Amii brings Edmonton’s AI community together with new meetups

The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (better known as Amii) held its first AI Meetup at Startup Edmonton on September 10. The organization has been hosting “Tea Time Talks” and other small events at the University of Alberta for a while now, but the new AI Meetup is an attempt to reach a broader audience. Judging by the turnout to the first event, they’re on to something!

AI Meetup

Melissa Woghiren, an Amii grad student, was one of two speakers at the packed event. She spoke about her work using machine learning to assist physicians in the timely diagnosis of stroke. “No one cares about the algorithms,” she said. “They care about the ML tools, generally speaking.” Melissa dazzled the crowd with details on what AI can do now to detect stroke and heard attacks, but also discussed the risks of algorithmic bias. Her take home points were that AI can be useful in medicine, we care more about the ‘what’ than the ‘how’, and the goal is not to replace doctors but to assist them.

Jobber co-founder Forrest Zeisler was the second speaker. He focused on “Applied AI Myths and Misconceptions”, a topic that really seemed to resonate with the crowd. The biggest myth is that most of a machine learning project involves machine learning – it doesn’t, he said. The bulk of the work is planning, infrastructure, UX, training, etc. Forrest also dispelled the myth that you need a research lab to do AI. “That’s like hiring people for your restaurant who can build new microwaves,” he said. Instead, use an off-the-shelf model and “you can have a pretty big impact.”

AI Meetup

After the talks, there was an opportunity for questions as well as a DemoCamp-style call for anyone in the room who is hiring.

The next AI Meetup is coming up on October 10 at Startup Edmonton from 5:15pm to 7:15pm:

“Discuss the latest topics in AI and machine learning, learn about the latest tools and techniques in machine learning, discover how companies are using AI to drive value, and network with thought leaders from Amii, local AI companies, service providers, and corporate labs.”

Register for the free event here.

Machine Learning 101

Just a few days later Amii held a Machine Learning 101 meetup at Startup Edmonton and once again the event was standing room only. Geoff Kliza, a Project Manager at Amii, delivered a modified version of an ML101 talk he has given to dozens of organizations recently. Here’s my Twitter thread from the event.

Machine Learning 101

“You don’t have to work with our 14 world-leading researchers” to use ML and to do it well, he started. Geoff talked about how the cost of prediction is getting cheaper thanks to cheaper computing power and storage, and more efficient algorithms. A common question that comes up is how AI relates to ML, data science, and other terms, and he showed a great Venn diagram to help explain it. He also defined some common terms in AI such as unsupervised learning (learning about your data), supervised learning (learning from examples), deep learning (neural networks), reinforcement learning (learning via experience), and transfer learning (learning from analogous situations).

Geoff also shared 8 key takeaways reinforcing similar points made at the AI Meetup, including that machine intelligence projects often involve very little ML, that data changes destroy models, that no one cares about your algorithm only what it can do, and that machine intelligence and humans work best together.

On that last point he shared the example of metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. Doctors are about 96.6% accurate and machines are about 92.5% accurate, Geoff said. But together, they are 99.5% accurate, which is an 85% decrease in the human error rate. That’s the power of working together.

Machine Learning 101

The next Machine Learning 101 event is coming up on October 17 at Startup Edmonton from 4-5pm:

“Heralded by many as the fourth industrial revolution, artificial intelligence has inspired countless news articles, novels, and films. With this deluge of information comes hopes and aspirations, fears and misconceptions – some justified and others not. How can we make sense of it all? “

Register for the free event here.

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Social Media: What Edmonton Transit (ETS) could learn from TransLink

I think the South Coast BC Transportation Authority, or TransLink, is one of the most web-savvy transit organizations in Canada. Through blog posts, videos, meetups, and more, TransLink is doing a great job of fostering a community of people interested in transit. I think Edmonton Transit (ETS) could learn a lot from them!

The Buzzer blog

The Buzzer is a free publication found on all TransLink vehicles (our equivalent is In Transit) and The Buzzer blog is its companion. The blog is described as a “frank, fun, and ongoing conversation about TransLink and its work.” Every time I read it, I find myself wishing that ETS had something similar! Here’s what I love about the blog:

  • It is updated regularly – almost a post per day!
  • They have comments enabled – and they participate in them!
  • They post about a variety of topics, not just announcements and service updates
  • There are clearly defined Participation Guidelines

Most importantly, the blog is written with a human voice. It’s interesting and easy to read.

What ETS could learn: The easiest, most effective way to get involved is to start a friendly, regularly updated blog. It forms the foundation of TransLink’s social media efforts, and could perform the same role for ETS. This should be priority #1!

TransLinkInfo on YouTube

Video is time-consuming both to produce and to consume, so while it shouldn’t be the primary form of communication there are times when video is handy. TransLink gets this. They primarily post short updates and announcements on their YouTube channel. Videos range from about 30 seconds to 5 minutes. I think it could be a good vehicle for “behind-the-scenes” kinds of stories as well.

What ETS could learn: Pick the right tool for the job. There’s more to the web than just text, so venture into other forms of media too!

TransLink on Twitter

There are a few TransLink accounts on Twitter: @thebuzzer, @KenHardie, @2010Transit, and @TransLink. I think the 2010 account will get more interesting as the Olympics near, and The Buzzer account could probably be used for more than just broadcasting, but they are on Twitter and are evaluating how to use it better (they recently polled the community to see if they wanted Twitter service alerts). It’s pretty cool that Ken Hardie, Director of Communications at TransLink, is an active user.

What ETS could learn: Twitter is growing incredibly quickly and is becoming an increasingly important platform for news and connections. TransLink is guessing (I think correctly) that Twitter will be a key communications tool for the 2010 Olympics, and they’re getting prepared now. ETS would be wise to make use of Twitter on a regular basis, and especially during Edmonton’s major events.

I Love Transit Week & The Buzzer Meetup

TransLink celebrated I Love Transit Week on its blog from February 23rd to 27th. I like their introduction to the event:

Why? Because while there are things we don’t like about transit, I know there are many things that we do like about the system. And there just hasn’t been an official opportunity to celebrate what we like – until now!

That could definitely apply to something similar here in Edmonton. We always hear people complain, but there are lots of things to like as well. TransLink did a good job of keeping the blog updated with I Love Transit Week content.

The other cool thing they did that week, was the meetup. They hosted the gathering at a local cafe, and brought transit-related swag to give away. Face-to-face conversations are always best, so the meetup was a great (and obvious) idea.

What ETS could learn: The annual Community Conference is a formal, one-way conversation – ETS speaking to a select few. Meetups are more informal, and are two-way. They allow the community to put human faces to the organization. Plus they can be a ton of fun!

Final Thoughts

I don’t mean to suggest that TransLink is perfect, because they’re not. And to be fair, ETS acknowledges that it has a lot of work to do in the area of community engagement. Like many other organizations they are new to social media, and are going to have to learn quickly.

Conversations about the state of transit in Edmonton are happening, but ETS isn’t yet participating. The sooner they get involved, the better off they’ll be. Fortunately for ETS, they don’t have to start from scratch. Others like TransLink are already leading the way!