock from across the globe to Ireland’s Garden County.

‘Rich tax incentives here have a lot to do with foreign productions filming here,’ she explained. ‘They also need to work out of a studio and we have the main two in the country here. Wicklow also has well-trained, experienced and talented crew, along with a wide range of locations that can double up for other places in Europe. All of these elements come together and that is recognised internationally.’

It’s a case of a lot done, a lot more to do. The Wicklow Film Commission is currently working at addressing any skills gaps by consulting with people in the industry. A recent introductory course to ‘hairdressing on a film set’ marked the beginning of this. It saw twelve trained hairdressers get to grips with working on a film set under the instruction of Vikings hairdresser Dee Corcoran.

Developing Wicklow County Campus at Clermount by expanding the number of film-related courses on offer is the next step in addressing these skills shortages.

‘We are looking at different sectors at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have been told by people in the industry that we need more trained people in props, model-making, prosthetics and electricians for example.’

‘There’s also a lot of work we could do for schools to incorporate film into the school curriculum.’

Another welcome move is the application for expansion at Ashford Studios.

‘We are very excited about Joe looking to expand and we support him in his work. It’s great to have a local man looking to develop infrastructure which we badly need. They are turning away work because they don’t have the space,’ she said.

‘There are a lot of interesting projects at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have ‘Into the Badlands’ and ‘I Killed Giants’ filming at the moment.’

(First published in the Bray People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/braypeople/news/taking-centre-stage-35026806.html)

Plans in motion to bring new retailers to town – Wexford People, August 13 2016

Plans to bring up to six new retailers to Wexford are in the pipeline, according to President of Wexford Chamber Karl Fitzpatrick.

Mr Fitzpatrick said that the Chamber are currently in talks with five or six retailers who have shown an interest in expanding into Wexford. Saying that he is unable to go into detail about who these retailers are at present, he clarified that they are ‘not the large box retailers’ such as Next, River Island and H and M.

‘Each of the retailers we are in discussions with has their own road map in terms of expanding. One of the retailers is planning on opening ten new stores in Ireland in the next two years. We could be year three,’ he continued. ‘I can’t say who it is, but I can say that the retailer sells a bit of everything that is currently on sale on the Main Street.

‘They are looking for a store of 40,000 square feet and we don’t have that at the moment. The ideal property either needs to become available, somebody needs to build it or we need to work with Wexford County Council with a view to getting planning guidelines reviewed.’

Mr Fitzpatrick said that the Chamber are aware that Wexford ‘can’t compete’ with cities when it comes to population or socioeconomic status. However, he said that they want to make Wexford the next best place for retailers to set up.

‘We want to make sure Wexford is number one for these retailers when they have finished developing in cities. Once they are looking at the next stage, we want to make sure that Wexford is at the top of their list.’

In order to do this, he said that the Chamber are working with local estate agents, who are ‘the direct line of communication’ with retailers looking to invest. They have also exhibited and met retailers at events such as the Retail Retreat in Kilkenny which is run by Retail Excellence Ireland. In addition, Mr Fitzpatrick said they send out their retail investor prospectus and an invitation to visit the town to any new or expanding businesses in Ireland.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/plans-in-motion-to-bring-new-retailers-to-town-34949345.html)

Frank is our new mayor – Wexford People, July 9 2016

From Wexford’s first rural mayor came Wexford’s first farming mayor as Cllr Ger Carthy handed over the rope and chains to new mayor Cllr Frank Staples last week.

‘I am deeply honoured to be elected mayor of this historic borough,’ Cllr Staples said in his acceptance speech following last week’s 5-4 vote at the Wexford Arts Centre. Cllr Tony Dempsey was elected as deputy mayor following a 5-4 vote.

The proud Mayglass-Ballymore man began his term of office by thanking his wife Trish, seven sons, friends, family and everyone who showed their support to him. He also thanked his aunts Eva (88) and Janie (90) for their support, along with his sister Mary who was unable to make it on the night.

Cllr Staples (58) outlined his main priorities for the coming year, of which he said mental health is a key focus.

‘We have a mental health crisis at the moment and the mental health services are struggling to deal with it. We need a dedicated 24/7 mental health facility to facilitate people in crisis.

‘We have a situation at the moment where people in desperate need of help are being turned away from hospitals because of lack of services.’

Cllr Staples said that from his own experience, he has learned that sometimes the little things can help.

‘Speaking from experience, sometimes it’s the little things that count.

‘So, don’t be afraid to ask, call or send someone a text if you know they are going through tough times, because you may be the person they open up to if you reach out to them.’

‘If you take nothing else from this evening but that you can make a positive impact on other people’s mental health, it will be worthwhile.’

Cllr Staples said his other priorities include job creation and advancing projects such as the development of Min Ryan People’s Park, Trinity Wharf Development and the Technological University for the South East. He also spoke about the Local Economic and Community Plan, which he said is ‘crucial’ for growth in the Southeast.

A tribute was also paid by Cllr Staples to his friend and colleague the late Cllr Fergie Kehoe.

‘A lot has been said about Fergie and I suppose if I was to pay him a compliment, it was hard not to be his friend, because once Fergie got to know you he would be your friend.’

Outgoing mayor Cllr Ger Carthy received unanimous praise from his colleagues for his year in office, with many paying reference to the more difficult tasks he has taken on over the past 12 months.

All of the councillors paid their best wishes to the new mayor, including Cllr George Lawlor, who joked that he was Wexford’s first farming mayor.

Following the election of deputy mayor Tony Dempsey, Cllr Staples said that he was delighted to have him on board.

‘I look forward to working for Wexford Borough and District with you in 2016 and 2017.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/frank-is-our-new-mayor-34870319.html)

Arts officer seat remains vacant – Wexford People, June 23 2016

The seat for an Arts Officer in Wexford has been vacant since July 2015, despite an advertisement for the position last July and again in March 2016.

Following the departure of Arts Officer Rosaleen Molloy in June 2010, Sinead Barden was chosen as a replacement as the result of a competition. However, due to an employment embargo in public sector recruitment, this position was only temporary.

The post became vacant again in July 2015 and a call for applications was put out soon after. When no candidate was found, the position was readvertised on March 29 2016 but the position still remains unfilled.

Cllr Malcolm Byrne drew attention to the vacancy at the recent Wexford County Council meeting and later, highlighted the need to have it resolved as soon as possible.

‘It is a matter of emergency that we need an Arts Officer so that he or she can begin to develop a strategic arts development plan for the county,’ he said.

‘Wexford has always had the lead on the arts and it provides huge social and economic opportunities in the county. Given that we are bidding for the position to host the European Capital of Culture, it would be very unfortunate for one of the Three Sisters not to have an Arts Officer in place,’ he said.

Since July 2015, staff at the arts office have taken on some of the tasks that are usually carried out by the Arts Officer. Cllr Byrne commended them for their work.

‘I have to compliment the arts office staff who have been putting in trojan work over the last period. They haven’t let the side down.’

Cllr Byrne said that he understands that interviews will take place within the next fortnight and expects an announcement on a new officer to be made within the next four weeks.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/arts-officer-seat-remains-vacant-34824182.html)